Observations From A First Time Presenter (Or What I’ll Do Better Next Time)

Sunday, October 16, 2016
This year, I vowed to challenge myself as a writer; I’d embark on the Great Challenge Writing Adventure and Growth Experience of 2016.

And so, jumping into the spirit of things, I sent in a proposal to present a session at an SCBWI conference. I patted my back; I’d “put myself out there.” When I received an email accepting my proposal, I nearly fell out of my chair.

Excuse me? Challenges are supposed to come in baby steps! I expected to send in a proposal three times at least before being accepted. This was a big, ol’ giant step, and I must tell you, I was not psychologically prepared to be a presenter this soon on the Great Challenge etc. etc. But I said yes because a. what’s a challenge if you don’t accept it? And b. the fee was pretty sweet.

I survived the session but not without a few blips. I need to do a better job. And I hope you’ll do a great job presenting at a conference, learning from my mistakes:

1. When I practiced my presentation, I went over the time allotment by 15 minutes. Huh, I thought, that’s just me, learning the material. I’ll come in on time when I’m completely familiar with everything.

Huh. I did not come in on time. I had to zip through the last ten minutes in about three minutes. You know what might have been extremely helpful? Another practice or two beforehand, setting priorities, getting my time organized. And speaking of organization…

2. I like to do giveaways. I frequently host writing workshops and I always have a giveaway or two. But I also always have a sign-in sheet that I use for the giveaway. Midway through my session, I realized I had no sign-in sheet and therefore, no way to handle the giveaway. Aaaaccck!

I did have my SCBWI business cards that I planned to give to each participant and so during an activity, I passed out the cards and participants wrote their names on the back of the cards. It worked out, but it took up more time than I’d have liked; time I didn’t have to spare. I’ll be better prepared for my next giveaway at a session.

3. And because I like plenty of good takeaway information, I packed my presentation with as much takeaway as I could. Unfortunately, all that information didn’t give much time for questions.

Questions are good; questions help us learn. And even when people have the opportunity to find a presenter and ask questions throughout the conference, they rarely do. And so I would have served the attendees better with a little less takeaway and a little more time for explanation.

And so my first presentation ended in a whirlwind but there was a lovely moment, too. As I hurriedly gathered all my stuff, a woman caught up with me, thanking me. “You gave me permission to write what I love,” she said.

Now I have the challenge for my next presentation: for every writer in the room to feel the same way.

~Cathy C. Hall


Amber Polo said...

Lucky you to get accepted the first time.
Great post with good tips. I hope your attendees also got your card to keep.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Cathy--I recently went to a workshop led by Sue Bradford Edwards. She had a participant let her know when it was a certain time (15 or 20 minutes before her official end time, I believe) and that way, she had time for questions.

Workshops are always better than what we (the facilitator) think they were. Consider this your dry-run. The first time is always a learning experience.

Obviously it went well, if you can impact a writer like that. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

... And learn from what you consider your mistakes.

Margo Dill said...

This is a great post. And even though I've presented a bunch of times, I still make mistakes, like forgetting my sign up sheet or running out of time. Every presentation and audience is different. It sounds like you did great!

Cathy C. Hall said...

Amber, thank you, and yes, I made sure to give back the business cards!

Sioux, that's a great tip! And maybe you're right; I'll consider this a dry run. And I've got a whole year to think about the next proposal. That is, IF I decide to challenge myself again. :-)

And thanks, Margo, you're so right about audiences. I'm not sure I can ever be completely prepared, though. I don't have trouble talking to groups...I just have trouble shutting up! :-)

Unknown said...

Cathy, as always, we can count on you to be honest about yourself, but I'm willing to bet you were much better than you thought you were. Thank you for the presentation-planning tips.

Pat Wahler said...

I'd rather have more material than not enough!

Perhaps a written summary of your main points for participants would be helpful, in case there's not enough time for everything to be covered, leaving time for questions.

Wish I could have been there to hear you!

Donna Volkenannt said...

Hi Cathy,
Congratulations on your acceptance as a speaker --- and your presentation. It's generous of you to share what you learned from your experience, and it always good to learn and grow. I love what the woman said after your presentation. Obviously, you made an impression on her.
I also like giveaways. If I forgot to provide a sign-in sheet, I'll ask attendees who has a birthday or an anniversary the day of the presentation. Chances are someone will have one on that day and will appreciate the recognition -- and giveaway.

Cathy C. Hall said...

Oh, thanks for all the great tips, y'all! I knew I could count on you! ;-)

Charlotte Dixon said...

Congrats on your selection to be a presenter! I don't think I'll ever muster that kind of courage. I would fumble and mumble-LOL Thank you for sharing this important development!

Lisa Ricard Claro said...

Since I know you, I'm confident in saying you provided a kickass session, because you don't do anything half measure. I wish I had been there! Maybe next year. :)

Linda O'Connell said...

Congratulations on being accepted. I am certain everyone took something away form your presentation. You are so real! With every presentation you will find another tip that works for you. I'm sure this is the first of many.

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