Presentation Summit 2021: Conversation with Ilene Bergelson

Presentation Summit 2021: Conversation with Ilene Bergelson

Created: Monday, August 30, 2021 posted by at 9:45 am

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Ilene Bergelson

Ilene Bergelson
Ilene Bergelson is an award-winning actress-turned-presentation-coach and international trainer. She has supported speakers from six out of the seven continents to fully embrace their audience and their adventurous side. She is happy to be on the Summit presenting team again this year, being amazed by the PowerPoint prowess of her fellow Guild members. Through her consulting practice, EmpowerSpeak, Ilene coaches subject matter experts in health, finance, pharmaceutical, technology, public relations, entertainment, and academia, where clients have sought guidance for optimizing presentation content, interpersonal communication, sensitive conversations, and high-profile events such as interviewing Hillary Clinton before a live audience.

In this conversation, Ilene talks about her participation at the upcoming Presentation Summit 2021, being held on location in Clearwater Beach, FL, and virtually this year from September 26 to 29, 2021. is the official media partner for the Presentation Summit.

Geetesh: You are delivering two sessions at this year’s Presentation Summit, Short Stories: Stage Tales and Storytapping. What led you to offer these sessions at this year’s Summit and what can the audience look forward to taking away from them for their own storytelling and presentations?

Ilene: The idea that stories are potent communication tools is not new—but our appreciation for what stories truly offer is being realized in a whole new way right now. Both sessions are capitalizing on this unique moment in different ways.

My inspiration for Stage Tales came, in part, from knowing that it’s juicy (and fun) to hear about what happens behind the scenes—of anything. There’s a lot about presenting and about coaching presenters that I’ve picked up from the many years I’ve spent in the theater (and a few film and T.V sets).

The new Short Stories format Rick (Altman) introduced this year seemed like a perfect way to spill some beans about the kind of kooky things that can happen on opening night (even on Broadway) and share how those experiences have helped me navigate some crazy and crazy-hard challenges as a presenter/trainer. My hope is that hearing what I’ve gone through will open up ideas that will help audience members navigate their own presenting predicaments more easily. At the very least, we can all have a good discussion and laugh 😉

While the Stage Tales session is essentially my story, the session, Storytapping, is centered on the audience tapping into their own stories. After the past year and a half, we each have a lot more to tell! And with all the time we’ve spent with each other virtually, we also have a heightened sense for when we feel connected or disconnected to a speaker and the message. This increased “connection sensitivity” is why this moment in time presents a unique opportunity to up our skill level for relating to our audience.

With Storytapping, what is most important to me is is that the session provides an inviting, safe and easy opportunity for the audience to explore their own stories, pick up tips while supporting a couple adventurous volunteers as they practice their storytelling skills, and come away from the session excited to share their own stories in an effective, purposeful way.

Geetesh: Is telling stories different for audiences that are in-person and virtual? Please do share your thoughts.

Ilene: That’s a great question and the answer could get quite technical… Bottom line, I’d say in some ways yes and in some ways no.

Things that are the same: basic structural elements of and the emotional connection to story are essential in any medium. So the arc of your story and other content elements like structure, conflict, character development, piquing curiosity and suspense and putting the audience into the story (many ways to do this) are equally important to audiences, whether they are sitting at home or anywhere else. Being in the moment as you share a story is essential too. The audience needs the chance to live the story with you. That’s how they connect and how what you are sharing becomes personally meaningful and relevant to them.

How we execute on these essentials in the tangible, versus the virtual space, with all the limitations and opportunities presented by each medium, is where we see some differences. For instance, our physicality: movement, body language including facial and vocal expression, gestures, etc. are scaled for the space.

Sometimes, we give more grace to the person telling their story in-person because there are more sources for energy input. You are in the room, with other people as well as the speaker, and in that environment, the audience’s focus is directed toward the speaker. Even if the speaker is not especially compelling or is dipping in energy or lose their composure temporarily, the audience might hang in there with them for longer. And there are other advantages. Speakers, if they choose to do so, can use movement around the space to focus the audience and keep the experience visually engaging.

Virtual is a more intimate setting and, in other ways, it’s a less forgiving medium. Audience members have more potential distractions, and a flat delivery falls even flatter, even faster in a 2-D environment. If the speaker feels uncomfortable with the equipment like mics and earphones, that will show to the audience. Yet, there are lots of advantages too: virtual environments, when the speaker is at ease in them, lend themselves well to feeling informal, conversational, and even more open because it can feel less daunting to be vulnerable in sharing something when you are in your own space, rather than a room full of people. It can be a very favorable environment for stories and for the audience to feel close to the speaker.

Geetesh: What, according to you has been the outlook of the presentation industry, coming out of the pandemic? Has something changed, or will we get back to how the industry as it was two years ago?

Ilene: Oh wow, I think this could be an even bigger question than the last one you asked. I don’t believe we will get back to where we were and, honestly, I hope we don’t. Granted, it hasn’t been pretty but look how far we’ve come! We’ve finally been able to challenge our own concept of the form effective presentations need to take. Platforms and all the related technologies have evolved at an incredible rate. The pandemic has been and is a catalyst, not just for the changes we didn’t anticipate, but for many changes that have been a long time in coming.

This is the beginning of a new era, I think. There will be more shifts in the cultural norms. We’ll see shorter duration presentations and different formats. We’ll see AR-VR, gamification, and other innovations incorporated sooner into many fields that have been resistant to change. It’s an exciting time in the presentation industry.

I’ve missed in-person presenting deeply and am grateful that people are hungry to connect again in that way, but I am also grateful that we are no longer satisfied to regard virtual presenting as a poor, undynamic substitute for in-person presenting that can’t evolve, isn’t worth investment and isn’t viable for development.  It can, it has, and it is going to continue. Interactivity is going to get easier, accessibility is going to continue to increase and, as a result, so will the potential for engagement and inclusion.

Unlike at the start of the pandemic, I’ve noticed clients are now starting to understand that excellent, effective virtual presentations are worth the additional investment in time and money. We had so many limiting beliefs about what virtual presenting and programs could (or couldn’t) be. As someone who has been presenting/training/coaching virtually and designing hybrid sessions for several years already, it’s gratifying to see some of these beliefs being shed.

There’s a lot more to look forward to in terms of hybrid events adopting some of the technologies we’ve seen used in entertainment, such as those we’ve seen used by talk shows during the pandemic, enabling at-home and in-person audiences to be more connected and have more of a joint experience. These capabilities have been reserved only for high budget scenarios, but in time, I think this will become for accessible for other budgets.

There is an increase in the cost and prep time for hybrid events—much more so than if solely virtual or exclusively in-person. When it comes to virtual and hybrid events, I think we all will need to adjust to the idea of transitioning the business models to account for a higher budget that allows a high-touch experience across multiple mediums, for a larger audience who could “attend” in a variety of ways. It’s a little daunting but exciting too. The innovators and disruptors of our industry are going to have a field day with this next chapter.

What is the Presentation Summit?

Presentation Summit 2021: Conversation with Ilene Bergelson

Presentation Summit 2021: Conversation with Ilene Bergelson

For nearly two decades, Rick Altman has been hosting the Presentation Summit, a highly popular event that is geared towards users of PowerPoint and other presentation platforms. is the official media partner for the Presentation Summit.

Date: September 26 to 29, 2021

Location: Clearwater Beach, FL + Virtual Event

Register now!


The views and opinions expressed in this blog post or content are those of the authors or the interviewees and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer, or company.

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