1. Accept the Challenge
Everyone always says that a good way to begin to get involved with PACRAO is to present a session at a conference. It’s a short-term, low-stakes, low-time contribution that does not involve travel to meetings or homework assignments or a multi-year commitment. You’re only in the spotlight for an hour or so, and then you can step back and pat yourself on the back for contributing something of yourself to your colleagues and to your organization. Sounds easy! So how do you get started? And what’s the point, anyway?
2. Be the Program
Our state, regional and national organizations depend on members like us to “be the program” at our conferences. The heart of any conference is the program: the sessions and the plenary speakers. Sessions are what make conferences worth attending. Sure, there is value in networking and reconnecting with our colleagues at conferences – and we always seem to have fun and eat a lot – but in the end, we attend conferences for the value of the program.
None of our associations can afford to pay professionals to come in and present all of our sessions to us. That’s why our associations rely on members to step up and “be the program.” Who better than us to show each other good ways to do things, or tricks about software, or the pitfalls of implementing new laws or policy? Sometimes presenting is a chance to brag about a problem we have successfully solved; sometimes presenting is a chance to share something that worked for us on our campuses or in our offices; sometimes presenting is a chance to share a problem and commiserate with each other about the trouble we are having on our campus. Admit it: we all have plenty of topics. We just need to take a look around!
3. Pick a Topic
So, the first thing you need to do on this journey is to pick a topic. Have you implemented something new in the past year? That could be anything from a implementing a new piece of software or implementing a new faculty policy or just a implementing a new way of doing an old task. This does not have to be earth-shattering. Have you changed how you are handing a process? Have you reorganized something? Have you had an “Ah-ha” moment?
I recently was thinking about the “then and now” of processing transfer credit. At the University of Oregon (UO), we have an extremely efficient process for handing incoming transfer credit which involves lots of technology solutions coupled with daily monitoring and management of all of our tasks. I have presented a session called “Technology Tools to Meet Outrageous Transfer Articulation Service Agreements” at several conferences (OrACRAO, PACRAO, AACRAO and AACRAO Tech). (By the way, anytime you can work the word “outrageous” into a session title, that’s a good thing!) In presenting that session recently in Phoenix, I realized that most people in the room have no idea what it used to be like in the olden days before we had all these technology tools at our disposal. I also found myself getting a lot of detailed questions about how a transcript actually moves along the steps of the processing path from the time the envelope arrives in the building to the time the credit shows on the student’s degree guide. I hit upon the idea of showing the process “then and now.” My idea was to show my audience the painful, error-ridden, frustrating way we used to do things, and contrast that with the speedy and accurate way we do this work today. A perfect topic!
4. Craft a Catchy Title
The next step in the journey is to craft a catchy title. You want something that will summarize the content of the session, yet be catchy, or maybe even clever (or outrageous!). If you can tie into the theme of the conference, go for it. At AACRAO’s 100th conference, I presented “100 Tips and Tricks for a Productive Office.” At OrACRAO 2016, I presented “Cracking the FERPA Code” (with a subtle nod to The Da Vinci Code). Other recent session titles that I have used include: “AACRAOnyms: A Primer of Higher Ed Acronyms for New Professionals” (misspelled by design and presented at AACRAO); “The A, B, C’s of Writing Good Instructions;” “The Registrar’s Toolkit: Nifty Solutions for Everyday Questions and Problems.” (Nifty is a nifty word in a title!)
For my title, I came up with “A Day in the Life of a Transfer Transcript.” I think this sounds catchy and summarizes what the session will be about – what happens to a transcript in a day and in its life. Might it remind you of the Life of Pi? Or the old Beatles’ song?
5. Draft a Description
Once you have your topic and a title, the next step in your journey is write up a 50-word (or fewer) description. No working on the presentation yet. Get your description ready so you can submit your session when the call for sessions comes in your email. Usually, there is a limit to the length of your description because, if your session is selected, this description will be printed in the conference program (and those cost money, so planning people don’t want you to write a novel!). In some cases, you are permitted to have an additional “long session description” that will appear on the association’s website, where real estate is unlimited. Then your shorter version will be used for printed materials. Focus on the short description first. Type it up in a Word document so you can use spell checker and grammar checker (most session proposal sites do not have those features) and so you can use the character and word count feature (ALT T W for those of you who like keyboard shortcuts). This paragraph contains 178 words, in case you wondered. Save your session description as a Word document, so you can re-use it for another conference at a different time.
