Writing by Peter Hilton

Presentation tips for conference organisers

How to help speakers deliver legible slides - 30 December 2014 #conferences

Photo - conference audience

Tech conference organisers put a lot of effort into selecting great talks, which results in a lot of really good conferences. However, one persistent problem frequently gets in the way of otherwise great talks: slides that are illegible for half of the people in the room.

This is the first article in a series of tips for conference organisers, with ideas for better:

  1. presentations (this article)
  2. small details
  3. networking.

Presentation slides are the speaker’s responsibility, of course, but conference organisers are in a good position make it easier for speakers to get their stories across. Here are a few tips.

Remind speakers to avoid basic presentation mistakes, perhaps with a copy of something like Garr Reynolds’ presentation tips. Tech conferences have a high proportion of first-time speakers, often the technical lead of a brand new library or framework. Only people who present regularly have time to look into this themselves or read books like Presentation Zen.

Don’t provide a slide template for your conference, because existing slide designs will tend to get squeezed into it, often at the cost of legibility. Besides, a lot of tech presenters use HTML-based presentations these days. Instead, send presenters a conference logo for their title slide.

Make sure that the projection screens are big enough for the room sizes. The 8H rule is a good place to start. This is rarely a problem in practice, because any decent conference venue has appropriate screens.

Position projected slides high enough for people on the back row to be able to see the bottom of the slide. This is a potential problem for any venue where the speaker and audience chairs are all on the same level, especially with low ceilings.

Tell speakers how deep each room is and how big slides will be projected, so they can work out how big the slides will look from the back. For bonus points, calculate the minimum legible font size for each room.

Encourage speakers to go to an earlier talk in the same room as their own talk, and sit on the back row, so they know what to expect for slide visibility and audibility. It may be too late to change the slides, but at least it helps speakers avoid asking silly questions like ‘can you read this at the back?’ (If you have to ask if the text is big enough then it isn’t.)

Require speakers to be early for their talks so there is time to identify and solve the ultimate legibility issue: when the laptop won’t connect to the projector.

Provide a lecturn or standing table because lots of presenters like to stand up and walk around while they present, but also be able to see the presenter notes on their laptop.

Photo: Cydcor Offices / CC BY 2.0

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