1) Think of your audience. Who will be reading what you write? Forum proposals are reviewed by our planning team which is comprised of regional and local nonprofit organizations, grantors, government agencies, businesses, and academic research institutions. Then, think a little more deeply about who you will be presenting to. Who is the audience of the Forum? What is likely to be on their minds? Where do they live and what kind of issues are important to them?
2) Be focused—but not too focused. There are two extremes: in one, the topic is so broad and general that it doesn’t really say anything in particular. And the other is that it is so specific that there isn’t anything that anyone else can learn from it. If you are planning to share your own experiences in the session, be sure to include an application section where you clearly describe how the
lessons that you have learned can be transferred to attendees in the room.
3) Understand the difference between the abstract and the session description. When you submit your proposal you write up two different summaries of your presentation. The abstract is a 50-word paragraph that will appear in the Forum program if your session is accepted. So the main audience for this short summary is the Forum-goers who are trying to decide between multiple sessions in the program. You want to entice participants to attend your session, but only by giving a clear and accurate description of what you will talk about. However, the reviewers of your proposal will be basing their evaluation on the 300 word session description. The main audience for this piece of writing are the members of the planning committee. In this piece of writing, you want to convince the proposal readers to select your presentation for the Forum. Remember, they will be evaluating it according to the guidelines described in the RFP.
4) Don’t write your proposal online. There are two key written portions of your proposal: the abstract and the session description. Don’t write these in the online submission program. Write them on your computer in your word-processing program. Take some time to adjust and fine-tune them. When you are completely satisfied with them, and have had time to make revisions, then copy and paste them into the online submission system.
5) Write clear outcomes. In the RFP we describe objectives for sessions. What do you expect that participants will be able do or know at the end of the session? Consider adding a line near the end of your proposal that reads something like this: “At the end of the session, participants will be able to . . . ”
6) Let it sit for a while. It is difficult for most of us to be objective about our writing. We think that we write well and we like what we see. One way to help us look at our own writing more objectively is to leave it alone for a while and then return to it a few days later. You’ll often see ways that it could be improved after you have a little distance.
7) Get a second opinion. Most of us think that our own writing and ideas are pretty good—but we can always benefit from the opinions of others. Print out a draft of your proposal and a copy of the RFP. Ask a colleague to review it critically. Incorporate their suggestions into your draft.
8) Talk about something new and innovative. Think about when you go to a conference and begin to check out the session list available. We all know that feeling that arises when you look over and see the same topics over and over. A good proposal will present information that is either new or has a new take on an old topic. The Forum planning committee want to make sure that your session is going to provide real value to their attendees. Make sure to take your time and think about information you would want to know.
9) Pull from experience. If you are having a hard time thinking of a new topic, reflect on your own professional experience and think about something you wish you would have known off the bat in your industry. Many strong session ideas come from someone realizing there is a hole in a workflow, see the way to efficiently update a current process, or want to revolutionize the way you think about your industry or an idea.
10) Ask for help. Whether you’re a presentation pro or you’re just starting out, figuring out the right topic can be challenging for anyone. If you are having a hard time, don’t be afraid to ask the Forum organizers if there is a certain theme or subject they are looking for. The goal here is to remember that you are providing an exchange with your audience. You are providing information of value for them and they are providing you their time and focus.
Presentation Best Practices
1) Start with the problem. Always begin a presentation by explaining how your product or service addresses the audience’s pain points. If you empathize with their concerns and provide a worthwhile solution, you will be more likely to gain their attention than forcing your audience to identify with a problem they may not have.
2) Tell a story. Once upon a time. . . Hook the audience right away by bringing them along on your journey of discovery. Also, sprinkle in personal anecdotes to help break up the hard science, data, and technical information.
3) Practice, practice, practice. Successful presentations require time, energy and several rehearsals. Here’s a pro-tip: If you refuse to practice until you get it right, at least practice until you can’t get it wrong.
4) Use humor. Bring your presentation to the next level by injecting some well-timed comic relief. Try to make it personal and even add some humor about an experience you’ve had. A miserably-failed experiment makes for an entertaining story!
5) Use text sparingly and simple visuals. Power Point slides are only meant to support and augment your presentation, you should never let them become sole center of focus. Simplicity in your slides will help keep the attention of your audience. Remember, less is more!
6) Positive body language. Stand confident with a smile, and try your best to maintain an upbeat energy throughout your presentation. Always remember to make eye contact with your audience. This will keep them engaged and will inspire their confidence in you.
7) Embed a short video. This adds variety and will make your presentation more memorable. And, at the end of your presentation, you should share the video on social media so your audience can start a social media frenzy to amplify the reach of your message.
8) Dress the part. Your audience subconsciously forms an opinion about you the moment you step on stage. Give yourself a leg up by dressing sharp. Nail that positive first-impression, and earn the respect of your audience.
9) Channel authenticity. You don’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to be funny, you don’t even have to be right (although we prefer you are, of course). Just be a version of you that feels natural. It may take a couple speaking engagements to get to a place where you’re comfortable enough to let your personality shine through, but you’ll get there. Some of the most engaging presentations happen when people move beyond the speaker and become the person.
10) Be humble. People can smell an ego from a mile away. And while some react to this favorably in the form of being star struck, others just think you’re being a moron. The best speakers keep their egos in check by being humble and cognizant of the fact that all those people showed up to hear them speak.