Kyle W. Ross, Eastern Washington University
Congratulations to all advisors who are presenting at upcoming NACADA conferences! For those who are thinking about submitting a proposal for the first time, I strongly encourage advisors to submit a proposal, take the opportunity to present, and share their thoughts with their colleagues in this great organization. Presenting at a NACADA event is a very rewarding experience, but it can also be a little stressful. I was a first-time presenter in 2012 at the Region 8 Conference in Portland, and I had such a great experience that I love presenting now. After presenting and observing numerous sessions, I wanted to share some of the most helpful tips I’ve found for a presenting a successful conference session, as well as provide advisors with a few goals to consider.
Seven Tips for a Successful Session
- Relax! Easier said than done, but presenters should take a deep breath and relax before and during their sessions. Before my first session in Portland, I was anxiety-ridden, thinking about what would happen if no one showed up to my co-presenter’s and my session, if no one liked the session, or if I completely froze and forgot everything I was going to say. My partner and I practiced numerous times, and I was still extremely nervous. What I should have been thinking was “I was accepted to present here, which means people want to learn from my session. Advisors are all naturally supportive people, so I should not be afraid to present in front of them. Also, my co-presenter is Lisa Laughter, Best of Region Winner the year before! How could anything possibly go wrong?” It is much easier to let the negative thoughts take over the day of the session, but presenters need to take a breath and let them go.
- Present With Someone. If presenters are not quite comfortable with public speaking yet, don’t be discouraged; skills will improve with each presentation. It might be helpful, though, to consider having a co-presenter in the first presentation. Co-presenting will help increase confidence, especially knowing that the entire session no longer rests on one’s shoulders. A co-presenter can help fill in points that may have been accidentally missed. A co-presenter who has presented in the past can also share advice to improve the session. This type of advice was especially helpful to me as I submitted proposals for the NACADA Annual Conference. Had I not asked my friend Olga Salinas from Boise State to submit a proposal with me, I would not have known what a strong proposal looked like, and I probably would not have been accepted to present in Minneapolis for the 2014 Annual Conference.
- Don’t Procrastinate. We tell our students this on a regular basis, so we should not procrastinate ourselves. I admit I once made this mistake while preparing for a session and fortunately, the only negative consequence was a sleepless night before I flew to the conference venue. However, waiting until the last minute to make and print handouts or finalize a PowerPoint or Prezi is an easy way to create panic moments before the session. Presenters might miss a few copies on the printer, so there won’t be enough handouts for all participants. Even worse, there may be a spelling error in the presentation, which no one will point out (Remember, advisors are supportive!), but nevertheless will be embarrassing.
- Avoid the “Now What?” NACADA conferences feature a vast array of presentation topics, but the one thing advisors want from every session they attend is the answer to this question: “How can I apply this to my institution, my students, and my practice?” If advisors are presenting a program that was successfully implemented, don’t stop at just describing what the program was and how it was implemented. Take some time to discuss the components that will be easy to implement in other settings and the components that will be challenging to apply. I have been to a number of sessions that don’t discuss the application component, and those are where I hear advisors saying, “This is awesome, but how do I take it to my institution?”
- Leave Time for Discussion. One important component of any presentation is time for discussion, not only at the end of the session, but throughout it. Having two group discussions during the presentation not only keeps participants engaged, but it also is a good time to rest and collect thoughts for the next part. Instead of having to talk for 50 minutes straight, presenters could talk for three blocks of 15 minutes. It makes a positive difference.
- Don’t Read the Slides. Slides are there for the audience to read and get a summary of the discussion, not for the presenters to read. Sure, presenters can refer to them when they are reading a long quote, or a phrase that they just can’t seem to memorize, but the less dependent they are on their slides, the more successful their session. Presenters will be more engaging, and it won’t be a disaster if the PowerPoint is not working or the projector shuts off.
- Don’t Dwell on Low Evaluations. The hardest part of a presentation is reading low evaluations. Everyone is going to present a great topic, and the majority of participants will respond with positive comments, as advisors are just that supportive. However, there will always be one person who did not get what he or she was looking for, or did not like the presentation style, and presenters need to be okay with that. No session is perfect. When I present, I am high-energy and a little sarcastic at times, and I do like flair. It was a bit hard for me to read one evaluation that said I was over the top and a little ridiculous. There were 80 evaluations that indicated participants loved my session, but I was not focusing as much on those. The positive comments are the most instructive and while that one negative evaluation might provide a great insight for presenters in the future, don’t dwell on it. Presenters should celebrate their fantastic sessions!
- Walk Around the Room. This seems like a very small thing to do, but it makes a big impact. Even presenters who are uncomfortable speaking in front of people should try to get out from behind the podium and interact with the audience if possible. Walking among participants not only engages them, but it engages presenters more with them. The distance between participants and presenters is shortened when they when they leave the podium or PowerPoint and walk around the audience. Buy a clicker, or to ask a colleague to advance the slides. Everyone will enjoy the session more.
- Publish the Presentation! If advisors have met NACADA Executive Director Charlie Nutt, they have already heard this message, and this is only a reminder. Publish the presentation! NACADA has three great venues to share thoughts not only with session participants, but with the entire organization: the NACADA Journal, Academic Advising Today, and the Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources. One of those three will be a great place to share ideas, and presenters will have already done the majority of the work by writing the proposal and creating the presentation. My challenge is to write the first draft of the article within three months of the presentation. That is the hardest part, and it gets easier from that point until the presenter sees his or her article featured in a NACADA publication.
- Next Time, Present Alone. Once members have successfully presented their first NACADA session, celebrate! It’s a great achievement, especially if they are not natural public speakers. They just challenged themselves to do something they might not have been comfortable with at first. Advisors looking toward the next opportunity should submit a proposal again and fly solo this time (and congratulations to those who already have!). Those who gained confidence initially by presenting with a partner should strive to present alone within a year after that first session; advisors who do will feel more confident in themselves and excited that they accomplished this challenge.
I hope these tips and goals are helpful to advisors as they present at this year’s and any future NACADA events. Good luck, and congratulations again!
Kyle W. Ross
Retention Specialist/Academic Advisor
Academic Success Center
Eastern Washington University
Cite this article using APA style as: Ross, K. (2014, December). Preparing for a NACADA presentation. Academic Advising Today, 37(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]