14 Hints for Conference Presenters

1. The most important part of any subject is the thesis and supporting evidence. Write your thesis and the argument to support it. Give the most interesting examples you can.

2. Don’t read your entire paper looking at the page. Yes, it is okay at some conferences to read. However, you should be familiar enough with it to be able to look up on a regular basis.

3. Don’t read a paper that was written to be read silently. If there are long, involved, convoluted periodic sentences, rewrite it. Use short sentences, a conversational style, and easily pronounced words. You don’t want the audience cringing in embarrassment for how badly you have read nor do you want them to stare at their watch, hoping you will finish soon.

4. If the work you are speaking on was a paper for a class, you also need to make sure that you polish the writing to be read.

5. If you are using a class paper, make sure you shorten it so that you can meet the time limit. (That, of course, requires that you know the time limit. Find out if you don’t know.) Generally two minutes per double-spaced 12 point font is a fair reading speed. However, if you tend to include asides, make the paper shorter. It is better to be too short than to be too long.

6. If you have not heard someone pronounce a word that you are using in a paper, make sure that you find out how to pronounce the word correctly. Then practice using it.

7. In a related point, make sure you read your paper aloud with at least one person in your field in the practice audience. It can be a practice audience of one, but the person must be in your field.

8. If it is your first (or second–or really your fiftieth) conference, finishing the paper earlier rather than later is better. Yes, I know you have a life. Yes, I know you have classes. But a paper that has been written for a while and then reviewed and tweaked just before the conference sounds much better and is more likely to be much better than a paper for which you stayed up all night right before your presentation.

9. If you are presenting and using a PowerPoint, make sure the titles and information are visible. If they can’t be visible (because it is too much information), then prepare a handout.

10. If you are using a handout, make sure your name and contact information are on the sheet. Sometimes those things get dropped in a colleague’s box. It would be great if they knew how to get in touch with you.

11. Make sure you know the conference dress code. If you do not, it is better to err on the side of being overdressed than the side of being underdressed. You can always take off a suit coat and roll up your sleeves. There is no way you can make a tunic with jeans look like a suit.

12. Have a short copy of your CV to give to the chair of your session. Bring a watch so you can keep track of time. When you run out of time, sit down. There is not a lot more annoying than a speaker who has no time and just keeps going anyway. It is also not fair to the other people who are presenting. They also could have said more if they took another five or ten minutes.

13. It is also good to have business cards. Even a personal business card, with your information and the name of the school you attend, is useful.

14. Despite what the Las Vegas public relations people say, what happens in a place does not stay there. You are out in public with future colleagues, perhaps even the chair of the Search Committee you will be most concerned with putting your CV into the “yes” pile. Do not do anything that you would not be willing to have people talk about for twenty years.

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