An artist talk, a proposal pitch, a workshop demonstration, or a public presentation, at some point in your art career you will be asked to present information to an audience. This post outlines some general guidelines to help you prepare before, during, and after this presentation.
Before the Presentation
Writing Your Content: When writing your content, study different learning types. Some people like to sit and take notes, others like more active learning activities like discussions or exercises. An activity that resonates with one person won’t with another. Hitting on a few different learning strategies will help make your presentation most memorable, relevant, and effective. Try open-ended questions, small group activities, and engaging visuals or diagrams. Storytelling can also be an effective way to make a strong and memorable point. In addition to integrating a variety of methods into your content, remember if you are getting paid for this talk, be sure to understand the requirements of the talk. You may need to touch on certain key points, mention your sponsor, or have specific signage that you need up. Do not forget to plan for these key items in your presentation.
Imagery: Use compelling and relevant images if you have visuals during your presentation. If the talk is about you and your work, then your art suffice for imagery. However for other talks, refrain from using cheesy clip art or using imagery for the sake of having a picture. Make sure that the imagery has a purpose.
Pro-Tip: Always have some notes you can refer to during your presentation so you can stay on track. You may be answering a question from an audience member and lose track of where you were at.
Practice: Always practice your presentation. It’s easy to go over your presentation in your head but it’s different talking it out. Practice out loud in your studio or present it to a friend or family member. This way you can also make sure you get your timing right. You don’t want an hour-long talk to take only 20 minutes or vice versa. A friend can also help you find holes in your presentation or point out where you are unclear so you can deliver the strongest message possible to your audience.
Back up Plans: These are so necessary. Picture the worst-case scenario and prepare for that but expect the best. For example, maybe your presentation is all set to go but your venue’s projector light bulb burns out mid-presentation and you can’t get a handyman in to help. Perhaps the time needed to fix it would not be worth it or the Facilities Manager is off that day. Print out your notes and presentation beforehand so if you are left with no technology or visuals, you can smoothly transition and pick up after this tech hiccup.
Dress Professional: Pick out your outfit before so you’re not running around looking for your iron or noticing a run in your nylons. It’s important to look professional in your presentation. Keep your host in mind, if you are working with a corporation, plan to dress similarly to the company culture. If you are nervous, wear something breathable or layers so you can take off a jacket or top if you get too warm. High heels or uncomfortable shoes can be painful and distracting, think comfort as you present.
Packing: Pack everything beforehand so you’re not scrambling the day of, you will thank yourself later. Don’t forget to bring a bottle of water because you may get a dry mouth, a sore throat, or just be thirsty during your talk.
Technology: Computer and power supply are important to bring. Be sure to bring all of your tech-related materials. If you need a projector then ask if this will be available to you. If you frequently need one, consider investing in one if you present a lot and find yourself relying on other people’s technology. Remember to charge your computer or laptop beforehand.
Pro-Tip: Projector Adapters Many laptops need an adapter to work with the projector so invest in one; never expect the host or venue to have the correct cords.
Handouts: After you have written your content and have a presentation prepared, you should plan on what sort of handouts or notes you want to provide your audience (if any). You do not need to plan your handouts to be your entire presentation. More effective handouts summarize the key info for your attendees. Perhaps provide them with some places for additional resources or where they can find your website or a place to download entire notes (for those learners who like to learn this way). Bring additional relevant handouts like your business card or additional marketing materials. Make sure you have your handouts printed and prepared beforehand. Always print off a few more copies than you think you need as well.
Arrival: Arrive early at your venue. Traffic, getting lost, tech connection problems, and more happen. Every presentation I have had has kept me on my problem-solving toes. Arrive at least an hour early, or plan for that. If you get there early you have time to see the up, layout handouts and or freebies or business cards, adjust the room layout if needed, test the lights if you dim them during your presentation so you’re not fumbling when your audience is there and take a bathroom break yourself. You may need to get wired up with a microphone so you want time to get this on properly. Having enough time keeps you calm. If there is still more time, run through your notes or practice your presentation.
Pro-Tip: It’s perfectly normal to be nervous. Most of your nervousness is the anticipation of the moment rather than actually the presentation of the material. Reassure yourself that all of your preparations and practice will pay off. Once you get started, you will look back and wonder why you were so nervous!
Breaks: Plan for snacks, water, or breaks depending on how long you will be presenting. Again, coordinate this if you are working with a gallery or host, or sponsor. Put yourself in the seats of your audience, after about an hour you may get fidgety. Plan ahead of time when you want everyone to take stretch and bathroom breaks if you talk is longer than one hour. This break will be good for you as well as you will be leading the group through a large amount of content and may need a break as well.
Executing the Back Up Plan: Things have gone awry. How you react to surprises is key, stay calm, don’t continue to talk about the problem even if you are panicking a bit. Take a breath and problem solve. Is it something simple that can be fixed in 1 to 2 minutes or is it more difficult like 5 to 8 minutes? Fix the things that are simple, an unplugged cord or connecting to a different WiFi signal. Leave the bigger problems that can’t be fixed. Remember your audience wants the content and wants to hear what you have to say as opposed to you spending valuable time fixing a problem. If the internet is down or power goes out, the show must go on! Smile and do your best, remember you and your audience are all in this together so make the transition as smooth as possible.
Introduction and Announcements: Start with an introduction, some announcements, or other things you may need to cover before you begin the presentation. You can welcome everyone and encourage the last few attendees to get seated. This is a good time to thank everyone for coming and also thank your host. You can mention the main discussion topic to make sure everyone who is in the audience knows they are in the right place. Feel free to start with the basic agenda as well as noting when people can expect to be done or take a break. Also during your introduction, point out the refreshments and bathroom and let the audience know if you mind them getting up to access these during your presentation or if you prefer them to do so before, after, or during the break.
Pro-Tip: While getting out of a class or workshop early felt like fun in school, some people may feel they are cheated if they paid to attend what you are presenting. Respect your and their time by letting them know what to expect for time and stick to that as best as you can.
Touching Base: Keep pace and delivery in mind throughout your presentation. Read the audience. You can tell when people start to get confused or if they are getting bored. Touch base with the audience if they appear lost simply by asking, “Is everyone still with me, or was I clear about that?” You can always stop and ask if there are any questions along the way so you don’t continue to add content upon information that the audience is already not clear about. Feel free to touch base on time if you are unsure where you are at with the pace of the presentation as well.
Contact Info: You are bound to have some participants or attendees who want to reach out to you after the talk, provide your information to get in contact with you after the talk or presentation.
Q & A: Always leave a bit of time for answering your audience’s questions unless you have been answering them throughout the presentation.
Thank Yous: Write a thank you note to your host! Especially if you were paid for this event or if you enjoyed your experience and would like to be asked to present again in the future.
Notes: Take a few notes on what went well and what you would change so the next time you have a presentation you know how to improve. You can also ask for feedback from your host or sponsor as well.
Pro-Tip: Follow Up You may have some attendees who reached out to you post-presentation. Be sure to follow up with them or any other leads you received from your presentation. Consider sending out a follow-up email with a survey attached for feedback as well as a thank you for attending and links to any resources or notes that you mentioned.
Reward: If you were particularly nervous or this was a creative milestone for you, reward yourself! Take a break or treat yourself. Public speaking can be very intimidating so acknowledge this big step.