The Three Series: Three books for the conference presenter

This is part of The Three Series.

Conference presenting is something many of us take on at some stage within our career. Those of us that have a desire to move into academic management, teacher education, or simply raise our profile often start by presenting at conferences. And, of course, there are many teachers and ELT professionals who simply want to share their ideas with the world. No matter who you are, if you’re thinking about presenting at a conference or would like to get better at presenting at conferences, I’ve got three must-reads for you!

1 – How to Write and Deliver Talks – Lewis Lansford

I’ve recommended the ELT Teacher 2 Writer series many, many times before, for a whole range of reasons. This is another. Lewis Lansford’s How to Write and Deliver Talks is a great book to have on hand, especially for first-time speakers, as it aims to provide the reader with a short overview of the whole process, from planning to delivery, and to improving. Lansford also provides some insight in how to prepare and deliver webinars, which have become so much more prevalent since the pandemic.

I got this book about two years ago, and have gone back to it whenever I need to prepare a new talk. It is short and to the point, so don’t expect something that goes into loads of detail about all the ins and outs, but do expect something that will give you the necessary tools to deliver a great talk, presentation or workshop. Also, it provides a handy overview of what to expect when applying to talk at conferences!

Here are some of my favourite pieces of advice:

“Avoid trying to spice up talks with academic or technical jargon in order to sound authoritative or expert.”

Lansford, 2020, p. 14

“Start with paper, not slides. Although slides can be an important part of any talk (more on that later), they should support and clarify the ideas you talk about, but not be a written-down version of the talk.”

Lansford, 2020, p.14

“Appropriate timing is one hallmark of a professionally delivered talk.”

Lansford, 2020, p.25

“The beginning of a talk is important, because from the moment you begin speaking, the audience is deciding whether or not they really want to be there. This means you should begin strong. Thanking the conference organisers or the sponsors is a good idea, but keep it brief, and follow it immediately with something that engages your listeners.”

Lansford, 2020, p.32

2 – Talk Like TED – Carmine Gallo

I’m going to hazard a guess and say that all of my readers have heard of, listened to, or even used in class with learners the videos from TED (i.e., TED Talks). I even wrote an article about listening logs, in which TED talks featured! One reason TED talks are, for the most part, so popular is because they are well-delivered. Even within the huge number of TED talks that there are, though, there are a number that stand out as being amazing. Gallo’s Talk Like TED takes a look at a number of these examples, and examines why they are so good – and then connects this to science!

This book is somewhat longer and more in-depth than Lansford’s, but it is worth the time investment. If you’re like me, you’ll highlight, take notes, annotate, etc. and so reading the book will be a little course in development, albeit with conference presentations being the focus.

Here are some of my favourite pieces of advice from the book:

“Practice in front of people, record it, and watch it back. Ask friends and colleagues to watch your presentation and to give open, honest feedback.”

Gallo, 2014, p.78

“The secret is not to eliminate nerves, but to manage them.”

Gallo, 2014, p.105

“Think about your content and identify the most important points you need to make. Then find a novel and memorable way to communicate those messages.”

Gallo, 2014, p.138

“Creatively adding quotes to your presentation breaks up the slides nicely and gives your audience a mental break.”

Gallo, 2014, p.171

3 – Let your voice be heard – Alan Woodhouse

This tiny book from Alan Woodhouse focuses on the content and delivery of talks, but also on how you use your mouth. This may sound really strange, but many of us probably mumble (I’m a big mumbler), use too many fillers (um, ah, eh, etc.), or are not a clear and direct as we should be. Woodhouse aims to provide us plenty of mini-techniques we can use to prepare to not do all of these things. Reading this book, you will be asked to hum, focus on your breathing, and make all sorts of sounds!

I know the delivery and content of talks is important, and as mentioned Woodhouse does look at this, but I thought this element of focusing on the mechanics of speaking was really important. Here are some of the activities that I found really interesting:

“Take three short phrases from a text – a newspaper or the back of the cereal packet, it doesn’t matter – and hum the rhythm of the words. Then, return to the beginning and speak the text. I hope you hear the liveliness of the rhythm as you speak.”

Woodhouse, 2014, p.24

I want speed control: Repeat a couple of sentences you’ve heard on the radio, dividing them into short four or five word sections. Speak them out loud, pausing at the end of each little section. Repeat the phrases silently, the first section very slow, the second section fast. Continue with another slow section followed by a fast section. Continue to the end of the final phrase – slow, fast, slow, fast.”

Woodhouse, 2014, p.195

Final notes

As I gear up for my first IATEFL, at which I am both attending and presenting, I am going over my session, practising what needs to be practiced, and consulting these books fairly regularly. Having said this, I know that there are many other resources out there that aim to develop readers’ public speaking and running workshop abilities. I’d love to know which resources you’ve taken a look at – which would you add to this list?


  1. Tim Warre says:

    Great tips! I’m going to buy all three books! I’ve got a talk coming up later in the month and I think this will help a lot!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Tim! I hope they help!


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