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Welcome to

The Standup Trainer Newsletter

September 2007

Brought to you by Ellen Dowling, PhD ("The Standup Trainer") and the fine folks of Dowling & Associates, Inc.



This newsletter is guaranteed certifiably useful as well as amusing. (If you are not completely satisfied, there are unsubscribe instructions at the end. But we're betting you'll change your mind by the time you get there.)

Welcome to all new and continuing subscribers!

In this issue:

Another idea on how to include interactive activities in your presentations or training sessions and a horror story about a conference presentation (with prevention solutions).

In last month's issue, I mentioned that I was planning to try a game called "The World's Worst Presenter" (adapted from a Who's Line is it Anyway improv) in my upcoming presentation skills classes. I am happy to report that I used this activity in a class for 10 architects as well as a workshop for 85 trainers, and in both cases it went swimmingly each time. It appears that EVERYONE knows what a bad presenter looks and acts like. (Now, if only they also knew what a GOOD presenter was, eh?)

And speaking of energetic opening activities, one of my brilliant and talented subscribers (is there any other kind?), Marilyn J. Tellez, sent me this intriguing opener:

Have each person in the group trace an outline of their shoe, either foot will do. Put the shoe outlines in a basket. Each person then draws out a shoe outline and looks for the person whose shoe fits! (No touching is needed; just looking. It will make for hilarious laughter. Make it about 5 minutes tops.)

Thanks, Marilyn!

And now on to our regularly scheduled programming . . . .


Dear Dr. Standup:


I have been invited to speak at an upcoming professional society conference. My session, “The Influence of Baroque Architecture on Papago Indian Dwellings,” is scheduled for 1:30 PM. Can you give me any tips for a successful conference presentation?



Walrus Eggman


Dear Wally:

Wow, what an interesting topic! Although I can't attend (darn), I can give you some things to think about that I hope will help you.


I myself recently attended an American Society Training and Development (ASTD) regional conference in Memphis , Tennessee . The conference was held at a very nice (and expensive hotel), with over 180 attendees. Except for the fact that there was no coffee available for the morning keynote session (horrible, oh horrible, most horrible), everything seemed well put together and organized. Then the first speakers started their presentations and things started to fall apart.

First up was a colleague of mine, doing a presentation on dealing with generational diversity in the workplace. Laptop (Mac) working? Check. Remote slide advancer hooked into the projector working? Check.

Handouts ready to handout? No handouts. It seems the conference organizers decided at the last minute that copies of handouts (which presenters had sent to them a month ago) would cost too much money to reproduce, so they just said forget it.

OK, no problem, says my colleague. She grabs a pad of paper and sends it around the room, asking attendees to note their email addresses and she'll send them the handout later.

Then she becomes aware that strange music is coming through the rice paper walls separating her room from the other presenters'. It seems some group next door is conducting a stress reduction workshop of some sort and playing Chinese flute music to sooth the savage session attendees. My colleague becomes very stressed by this and goes next door to shut them up.

Meanwhile, other attendees are shuffling slowly into my colleague's room, obviously feeling the effects of severe caffeine deprivation. And because so many of them have wandered far and away to score some coffee, the session is already starting 15 minutes later than schedule.

The room itself is "a corner in a booth in the back in the dark," small and stuffy, with not nearly enough chairs for all the attendees. My colleague begins her session, but then has to interrupt herself to play usher and help the late arrivals find chairs and a place to sit. (There is no one from the hotel or the conference administration to help her, of course.)

FINALLY, the sessioneers are all successfully seated, and my colleague at long last can launch into her presentation . . . but wait! Now the folks in the session on the other side of the wall are shrieking and whooping! (Some sort of interactive activity?) OK, pause to let that die down, and . . . .

More people arrive late for the session, requiring a hunt for more chairs, etc. These particular latecomers are obviously folks who started out in another session, hung out there for a bit, decided either, “This is not information I really need,” or “This presenter is BORING,” and then slipped out the back in search of a more interesting session. Open Space Technology innovator Harrison Owen calls this most common conference occurrence “The Law of Two Feet.” It is nice, if distracting, when these emigrants show up at your session late; it is stressful, and even more distracting, when folks decide YOU are too boring (or whatever) and leave your session soon after arriving. (“They don't like me!?”)

But wait! Suddenly a bright spot shines on the session's horizon: A conference volunteer has gone to his own nearby office and run off copies of my colleague's handout. He shows up halfway through the session and passes the copies around. A welcome interruption? Well, it would be, except for the fact that

. . . there are not enough copies for everyone and the people in the back are peeved.

So just when we were thinking—surely, everything that can go wrong has already gone wrong, my colleague points her remote at the projector (she's up to about slide 32 by now) and whoosh! all the rest of the slides whiz by to the very end of the slide show and then whiz back again to the beginning! Then she has to open up PowerPoint, find which slide she was showing before the whoosh, and go to it again. This happens at least FOUR TIMES during her presentation, and it doesn't get any less distracting with repetition. (It turns out that the remote for the projector doesn't like not being used for some particular length of time and expresses its irritation at being ignored by whooshing to the end and back again.)

I must say that my colleague did OK in between the technical difficulties, but she pretty much spent the whole session fighting with the projector and was frequently distracted by the noise from the session next door. To add insult to injury, that session finished a few minutes before my colleague did, and all of us could hear the folks next door applauding wildly for their speaker. Sigh.

So what could my colleague have done to minimize or eliminate some of the irritants I described above? First of all, she could have taken more control of the things she could control, namely, the handouts and the remote slide advancer, to wit: Bring your own handouts (more than the number of people the room can hold, even shoe-horned in) and bring your own remote slide advancer plugged into your own laptop.

Secondly, she could have anticipated a certain level of coming and going from the session attendees (anyone who's attended a conference knows this happens) and perhaps appointed a "helper" in her audience to serve as usher.

Thirdly, she could have designed her presentation to include more group interaction, so that the noisy participants next door would have been drowned out by the equally noisy participants in her own room!

Best of all, she could read pp. 115 – 122 of Presenting with Style , in which we discuss the logistical problems associated with conference presenting and offer 

5 Quick Tips for Conference Presentations with Style

  1. Always get to your room as early as you can to set up and “take the space.”
  2. Try to be more of a Facilitator than a Professor, particularly at the low-energy-level times of the day.
  3. Don't be bothered by people who sit in the back and leave early. Just consider them “tourists.”
  4. Ask any early arrivals to your session to help you check your audio visuals' readability and your microphone levels.
  5. Delight them with your style, but make sure you teach them something, too!

That's it for this month! If you enjoyed this newsletter please do pass it on to your friends. (Or send them to www.standuptrainer.com to get their own subscription. Why should YOU have to do everything for them?)

If you have a suggestion for something we could do to make this newsletter even MORE useful as well as amusing, please contact us:

Dowling & Associates, Inc.
Ellen Dowling, President
(505) 307-1700