By Elisa Shoenberger, Benchmarking Analyst, Grenzebach Glier and Associates
I went to APRA ARC and had a blast. I learned so much from my colleagues in the field. It’s amazing to see what people are doing! I’m thinking about next year’s conferences. I’d love to present what I have done in my research shop but I’m not sure if I should. What do you recommend? What did you do to get ready for the conferences you’ve spoken at?
That’s wonderful! I’m so pleased to hear that you had a great time at ARC. I’m even happier to hear that you are thinking about speaking next year at ARC or another conference. I think that is great. I’ve spoken at several conferences and I’ve enjoyed every single one of them. It’s always fun to share what you have learned and to continue discovering new things from other people.
I know that speaking at a conference can seem very scary. When I first thought about it, I was not sure what I would say. What could I talk about? Or more importantly: What was I qualified to talk about? The answer was simple: my job. What did I do every day? What had I learned as a researcher and/or prospect manager? What processes did we build at my job? Because once you start going to conferences and talking to people in the field, you realize that everyone does things differently. So there’s your starting point. What do you do that is different? My first conference talk was a panel on planned giving, which is a really tricky part of fundraising for me. But I had spent years learning about it and spent a lot of time figuring out to translate my knowledge of planned giving (with lots of help from my boss and others in my organization) into conducting better research and management for my organization. And the presentation went well!
Another idea is to look at an area that you find so fascinating within the field. Maybe you know something about it but you want to learn more. That’s totally a legitimate thing to talk about! I’m personally fascinated by corporations and foundations and decided to focus on this area for the past three talks. Now, it’s okay not to know all the answers. You can learn more about the topic in order to present. It’s more than likely that you’ll want to do some more research for your presentation. I spent time interviewing people and reviewing aspects about foundations that I did not know a lot about. And it’s half the fun of presenting!
There’s also the possibility of co-presenting. I know several colleagues who present with other researchers in their offices. Sometimes they even present with gift officers and other non-researchers at their organization. Or you can present on a panel. As I mentioned before, my first presentation was a panel on planned giving where my co-presenters were from all over the US. A panel can be a great way to start presenting. You have fellow presenters to help you out (particularly with questions) and you learn new things from what they are doing.
Okay, so you’ve gotten your speech figured out and you’ve been accepted by a conference, the next step is putting together the presentation. You do not want to put too much information on any slide. Too much information can overwhelm the viewer and make it hard to read the talking points. You can put the highlights to help people later on when they review the slides. I view my presentation slides as a guide in my presentation.
One of the trickiest parts of presenting is the Q&A at the end. You’ve spent a lot of time preparing your speech but the questions can be about anything! (Well, hopefully about your speech and related topics). It’s okay not to know the answer. You may have questions that you really won’t be able to answer. Take it as an opportunity for new research and new learning. The questions may help to clarify a point about your work. Try to see the Q&A as a continuation of the learning process. That’s what conferences are all about.
Finally, remember to bring lots of business cards. People will likely want to follow up with you or even send you documents about how they do their work on the topic to help you in your own work. As mentioned in previous Dear Analyst posts, conferences are a place to meet people and learn about new techniques, strategies in our field.
So go forth and submit your presentation ideas! It’s well worth it!