Conference Preparation Suggestions

Reading on the CHE fora has shown me, once again, that conference presentations can be fraught with peril and are absolutely often filled with nervousness.

I found some good advice that I want to make more widely available, so I’m posting it here.

The threads are First conference presentation next week and How to prepare for Q & A panel at conference?

First Conference Presentation
Do not exceed the time limit.

Do not exceed the time limit.

This was repeated about a hundred times. Do not exceed the time limit.

Someone else indicated you should make sure you know the time limit. Sometimes at SCMLA it is 20 minutes (3 presenters) and sometimes it is 15 minutes (4 presenters). That really makes a difference.

Once you know the time limit, you should also NOT keep to the time limit by speaking faster. This makes it hard to understand you and we cannot follow the presentation.

Whether you should read your paper:
This post on TCE has my thoughts on this topic when I was new (again) to presenting.

Infopri: Note that in many fields (including mine), you should not read your paper!!! Find the main story in your paper and tell that. Don’t get caught up in the details, the nuances, etc. All that will be in the published paper. For now, just focus on the most important points.

If you are reading your paper:

Mended_drum: You might consider checking for strings of prepositional phrases. More than two in a row can have a kind of lulling effect on an audience, and often academics string together four or five (or more) in written work.


Project your voice.

For technology:
Check to make sure it is available at the conference and for your session. (SWTX PCAACA it is available for all. K’zoo only for those who noted it was needed.)

Bring back ups.

Infopri had a lot of good advice, especially on backups.

A big chime on bringing all kinds of backups: bring your laptop (in case your file is incompatible with the equipment or software provided (and remember your power cord, your battery, and your back-up battery if you have one), a flash drive with your file on it (two flash drives would be better), transparencies of your slides (just in case), and paper copies that you can hand out.

Mystictechgal, who has decades of experience in IT said:

Yes. Have your presentation on your laptop. Have it on a flash drive. But, for heaven’s sake, e-mail it to yourself, too. If all else fails, you can retrieve it there. And, don’t forget to “package” your ppt when you save it, ensuring that any fonts you have (that their stripped to bare necessity presentation computers may not), and special backgrounds, and embedded audio tracks, etc. are portable. (I screwed up, minimally, a presentation today because I failed to package an audio file. It didn’t matter, but it would have been really cool if it had been there.) oh! Unless you are absolutely sure about the equipment and software? Save it/send it it least twice each: once in native format, once in comparability mode. And then run your comparability mode presentation to see what differences there are, if any.

This is very helpful advice and makes a lot of sense. I especially like the idea of sending it to your email, twice. And the recommendation to check it before you get there, too.

For the rest of the presentation, Mubbs did a good job summing it all up. I’ve done all of these.

1. Write your notes in a big font (14 pt) so that they are easy to read. Also, write in a conversational style so if you panic, you can read it off the sheet (which will relax you).

2. Never wing it. Huge rookie mistake. Practice it until it looks natural.

3. Write ‘look up’ and ‘slow down’ on the paper to remind you. Look left to right across the room.

4. Treat it like a performance which means you need to say it out-loud (preferably to a human) in practice first, otherwise you will get tangled up. If you don’t have anyone to practice on, simply time yourself.

5. Do a dress rehearsal. Start the timer. Give the whole damn thing and don’t stop for any mistakes. Look around the room (line up your cats). Pretend for real.

Immediately following Mubbs’ post, larryc, one of the most helpful folks on the fora, wrote:
–rehearse in front of a mirror

–if your paper is going to be funny, place a joke right at the start

–time yourself to come in 3 minutes under the limit, since even the best-rehearsed presentation magically becomes longer when it is show time

I particularly need the 3 minutes under, because no matter how perfectly I practice and how exactly I stop on 15 minutes while I am practicing, when I get to the conference, it is always longer. I need to add that 3 minutes.

Good general advice on presentation:
From mccfan:

Don’t be boring. Be high energy. Most paper givers seem very blase about their work, which tends to translate into wandering minds among the audience. Project energy and enthusiasm and people will pay attention.

Q &A Panel at Conference
Original Poster wrote:

I’m attending a conference soon in which I am one of five panelists (we’re all Ph.D. students). The format of this panel is a bit different – we won’t be presenting our papers at the conference, but instead are set up with a faculty correspondent who will discuss our papers (which are up on the conference website ahead of time). In other words, audience members will (hopefully) read our papers beforehand, and come prepared with questions to ask the panelists and their faculty correspondents.

My question for the forum is how I would prepare for this sort of panel. I’m planning on re-reading all the other panelists’ papers and coming up with connections I can discuss in the Q & A session. How might I anticipate and prepare for other questions? Any advice you could give would be much appreciated.

The answer that is up right now (as I write this):

One thing to do is think of what questions you would ask the others on the panel.

You might even want to contact all the panelists, suggest you all pre-read and prepare questions for each other. This is a good way for all of you to prepare. You probably aren’t the only nervous one.

Have someone you know who isn’t in your field read your paper and come up with questions. You might have written something that could be misunderstood from a different perspective and someone outside your field is more likely to see that.

Ask your advisor, major professor, or relevant professor to review your paper and suggest possible questions. This will help you prepare at a much deeper level than you probably will need to for the other grad students.

Also, be prepared for folks who like your topic and come to the panel without realizing there were papers to read beforehand. Come up with the “elevator” version of your paper (two minutes max) and be prepared to deliver that if none of the audience has read ahead of time.

I’d also suggest that to the other presenters. Then you all could take 15 minutes to “present” and get talk started. This is where your questions for each other are particularly relevant. You could use those to jumpstart questioning.

I hope you find this information as interesting and useful as I thought it was.

2 thoughts on “Conference Preparation Suggestions”

  1. This is great information and discussion. It should go out with “calls for papers” just to let the uninitiated know what to expect. Thank you.

  2. This was fabulous. I also give the “email yourself” advice to my students. The first assignment they do for me in the library is to create a Word Doc. template with correct headers/footers/etc and email it to themselves and to me. Then it’s always there. (We hope.)

    I email myself a lot of things because occasionally the flash drive goes out on my school computer–then I know it’s on my email. I’ve also been know to set up a blog with my info, videos and pictures–another place to cache my information and it’s retrievable just about anywhere. I can scroll down, revealing each piece like a slide (we shouldn’t have too much on our slides, anyway–right?) if worse comes to worse.

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