There are ton of things a true conference road-warrior needs in their bag, if they are to survive out there in time-lag conference venue land. So here’s a few tips on how to get fit.
1. Haz your own wifi!
First, get your own wifi via 3G. It doesn’t matter if you tether, get a personal hotspot or use 3G on your phone, you need it. Where people once brought a laptop to a conference, they now bring a laptop, a phone and an iPad, and most venues have not worked this out yet. Let’s assume you carry your own DVI to RGB converter, an audio line and a VGA cable. Look after these things, most of the fails are not about the computer or the projector, they are due to crap cables that result in frantic waggling buy young men in block polo-shirts. Tag your stuff, spend a few bucks on a plastic key-fob and then use thing electrician ties to fasten it to your stuff. Make sure you put your mobile and your social-media contacts on it, that way when you leave it behind, they can give it you back. Those mini-dv to RGBs are expensive and easy to forget after a presentation.
2. Make it easy to give yourself away
Get a QR code made up to a web-page that bounces everyone to your webbyness spaces. You can use something like LiveBinders for this. Regardless of what you are presenting – know this, you are dealing with a pack who want resources! – you can’t win anyone over with rhetoric. They want stuff, in fact there is a special breed of conference goer, who will not even bother to listen to your set, they roll in, swipe the resources and freebies, like teenagers raiding the pantry after the weekly shopping. So make sure you have something – a reward for them listening, something that you have not previously handed out online, but keep it online, so that in your LiveBinder they can grab it. Get yourself a large luggage tag, the encapsulated type, a nice durable one. Put your QR code inside and you can fix it to the inevitable conference lanyard, so people and scan it as they talk to you. It’s a great way of kicking off a conversation, and stops you looking for paper and a pen.
3. Have a ready to go back-channel
Consistently, I find that only a small percentage of teachers at ‘system driven’ conferences have Twitter. Most people spend less than 2 hours a week online in an effort to learn about technology. I know this because I poll the audience. So in your kit bag, use Today’s Meet, as it’s fast, simple and doesn’t require any sign-in or commitment to get onto social-networks. Prime it with a brief overview of why your talk matters and links to your own blog. Don’t hand out the presentation at the start! Figure out what your driving question is to the audience and ask them to reply to it on Todays Meet. Something that will take 2 minutes tops. Next create a poll, using something like poll-anywhere, so that even if they don’t want to write anything, they can give a response. I often ask about time online, simply as it gives me an instant view of who I’m talking to, and therefore what I’ll talk about. There is no point in talking about the need to spend 200 hours learning something, if your audience says they have 2, which actually means 1. At the end of your set, ask for feedback – and again allow them to use Todays Meet or a poll. It’s a handy way of finding out what you’re not so good at.
4. Play with new tools to present with
It often strikes me that those who talk about the ‘future’ have the most primitive delivery skills. PowerPoint, with pictures of games is still PowerPoint. Powerpoint talking about change, isn’t change. It falls to those that lecture to at least attempt new ways of doing it – as often their message is about ‘new’ yet presented in a rather conventional way. Perhaps use an iPad, try out AirPlay to connect an AppleTV (which you can hook to the projector) and stream to it, or you go iPad to VGA and use Scribblar or other to turn your iPad into something more interesting. There are so many new ways of presenting and making things interactive, yet often a keynote is little more than 30 slides of rhetoric.
5. Accept that the audience are not great at active listening
“If I always do what I’ve always done, I’ll always get what I’ve always gotten.” – Eric Hoffer
Research reported by Ralph Nichols, distinguished communication professor at the University of Minnesota, reports that listening is a learned skill. His research findings indicate that most people forget fifty percent of what is said in the first two minutes, and twenty-five percent after eight minutes, and can retain the rest of the information only for about a month. To retain more information participants need to use active listening skills, try to anticipate where the presenters’ lecture is going and get an opportunity to interact with the material. We retain only 10-25% of what we hear after a thirty –day period. The lower the interaction the lower the retention. This is part of the ‘change’ problem, the way we attempt to persuade is simply not effective. In an audience distracted by Twitter and the excitement of connecting with people at a conference, our brains are processing all sorts of ideas and intentions for the day. This is slightly different to a University lecture, where people are engaged in a routine that lasts months, not a single day. So, rather than quote references to evidence (something many people don’t bother to do), include the full paper or report in your Live Binder. This allows people to find it more easily.