Tips for History Camp Presenters

Know your audience
It’s widely varied, from student to retiree, and very different than the typical conference or academic audience.  Read more about who attends, why they attend, and what they like most about History Camp.  

Pick the format
While most are presentations by a single individual, some sessions are led by two, and there are other formats, including a panel discussion, with participants determined in advance; a roundtable, with the discussion open to all; or, a workshop, with hands-on activities.

Write a catchy title
We’ll pass out a schedule and sheets with descriptions of the presentations, but the title is the only thing that will appear on the schedule.  Sessions will run simultaneously, so if you want people to attend your talk, get their attention with a great title.  Extra points if it’s fun.  This great example if from History Camp Iowa: “How We Made the Gyrafoam: The Story of Two Midwestern Farm Boys Who Changed Washday Mondays Forever”  To see titles and session descriptions from earlier camps, browse our “Camp Archives.”

Write a session description that explains why your presentation will interest them—and make it lively
We’ve had presentations on all kinds of topics.  When the topic is well-known, such as the Salem witch trials, or clearly relevant, such as job hunting for history lovers, someone reading the session description can quickly understand and evaluate whether he or she wants to attend.  However, if your topic isn’t well-known, explain how it’s interesting and why your audience should care.  Use lively prose.  And remember that the person who is reading your description is trying to decide whether he or she should attend your session or one of the others at the same time slot.  

Prepare very visual, engaging slides
Your slides should help bring your story to life.  Use images; keep text to a minimum.  After all, if your audience is engaged, they’ll be hanging on your every word, so don’t use your slides to repeat those words.  Instead, use your slides to reinforce and support, with maps, photos, paintings, diagrams, and infographics that add context and visual interest without distracting from the story you’re telling.

Structure your presentation to keep your audience—and keep to the schedule
One of the “laws” of History Camp is the Law of Two Feet: “If you find yourself in a session that you don’t like, make use of your ‘two feet’ to leave the room and go to another session.”  Engage your audience at the outset and keep them engaged and interested throughout.  Sessions run back to back, so your session must end on time in order for the next person to set up.  In most cases, you’ll want to ask people to hold their questions to the end, and if you have more questions than the time you have left, take any folks still queued outside of the room and answer them there.

If you’re not accustomed to presenting your topic within the time you’ll have at History Camp, be sure and create an outline and practice your talk to get the timing right.  There’s nothing harder than giving a very short talk on a topic on which you have a lot of knowledge and a great deal of enthusiasm. If anything, aim for shorter and tighter since it’s much easier to add and expand than to find that you have to rush or stop before you’ve covered what you needed to in order to get your message across to your audience.

Tell an interesting story
Most TED Talks are great, and some are legendary.  In many of the best you’re told a story in a way that relates to you.  At the end, you’re eager to tell others and you want to learn more.   While TED Talks are intended to enlighten and inform, The Moth aims to deliver a great story. They suggest to Start with the  action.  Grab the reader’s attention.  Avoid rambling setups.  Then set the stakes. Why does the listener care about this story?  Finally, know your ending, and nail it.   More tips from The Moth.

And while TED Talks and The Moth set a very high bar, here’s another way to think about it that may be closer to home: Thanksgiving conversation with relatives you haven’t seen for a year.  When they ask what you’ve been up to, what do you say that they can relate to?  

Step out from behind the podium or desk and connect with your audience.  Know your talk and your slides so that you’re not having to refer much if all to notes.