Tips for RootsTech Presenters

Tips for RootsTech Presenters

I won’t be attending RootsTech 2014 this year due to previously scheduled speaking commitments: the 4th Unlock the Past Cruise to be exact. But several new speakers for this year’s event have asked me to share my tips and tricks on presenting at RootsTech.

I have been delivering genealogy and family history related content as in-person lectures as well as webinars for over five years now. And in my previous career, I often had to present to audiences ranging from three people to 3,000. And you name it, it has happened to me during a talk: equipment breakdown, equipment caught on fire, fire alarm in hotel, hotel caught on fire, etc. I even had a “serial stripper” disrobe in the back of the room during one of my talks.

So here are some tips and tricks, many of which are applicable to any genealogy speaking venue:

  • Know your presentation. And I mean totally know it – with your eyes closed and no notes. Rehearse and practice, but in a way that allows you to be flexible. It is better to know all the concepts and be able to add/remove content and comments as needed due to technical issues or time restrictions.
  • One minute per slide. The formula I use is one minute of talking time per slide. Allow 2-3 minutes for an intro and then remember that you need time for Q&A. So you have maybe 47 minutes total for a standard “hour long” presentation.
  • Don’t fear the big stage. If your talk is being live-streamed at RootsTech, you’ll likely be appearing on the same big stage as the key note speakers. With music. And lights so bright that you can’t see the audience. Don’t panic. You’ve got this. Treat this presentation as no different than one in front of your genealogy society of 20 people back home. Your love of genealogy and your topic will shine through.
  • Greet attendees at the door. If time permits – after you’ve set up your slides and tested audio equipment – stand at the front door and thank people for attending. Stop by the front row and ask attendees why they find your topic interesting. Understand the expectations of your audience and then be flexible and make adjustments to your presentation related to the feedback.
  • Have multiple backups of your slides. Seriously. Like five backups all over the place: Dropbox, flash drive, on your laptop, email, etc.  Stuff happens and it will happen. You should always have access to your slides no matter what.
  • Use a flash drive. Place your notes and talk on a flash drive. Many venues, like RootsTech, don’t allow you to use your own laptop or tablet. Check and verify the presentation requirements before you arrive at the speaking venue.
  • Test your presentation on a different computer. If you’ve used funky fonts or linked to files on your computer, guess what? It is likely those items won’t work on the computer provided by the speaking venue. Copy your presentation to a flash drive and then do a test run on another computer, not the one where you created the presentation.
  • Display your contact info on a slide. At the end of your presentation have a slide with your name and your email address. Many times attendees will want to send you not just feedback, but ideas that you can incorporate to your presentation. Also, I’ve been able to secure future speaking engagements from an attendee who sits on the board of a genealogy society or organization.
  • Relax and enjoy. The time will go by faster than you realize; live in the moment. Enjoy the time spent with your audience. Take mental notes as to what worked and what didn’t work. Remember those audience questions and work them into the next version of the presentation.

Photo: Public Speaking, used via Creative Commons license.

©2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee

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About Thomas MacEntee

What happens when a “tech guy” with a love for history gets laid off during The Great Recession of 2008? You get Thomas MacEntee, a genealogy professional who’s also a blogger, educator, author, social media connector, online community builder and more. Thomas was laid off after a 25-year career in the information technology field, so he started his own genealogy-related business called High Definition Genealogy. He also created an online community of over 3,000 family history bloggers known as GeneaBloggers. His most recent endeavor, Hack Genealogy, is an attempt to “re-purpose today’s technology for tomorrow’s genealogy.” Thomas describes himself as a lifelong learner with a background in a multitude of topics who has finally figured out what he does best: teach, inspire, instigate, and serve as a curator and go-to-guy for concept nurturing and inspiration. Thomas is a big believer in success, and that we all succeed when we help each other find success.