We’ve talked a bit before about conferences over here, and for good reason. Sure, attending a conference is extremely beneficial in the networking department, but that’s not the only perk. By showing up at a conference, you’ll not only absorb tips to help you improve yourself and your business, but you’ll also receive education from presenters, acquire insight into your industry, and, of course, gain the opportunity to make some potentially lucrative connections.

The list of perks doesn’t end there, though. Another benefit is the ability to gain a little street cred by actually giving a presentation. While getting up in front of people might sound scary, the truth is that in the toolbox of networking, giving a presentation is the freelancing chainsaw. We’re here to share some presentation ideas with you that will help you grease up that power tool and start chopping down entrepreneurial barriers.

1. Draw from real life.

When you stand up in front of people, an automatic barrier comes up between you and the audience… but this isn’t a bad thing. It’s simply deeming you the expert of the moment. Find an anecdote or real-world example that makes you relatable, despite that necessary barrier.

Christy Charlton Nelson, small business owner and former conference organizer, gave me some tried-and-true advice:

“From my . . . experience, the most successful presentations weren’t always the most practiced or polished (although that helps!). The ones that were most remembered and meaningful came from presenters that were passionate about the subject, knowledgeable, and included personal stories. Building a relationship with the audience through personal experiences and/or interactive, question/answer sessions help participants feel invested in the topic.”

2. Share your failures.

The “comparison trap” is an easy one to fall into at a conference, especially when you’re just starting out. At every turn there seems to be an effortlessly successful entrepreneur, and it’s hard to see anything but their success. By sharing a few examples of failures or mistakes that you’ve made on your journey, you’ll not only become more relatable, but will also help other freelancers realize that success isn’t usually instant, and that persistence pays off.

3. Provide the opportunity for action.

A thoughtful and thorough presentation can be completely derailed if your audience is left asking, “So what?” Remember, you’re not just here to spout information at people; it’s important to make the information useful. Provide actionable steps that will help your audience put this information to good use. Include links or a list of resources… anything that will help audience members turn the time they spent listening to you into something that will help them.

4. Don’t wing it.

Now, I know that some people just have it. I’ve seen classmates and colleagues hop up in front of an audience and put out a speech that sounds like they’ve been rehearsing for months. I’ve seen it and I know it is infuriating to watch because I just don’t have it. I do, however, have the ability to research presentation ideas and practice, and I’m guessing that if you’re in business for yourself, you’ve got that ability, too. Put together a solid presentation, practice it until you feel comfortable with all of the information, and do your best. A presentation done without preparation can easily do an audience a disservice. An off-the-cuff presentation likely won’t come with helpful resources and well-thought-out answers, and can make yours feel less than authentic.

5. Do more than just talk at people.

Presentations are meant to educate an audience, right? I want you to take a moment to think about all of the educators you’ve come in contact with in your past. Which ones do you remember fondly? Who did you learn the most from? While I’m sure there are some exceptions, it’s likely that the teachers who did their best to engage your attention are the ones who stick out the most. There’s not much difference between lesson plans and presentation ideas.
Nobody wants to be talked at for 45 minutes. Conference attendees want to enjoy themselves, and if you can provide an enjoyable presentation, you’re ahead of the game. Research the demographics attending the conference; what do those groups enjoy? GIFs? Star Trek jokes? Dance parties?

Cristoph Trappe, an experienced speaker (who has actually been presenting without powerpoint for the past few years), seasoned blogger, and dynamically authentic storyteller, shared with me this gem:

“Performing in front of an audience means that you are the entertainment. So, behave like it. Even educational content can be presented in an engaging way.”

6. Keep your slides simple.

You don’t want to overload your audience with too much information. Provide necessary and helpful facts on each slide, and leave the embellishments for the spoken portion of the presentation. This allows for easy note-taking and ensures that listeners are focusing on you and not scribbling feverishly.

7. Make your slides visually pleasing.

This can mean a lot of things. It can mean adding graphs and pie charts to help your audience understand statistics, or it could mean including kitten memes that (somehow) demonstrate the point you’re trying to make. The bottom line: avoid clutter, avoid giant blocks of text, and insert some graphics that will help keep people’s attention.

8. Make yourself easy to find.

I’ll be honest: I don’t hop on Twitter and immediately follow every presenter I listen to. I want to make sure that I like what I see, that it’s useful, and that the person speaking is someone who will make my various social feeds more worthwhile. This means that, if a presenter only puts their social information on the first slide, I’m either going to have to ask for it again or hope I remember his or her name later. Try displaying your information on the first and last slides to give people a second chance to find you. A Twitter handle is small and inconspicuous enough that you could even put it on each slide without detracting from your presentation.

9. Get interactive.

One way to epically step up your presentation skills is to schedule helpful, relevant, and easy-to-share tweets during your talk. Let your audience know what your Twitter handle is, and tell them you’ll have tweets with important talking points and interesting links going up throughout. This will heighten their experience, make your content easier to share, and (let’s be honest) look danged impressive. Just don’t get too crazy; you still want them to pay attention to your talk. Think enhance not overshadow.

10. Make your presentation accessible.

Create an online version of your presentation that is easily accessible after the conference is over. Knowing that your valuable content is available elsewhere will let audience members relax and enjoy the show. Using a hosting service like Slideshare or converting your presentation into a shareable video is a great way to securely get your information out into the world.

11. Explore different presentation methods.

A “conference presentation” can take on a few different forms. There’s obviously the option of standing in front of an audience with your trusty slides and slick presentation skills, but there are other avenues to explore. One of my favorite alternative presentation ideas is the “panel discussion.” This allows the audience to gain insight from real people who are active in their industry… whether they’re seasoned pros with sage advice or industry newbies presenting current realities and questions.

If you’ve got some industry experience and solid wisdom to share, contact a conference’s organizers, see if they have any panels planned, and let them know you’re interested in participating in one.

12. Put yourself in a position of authority.

You may find yourself with the opportunity to moderate a panel discussion. This can be an especially beneficial position to be in. It’s highly visible, allows you to connect with industry leaders, and, frankly, can be a whole lot of fun.

Steven Schapansky (expert podcaster, LEGO enthusiast, and interviewer extraordinaire) has a few helpful tips for moderating a panel:

“Moderating a panel discussion or interviewing a guest at a conference or convention is kind of like a mixture of psychiatrist and tour bus driver. Your job is to ask questions, but most importantly, it is also to listen to the answers because that is where the next question will come from . . . An interview shouldn’t be a checklist, but a discussion, and the guest should be made to feel comfortable enough to reveal the answers of his/her own accord.”

13. Rehearse… but not too much.

Preparation is imperative; you need to respect your audience enough to prepare for them… but you don’t want to go overboard. An over-rehearsed presentation can feel forced or inauthentic… and you don’t want to be that one presenter who sounded like a big fake robot.

Practice until you’re comfortable with the information in your presentation, and then let your instincts take over from there.

Finding fresh and engaging presentation ideas is an important task. You don’t want to get lost in the dense forest that is entrepreneurship. In this business, obstacles abound, but with these tips for building finely honed presentation skills in your toolbelt, you’ll be able to clear a path to prominence.

About the author: Lauren Bonk is a freelance copywriter and editor who's been wrangling family life and words since 2010. She loves a damn fine cup of coffee, 90's music, and the smell of rain.