Yes, I attend history conferences, but I also hit up conferences outside of history. Recently, I attended IDEAPTI, a conference for personal trainers. I was there to learn about athletic training and sports nutrition. But I’m a strong believer in applying best practices from industries outside my own, and in that spirit, I noticed several speaking techniques at IDEA that historians can use in their own conference presentations. Following are some quick tips for pulling in your audience by breaking down barriers, showing while telling, and engaging people’s senses.
Break Down Physical Barriers
One of the best ways to connect with your audience is breaking down physical barriers that separate you.
While there was a podium in every room, not one presenter at IDEAPTI stood behind it. Panel discussions can be more open simply by using chairs and side tables, rather than having speakers sitting behind a long, table-clothed table. You can use a lavalier microphone in larger rooms and have a hand-held mic available for Q&A. (In smaller rooms, this may not be necessary.)
Work closely with your conference planners right from the beginning to establish room set-up. Conference planners can accommodate a lot of requests and are happy to do so, as they want your presentations to be a success.
Show and Tell
Death-by-PowerPoint. We’ve all heard of it. And I can’t believe I’m about to type the following words, but… historians should use it! Seriously. At SHEAR’s 2017 conference, some of the most effective presentations used PowerPoint. I’m not suggesting you should put up endless lists of dates and data points. Instead, share maps, paintings, photos, and videos that allow your audience to really see what what you’re talking about. If you attended AHA’s 2018 annual meeting, the presenters for Public History and Public Memory: Talking About Slavery at Presidential Plantations used presentations to share photos and videos that at one point had several people moved to tears.
Also, artifacts. They can be replicas. But giving people something to touch is a great way to make connections. Giving a presentation about 18th-century decorative arts? Show me a punch bowl. Talking about electioneering? Bring some campaign buttons. Again, work well ahead of time with conference planners. Together you can work out ways to ship and store materials so you’re not sitting on a plane with a fancy punch bowl on your lap.
Engage the Senses
It’s pretty easy to engage the senses at a personal training conference. Exercise demonstrations were part of every single session. But historians have opportunities to allow people to experience their work in creative ways as well. Are you presenting about the arts? Let’s hear some historical music. Get us moving by teaching us a minuet.
And have you ever considered break out sessions? Brainstorm ideas, knock down myths, be social. Not only is this a great way for your audience to more deeply engage with your topic, it also allows you to benefit from their thinking.
The more you can draw people to you, the more your audience will get from your presentation. Break down barriers, show and tell, and engage their senses. They’ll remember you and they’ll remember your work.
Do you want to implement these ideas or consider others? Get in touch! I’m happy to brainstorm creative options for you and your work.