Tips for Presenting at a National Conference

This fall, I was one of three people representing Hirons at the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development’s annual conference in Nashville, TN. While I have given numerous presentations throughout my career thus far in classes, in meetings and at local events, this was my first time traveling out of state for business and presenting at a national conference.

Our team was selected to host an interactive workshop, Rural Reach: A Strategic Communication Approach to Reaching the Rural Poor. Rural Reach is one of Hirons’ specializations, a program that I have been working on since I started as business development coordinator a year ago. Several members of Hirons’ team pulled together the data and materials for transforming Rural Reach – previously only presented in a lecture-style format – into an interactive workshop. Throughout the process, I had several questions and came away with a better understanding of how business travel and large-scale conferences function. For the benefit of other young professionals, I thought I’d share some insights here.

Use Company Credit Cards When You Can

If you work for a company that allows its employees to have company credit cards, I recommend using one for traveling. It saved me a lot of time and hassle to be able to charge expenses related to the business trip directly to the card rather than tracking them and getting reimbursed after the fact. This is, of course, a major privilege that not all organizations or employees have, but I highly suggest you take advantage of it if you’re able to. Just make sure you keep all your receipts! Your company should have a policy in place that clearly outlines what purchases can and cannot be made on the company card. I did some of my own research and confirmed our company policy with my co-workers before making any charges.

In general, the biggest thing to note that is cards can be used for all travel-related expenses (meals, gas station snacks, valet parking, etc.) except buying gas for the car. This is because most companies will reimburse you for mileage, which usually ends up giving you enough to reimburse the cost of gas for the trip plus extra for the wear and tear you put on your car by driving it.

Get to Know the City You’re In

As I mentioned, the conference that our team attended was in Nashville. Although I’ve frequented southern regions of Tennessee in life for vacation (I come from a Pigeon Forge family), I had never seen Nashville before. Even though we were only in town for one evening before presenting the next afternoon and heading straight back to Indiana, I still made a point of getting out of the hotel to go to dinner and see a tiny sliver of the city. I’m not going to lie, I was very tempted to just hole up in my room, order room service and practice my slides until I finally crashed. However, opting to go out, see what I could see, and try a restaurant in a new place was much more fun! Doing a bit of exploring provided a distraction and helped me relax about the presentation I was slated to give the next day.

Don’t Forget to Eat

This might seem obvious, but it’s worth saying. Oftentimes, your business trip schedule can get so jam-packed with deadlines and destinations that it can be hard to find time to care for yourself. Don’t fall into this trap!

On the morning of our presentation, our team intended to do a couple dry runs in the conference’s practice space. These dry runs ended up going a bit longer than originally intended (as can happen when you’re doing your best to perfect what you’re going to say to a crowd of people) and we had less time between practice and our time slot than I had bargained for. While there were water and coffee stations throughout the hallway surrounding our session space, there were no snacks in sight *cue horror movie music*. For a moment, I was considering entering my two-and-a-half hour noon-time workshop without having had any lunch. While it would have been easiest on my nerves to hole up in the session space and spend the last few minutes prepping, I was also aware that I get migraines when I don’t eat properly.

I made the choice to eat, so I communicated to my team that I would be back as quickly as possible, and then I speed-walked to the other end of conference venue to find the on-site convenience store. I returned with a few minutes to spare before the start of the workshop and was relieved to be able to get started without nagging hunger pains in my stomach.

Be Flexible

As far as big presentations go, my number one takeaway is to be flexible when you get in the room. Have your audience introduce themselves if it’s a small room or, if it’s too large to do this individually, do some sort of ice breaker so that you obtain an understanding of the types of attendees you have. If you take the time to feel out the room and tailor your words to meet people where they’re at, they’ll notice and be appreciative. This can also save you from spending precious time talking about information that your audience might already know or that makes them feel like you’ve walked in with a cookie-cutter presentation. Adding a personal touch, like anecdotes you know they’ll relate to, and skipping over slides that you don’t think that particular audience will find useful, can really make a difference.

Our typical Rural Reach presentation is designed to be given to individuals who are entirely unfamiliar with the rural demographic. However, upon having attendees of our workshop introduce themselves, it was revealed that every one of them represented a healthcare system in a rural area. As such, we were addressing subject matter experts when it came to experiences in these types of communities.

Being from a rural area myself, I made sure to adjust my remarks so that it felt like I was including the audience rather than just feeding them information. This earned me the highest speaker evaluation score out of the three of us who were presenting the session (3.83/4.0).

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