If you are submitting your session to an association that asks for a long session description, you can expand your short description as much as you’d like, or simply use the same one for both. I often do that.
Here’s my short session description for “A Day in the Life of a Transfer Transcript:”
In the olden days, before the internet and EDI and document imaging workflows, handling transcripts for transfer students was a tedious, repetitive and time consuming process. This session will explore both the old and the new ways of managing transfer of credit, with an emphasis on technologies that speed the process and ensure equitable and accurate transfer credit award for all students. (62 words)
6. Work within PowerPoint
Ok, so now you have a topic, a title and a description. Now you can start working on your presentation. My preference is to just dig right into PowerPoint and write and organize my content as I go.
Select a design template: First I select a design template. At UO, our Enrollment Management division has developed an official template for presentations. I like using it because it is branded to UO, is interesting to look at, and no one else at the conference will be using it (except perhaps other UO colleagues). Some associations, such as AACRAO, offer a session template that you can use if you so choose. That can be helpful in that the template is branded to the conference and it usually includes a slide of helpful announcements that you might want to make at the beginning of your session (turn off cell phones; turn in evaluations; etc.). You can also choose from the many options offered in the PowerPoint collection or create your own.
Build a Title Slide: On the title page, include your session title, the name of the association and year, city and state of the conference, your name and title, and your institution’s name. In some cases, you will know ahead of time when you are scheduled to present during the conference and your session number. AACRAO, PACRAO and OrACRAO all have rubrics for session numbering. Putting your session number on your title slide will help your attendees find your session evaluation later (or maybe even nominate you for the “Best Session” award). Save your work often. Here’s a sample Title Slide from a recent presentation of mine.
Create an Outline Slide: A good first slide after the title slide is one that will help frame the material you are going to cover for your audience. Good speakers know to 1) tell your audience what you are going to tell them; 2) tell them; and then 3) tell them what you told them. For “A Day in the Life of a Transfer Transcript,” my first slide can be pretty simple; I’m going to talk about the olden days in the first part of the session, and the technology-heavy solution we use today in the second part of the session. In other presentations, I have had as many as ten items on this first slide. This slide serves as a roadmap or outline of your presentation, and it tells your audience what you are going to cover.
Be Brief: After that, dive in and start writing your pages. Limit the amount of content on each of your pages. Write bullet points and short phrases to remind you what to talk about during your presentation, but don’t write out your entire spiel. No one wants you to stand at the front of the room and read your slides to them. Add Visuals: When possible, paste in visuals for your audience. Pictures and screen shots break up the content pages and can prompt you about what to say. Use clipart if appropriate. For “A Day in the Life of a Transfer Transcript,” I am planning to recreate the olden days and take pictures of transcripts piled up in various bins and folders. For the second part of the session, I plan to take screen shots of Banner, document imaging, DuckWeb (self-serve), Degree Guides, etc. I plan to do this travelogue style, as if the transcript were on a little journey for a day, and I’m providing the travelogue.
Practice Fair Use: When using photos, clip art and cartoons be sure to practice fair use. There are lots of images and cartoons on the web; many of them are copyrighted and should not be used without permission (and sometimes even payment!). Include Consistent Clipart: One trick I like to use in my presentations is to use a consistent piece of clipart to signify something to the audience. In my “100 Tips and Tricks” presentation, I used a little eyeball graphic (which actually moves back and forth during the presentation) to indicate that the content on that page was available without a password or account via the web. See the example below, which is also an example of a first slide where I tell my audience what we are going to cover.
Incorporate Screen Shots: Here’s a page from later in the presentation (below). It’s an example of using a screen shot of a web page to demonstrate how something works. As you can see, there is no text on this screen. The images are enough to remind me as the speaker about what to talk about on this slide. Plus the eyeball (my consistent clipart) tells the audience that they can visit the web later and look at this tool again.
Add a Trio of Concluding Slides: Once you finish all your content, add three final slides. The first should be a recap of what you just covered. Add another slide for “Questions, Comments, and Discussion.” Finally, add a “Thank You” slide which also contains your contact information and perhaps a reminder to your audience to please submit a session evaluation. Run your spell checker and grammar checker one more time and save your work.
