That's great! It really is. Congratulations are absolutely in order. Hundreds of people apply to the conference where you will be presenting, and only a handful of entries were selected to represent the growing body of practical and research-based ideas to be shared within the audience. You had better start planning your session. Sure, there is the cue sheet, the objectives, and the intentional talk time, but something I have come to realize about presenting is that there is much more to it than that.
There is a lot more to your session than the content you'll deliver, so I wanted to give you some of the things I look for. As always, I'm interested in what you look for as a presenter, so drop it in the comment section below.
Here are some things to keep in mind, and research, before strolling into the room where you will be hosting a group of adults.
Room Size Matters
While you may think that the bigger the room, the better, it all depends on your message. There are presentations I would be much happier to give to 30, and others that are good for 3,000. Therefore, knowing the capacity of the room plays a big role in what I can do with an audience. If it's a smaller room, I am going to assume it will fill up, whereas a bigger room will need me encouraging people to sit closer to the front before it begins.
The size isn't the only thing, though...
Location, Location, Location
When I make my conference schedule, I don't just look at presenters and their sessions. I try to make a strategic move based on what I wanted to see before, where I'm planning to go next, and how far each of them are from each other. While there are some anomalies, this gives presenters a general idea of how much traffic your room's doors should see. At a recent conference, I was tucked into a hallway room, far away from the two big featured speakers. I knew that it wasn't going to be a packed session, so I could adjust accordingly and not get bent out of shape when the room didn't fill.
That said, there's something about timing...
Timing Is Everything
Is your session right before, or right after, lunch on Day 1? Just like students on a new schedule, attendees' bodies aren't adjusted to the new schedule, so they are likely to be hungrier than usual in the session before lunch, and more sluggish in the session right after lunch. In order to get the most out of your attendees in these slots, there needs to be more moving around, more time for conversation, and less of you. I know, it's hard, but find a way to make it happen. As mentioned in the previous scenario, your attendees are not likely to remember your session; how are you going to change that?
Is your session the first thing on Day 2? This is the slot I call the Hangover Session. Aside from the actual hangover that some folks enter your room with because they're away from home and want to enjoy themselves a little more than usual, there is also a content hangover. Day 1 of the conference was likely intense, with 3-5 sessions of high-intensity, lots of content, and new things to consider that will change their thinking. They're exhausted, and still they are coming to you. This means your attendees need a more energetic version of you, more time to process the information you present, and time to figure out how this is all going to work for them. This, to me, is the most demanding time slot to draw.
Is your session the middle of Day 2? Good luck. Now that the hangovers have worn off, your attendees are likely looking for something to replace another idea that they have already heard thus far in the conference. We can't absorb that much information in such a short period of time, so it's either the content they heard yesterday or the new ideas that are considerably better than what they already started thinking about doing differently. Intentional and deliberate time needs to be included in your session about how your ideas are going to be incorporated into their busy lives. If not, you are unlikely to have your idea land.
Is your session at the end of Day 2 (or the end of the conference)? Come in for a hug. Look, it's nothing against you; you grabbed a rough slot and there's no way around it. People are looking to go home early, begin their vacation 2 hours in advance, or they're just tapped out of information and have found a place to curl up and take a nap. Either way, don't expect an audience of wide-eyed enthusiasts to fill the seats, no matter where you are in the conference center. What this does mean, though, is that who does attend is likely looking for one more idea that will send their experience over the top. Give it to them! They have, or someone has, paid a lot of money and spent a lot of time to be there, and they made the effort to spend it with you. As mentioned earlier, people remember the first and last things from an experience, so you have that going for you, for better or worse. How are you going to be the cherry on top of their conference experience? If you act tired, or bummed that the room didn't fill up the way you'd hoped, people will notice. If you make the most of it and give them your best, people will notice.
If you ever want to bounce ideas off me, I would be happy to be a sounding board for you!
Happy "Hangover-Session-Free" Fishing