There are so many great ways to stay up to date with the latest industry trends and fine-tune your skills. From blogs to webinars, podcasts, online courses and much more, the Internet offers a huge variety of learning opportunities but very few can compare to the experience of a conference.

If you’ve ever attended a well-organized one, I likely don’t have to stress the merits of attending. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend quite a few conferences in the past few years and, although I’ve not been disappointed, some things that I find detract from the overall experience keep popping up from one to another like a really bad relay race. That is until this years The Power of Storytelling Conference.

I’m not going to talk about the conference itself but I feel that aside from the great lessons in storytelling, POS 2015 had quite a few lessons to teach event organizers and speakers alike. If you’d like to get a feel for what POS 2015 was all about, please read my even recap on SEMrush.


  1. It’s time to ditch the boring slides

I know slides offer a great way of structuring your talk and offer a visual way to contextualize each point discussed but there’s a very fine line between a slide supporting your talk and plunging it into utter boredom.

The worst I’ve ever seen is a talk consisting of a very detailed set of slides, which pretty much narrated the entire talk. The audience reads a lot faster than the speaker because they’re skimming and they don’t have to keep turning towards the room to establish some kind of connection, which by the way, the speaker has no hope in hell of achieving at this point.

Since the speaker was just reiterating whatever he’d so generously detailed in the slides, everyone was sort of waiting for him to finish reading and skip to the next slide. Doesn’t sound like a very exciting experience, does it?

I was really happy that POS 2015 didn’t have a single bullet point-filled slide and, even though some talks were structured around numbered points, there was no actual written list the speaker was reading off of. Instead, there was an abundance of multimedia content which was used to emphasize points and advance the story being told.

Tip: Even if your talk is very technical, creative use of multimedia content can help you get your point across much more effectively and memorably than slapping code or numbers on an uninteresting slide.

2. Original content outshines stock content

Even though people understand the importance of visual content in a presentation, it’s not always very easy to find the visuals you’re looking for. A lot of times speakers include stock images in their presentations but in a room full of designers and marketers odds are people will easily recognize a stock photo and some might even be able to pinpoint where it’s from, detracting from the talk’s overall unique feel and making it memorable for the wrong reasons.

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In terms of overall value, created content outranks curated content and stock images will make you look generic and, depending on your industry, it might even make you seem intellectually lazy. If you have the resources, seek the help of a good graphic designer and/ or photographer  in creating original, branded visual content to include in your presentation. If you don’t, consider putting some effort into learning to use to tools you have at your disposal to replace stock photography with branded images you create using your phone or camera.

Tip: Use apps like VSCO, Snapseed and Aviary to take and edit your own images. Because it’s relatively easy to use and offer a great variety of graphic elements (free and paid) I suggest you give services like Canva a shot.

3. Organizers should add context

You’d think that conference speakers are laid-back individuals with amazing social skills and the gift of public speaking deeply engrained in every fibre of their being. You’re wrong. Getting up in front of hundreds of people can be as nerve-racking for the guy taking the stage the 50th time as for first-time speaker. This is particularly true for more technical conferences, where the speakers have less public speaking experience then say a content marketer with 20 yearly speaking engagements. And that’s perfectly fine.

However, it’s important that organizers recognize this potential issue and address it by taking off some of the pressure put on the speakers they invite. One easy way to do this is by taking on the task of introducing each speaker and by introducing I mean actually putting some thought into it not asking them for a few paragraphs the speaker wants them to say.

In addition to making it a tad bit easier for those who find it hard to talk about themselves, this type of intro offers a more personal view of the speaker as well as, insight into why they were chosen to hold a presentation in the first place.

Tip: Don’t shy away from offering personal remarks about the speaker, referencing times you’ve worked together or instances in which their work has helped or inspired you. 

4. Sponsor gifts should stick with the conference theme

Sponsors’ goodie bags have one single purpose and that’s to give you a branded something that you’ll hopefully use to create a bit more awareness for their brand. Fantastic! Now in line with this logic, I ask you – why in the name of all things sane would you, as a sponsor, gift something people don’t even understand how to use? Yes, we got one of those. No, we still haven’t solved the mystery.

I’m sure if we all sat down for a nice cup of coffee we could come up with a list of lazy sponsor gifts that could easily rival Santa’s naughty list and, just to mention a few, promotional leaflets, booklets and portfolio snippets would definitely make the list.

If you do invest in a sponsorship package and gifts, don’t waste the opportunity by offering something generic people could easily get by visiting your store or company. Make your gifts unique and create them in such a way that they represent the spirit of the business you’re running.

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One of my favourite POS 2015 sponsor gifts was this really sweet little notebook which I can not only write in but has some really great messages on each page. Great gift for a storyteller!

Tip: It’s important you not only put yourself in the audience’s shoes and try to think about items they might frequently use but it’s equally as important that you stick with the conference’s theme.

In all fairness, I’ve never organized a conference and don’t even pretend to know the hurdles one has to overcome to make it a success but, as an attendee, I’ve hopefully provided some insight into how you can improve the overall conference experience, boosting engagement and attendance for future editions.

© 2015 Shoestrings & Fancy Things. All Rights Reserved.