7. Keep Going
Continue adding slides and content and images. Tell your story. Keep saving your work often.
8. Try these PowerPoint Tricks
Duplicate Slides: When you get too much content on a page (your clue is that suddenly the type font shrinks or your content falls outside the text box), use the “New Slide: Duplicate Selected Slides” to quickly copy that slide. Delete the bottom half of the content on the first slide, and delete the top half of the content on the second slide, and now you have two slides with the same title.
Review and Re-sort Slides: Use the “View: Slide Sorter” function to see how your presentation is shaping up, and to reorganize slides and entire sections of slides. Just right mouse click on a slide and drag it/drop it where you want it to be.
Two Slides for Highlighting: Rather than using “Transitions” to add an arrow to highlight content or add a circle around a piece of content, I simply duplicate the slide and then add the arrow or circle to the second slide. Your audience will never know you have two slides, and you won’t have to worry about whether the transition will work or not. Further, if you make handouts for your audience or post a PDF of your presentation later, the two slides will be distinct.
9. Print and Edit
Now, print out your slides (two to a page or three to a page) and do a thorough edit. I would suggest you do this on paper and not on the computer. Doing editing on the computer can get you bogged down and off track because your inclination will be to fix little things as you read. On paper, you can make notes to add content such as another bullet or a screen shot of something. You can edit for parallel structure. You can get a feel for whether the presentation as a whole is solid or disjointed. You can work on the transitions between one section and another. Once you have edited on paper, go back to the PowerPoint and make your edits. And save your work.
10. Practice Your Presentation
Now is the time to practice your presentation. You can do this in front of someone if you like, or not. I would suggest you actually stand while delivering the material, and time yourself so you know how long your presentation will take. You might find yourself wanting to make changes; make quick notes to yourself, but keep forging ahead on your practice run-through. You can go back after the trial run and fix things.
Once you feel confident you have all the content down, and you can deliver the presentation within about 45 minutes or so, you’re all set! Now, all you have to do is wait for that approval from your association.
11. Connect with Conference Planners
If prompted by the association, be sure to confirm your willingness to present and respond to all questions the conference planners may ask about your audio visual equipment needs or other details. Some conferences, such as AACRAO, ask that you upload your presentation prior to the conference.
12. Print Handouts (Or Not)
Most conferences let you decide whether or not to provide printed handouts. If you do print handouts, you’ll have to try to figure out how many to print and whether you really want to lug them across the state or country. I have known friends pay excess weight fees for taking handouts in their checked luggage – paper is heavy! If you do print handouts, I would suggest you use the three-slides-to-a-page version, printed on both sides, and stapled. The text on these handouts will be legible and there will be room for your audience to take notes. Many associations are now posting PDF’s of all presentations on their web sites either before or after the conference. You audience will be able to get to them online if you upload yours.
13. Confirm Arrangements at the Conference
Once at the conference, some associations ask you to check in with them at a particular room prior to your presentation. Reconfirm the day, time and location of your session. Go and look at your session room. This will help you familiarize yourself with how to find the room, especially at big conferences, and give you a chance to see how the room is set up. There might be a podium on the floor or a podium up on a riser or stage. There might be a table and a couple of chairs at the front of the room or not. You can check on the audio/visual equipment, too.
14. Arrive Early for Your Session
When it is time to present, be sure to arrive at your room early. At AACRAO, your presentation will be on a conference system computer; a tech person will come and check on you and make sure your presentation is displaying. At other conferences, you may be using your own laptop and hooking it into a projector provided for you. Get your presentation opened up in presentation mode set to the first screen. When people walk by the room, they can peek in and see your title slide and know that they are in the right place. If you have handouts, you can set them in piles by the doors, or stand by the door and greet people as they come in and hand them a handout.
15. Let Your Facilitator Help You
It is likely that a facilitator will be with you in your session room and will ask you if you want help with your handouts, if you want a 5-minute warning or a 10-minute warning at the end of the session, and if want to be introduced or not. All of this is up to you. Personally, I like the facilitator to help with handouts, to call the crowd to order, deliver any conference messages (do your evaluations, please!) and to give me a 10-minute warning so I know if I am running out of time. But I do like to introduce myself.
16. Introduce Yourself
When I introduce myself, I give my name, title and institution (of course, this is written on the Title Page of my presentation that is showing on the screen behind me). I like to add how long I have been in my position and a little bit about how long I have worked in higher education. Something like this: “My name is Sue Eveland, and I am the University Registrar at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon. I have worked at UO for the past 15 years, and have been the Registrar since 2008. Prior to joining UO, I worked at Iowa State University for 17 years.”
17. Provide Technical Context (as Appropriate)
Following that, if the presentation warrants this, I tell the audience what technical solutions are in play at the University of Oregon. Doing so will actually stave off your audience members from interrupting you during your presentation just to ask you these details. Sharing this also helps frame the information for them and helps them understand if what you are presenting will work at their campus or not. You can make a slide for this if it helps you remember everything, or simply have the list written out on a note card. For presentations that have nothing to do with technology, skip this step. An example might be a FERPA presentation.
Here’s how I would cover this piece: “To give you some idea of what systems we use at UO, our student information system is Banner. We use u.achieve for our degree audit system. We are a heavy EDI user. Our document imaging system is Singularity. We use 25Live for our classroom scheduling system and What Do You Think for our course evaluation system. We have College Scheduler. We use TES and the National Student Clearinghouse. Michael Sutter is our diploma printer. We use both Leepfrog’s CAT and CIM products for our catalog and curriculum management software. We are looking into buying CLSS”
18. Answer Questions: In the Midst, at the End, and/or Following the Conference
Finally, before you jump into your presentation, you might announce to the audience your preference about taking questions during the presentation or holding all questions till the end. You will find, if you take questions during a presentation, that your audience will ask questions about things you are about to cover later in your presentation. In that case, I would suggest you say, “I’ll get to that in a bit,” and keep going (don’t answer the question). Answering questions during a presentation can derail you and prevent you from getting through your entire presentation. If you are an inexperienced presenter, I would suggest you ask your audience to hold all questions till the end. At the end of your presentation, you can thank your audience and then open it up for questions. It’s fair to admit that you don’t know the answers to every question that might come up, but offer to check and get back to the person. Afterward, audience members often come up to thank you, ask for your business card, or ask another question. Some will ask you to share something specific (will you send me your cheat sheet about XYZ?). One way to handle this is to give them your business card and ask them to email you with their question after the conference. Another way is to ask them to provide their business card with a note on the back about what they want. I prefer the latter because then I get to know some of the people in my audience.
19. Congratulate Yourself!
And there you have it. Your journey is finished. It is time to unplug your computer, gather up your things, and leave your presentation room to the next presenter. After the conference, don’t forget to update your resume’ and then start thinking about your next “Idea” to “Fabulous Presentation” journey. I’ll see you at PACRAO!!!
Sue Eveland, MA has worked in higher education for 32 years, first at Iowa State University for 17 years, and then at the University of Oregon since 2001. She has been UO’s University Registrar since 2008. Sue has served UMACRAO, OrACRAO and PACRAO in many roles over the years, including both elected and appointed positions, on boards and as a conference planner. Sue served as President for OrACRAO in 2006 and for PACRAO in 2013. She was awarded UMACRAO’s Exemplary Service Award in 1997 and OrACRAO’s Herb Chereck Award for Excellence in 2016. She just completed serving as the OrACRAO 2016 Planning Committee Chair and currently serves as PACRAO’s Archivist. Yes, she has a day job, though some wonder when she has time to do it! Sue is married to Big Bucks Bruce, who is retired and has been traveling extensively. Sue hopes to join him soon!
Author’s Comments: It would not be an exaggeration to say that Sue presents at every state, regional, and national ‘CRAO that she attends, so she has lots of experience when it comes to developing and delivering conference sessions. She also practices a technique called “passing the salt,” which is an expression that means asking a specific colleague to do something specific (Will you edit our conference program? Will you write up a web page about Things to Do Around Town? Will you ask your president to speak at our conference?). This time, turnabout is fair play: VP for Professional Development Julia Pomerenk passed the salt to Sue by asking her to write a PACRAO Review article on the topic of developing and presenting sessions at conferences. For first-time presenters, Sue hopes this article helps you get going; for seasoned presenters, maybe you’ll catch a tip or two for your future endeavors!