Presenting at an academic conference

Presenting at an academic conference is a very important, memorable and unavoidable part of academic life. To make an effective conference presentation, knowing your research paper and topic in its entirety is not enough.

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You must also be well-prepared in terms of public speaking factors such as observing time limits, having a strict structure, making eye contact, engaging the audience by asking questions, or more. For this reason, we have prepared a list of advices which can help you in preparing a presentation for an academic speech:

1. The structure of your presentation

Start with welcoming the audience and telling them how grateful you are they are all here to listen to you. Follow it with a short introduction about yourself, the topic, and the specific research problem that you addressed. Introduce yourself very clearly, unless a chairperson has done so already (if so, thank the chair for the nice introduction). At the start, you could try to capture the audience’s attention with a question, quotation, anecdote, or interesting statistic, but the keys to delivering an effective talk are content, presentation, and structure.  Also, you can place your research in some historical and developmental context. An introduction is to let the audience know what they are going to hear in the presentation. Why are you speaking, and why is your audience there to listen? What is the key message of your presentation? Make sure you have a clear beginning!  Remember the critical times of your speech are the first two minutes and the last minute.
Then, you follow with what you did and what you have found,  you state your arguments. The body is where you declare your main ideas/arguments, using supporting evidence, numbers. Use techniques that make it easy for the listener to follow your talk (numbering, chronological, problem – solution or comparison orders), refer to experts, provide examples to illustrate the idea, provide statistics, facts, repeat important ideas using different words so the audience has several opportunities to absorb them. The body of your presentation must be clearly organised with the main points highlighted. Any idea which is new to your audience needs to be presented simply with supportive evidence or examples which will make it more easily understood. Each important idea should be presented several times in different ways within the body of your presentation. Your audience needs several opportunities to absorb the full meaning and the significance of the most important ideas. It is also important to state the links between your ideas clearly.
The conclusion sums up the main points and should reinforce the central ideas of the presentation. Don’t introduce any new ideas. A weak,  indecisive, or deprecatory conclusion detracts from a good presentation. You should show that you have covered all the points that you said you would in your introduction. Presenting at an academic conference should also show that you are confident and that you have communicated effectively. It is important to have a strong ending so the audience is left with a good impression. Work towards a strong ending – don’t finish abruptly or say ‘That’s all’. Presenting at an academic conference must give some practical applications of your work. Attendees want to receive both practical applications and theoretical material when they attend a session. How can the findings help other people like practitioners, educators, policymakers? Or maybe based on the results and finding of this study, future studies must take your results into consideration? It is a good point to leave the audience with something to think about.

Presenting at an academic conference
Academic Conference

2. Slides

It is recommended to prepare slides after writing a speech. Sometimes you might find that visual elements won’t improve your presentation after all. If you think that it would be better to use them, then look at our advises:
• It is not useful to present a lot of text on slides so reduce it to a minimum. Use a large font size and if you end up with slides that contain only a few words in large text size – it is good anyway because it is easier to follow.
• After knowing what your key message is, include a set of 3-5 key images (photos, figures, graphs) that would help you to get the message across to the audience. Audiences like having something to look at. If you reference a movie or a painting, put up an image of it so the audience could understand it better. Know very well your visuals, address them specifically, and only show when you are referring to them, otherwise, they will only be a distraction. But remember – you are still the main communicator of your message.
• Check your presentation in your classroom or other presentation room to see what it looks like on a large screen. Think about what if your presentation does not work on the presenter laptop, so always have a digital and a paper copy of your presentation with you. The paper version could be annotated with coloured markers so you could use it if the technology fails.

3. The length of your presentation

Going overtime is a common occurrence at conferences, but also a commonly condemned behaviour during presentation at an academic conference. Use a watch to check how long your presentation is. Start checking your time once you have some fluency in your delivery, so only after a couple of rehearsal rounds. If your talk is too long, cut something out. Note the conference time limit and be on time. Practice while timing yourself, and do it in front of a mirror. As you are preparing, keep in mind that reading from notes is better than reading directly from your paper. If you have ten minutes to present, prepare ten minutes of material. Even if you only have seven minutes, you need to finish within the allotted time. 


4. Body language and pronunciation


Your voice must be clear and self-confident. If you know you have difficulty with pronunciation, speak a little more slowly than usual and slow down at important points, speed up at details, make pauses to keep the audience attention or sometimes make a louder voice. It has been estimated that 75% of meaning transferred is non-verbal. Thus your appearance, posture, gestures, facial expressions, and eye contact are all vital to a successful presentation. Try to maintain eye contact with your audience. Watch them see how they are responding to you. Try to appear serious, friendly, sincere, and confident. As you speak, establish eye contact with the audience; vary your styles of presentation. Be very positive and at the same time professional as you present as your presentation will leave the first impression of your work. The overall impression of you and your work depends on it. Enjoy yourself as you present your paper and your research at an academic conference!


5. Practice matters


Presenting at an academic conference must ensure that the presentation fits within the time parameters. Practicing also makes it to be delivered better. If you put the time in and repeat your speech you’ll be a lot more comfortable and more likely to make it flow successfully. Repeating is all about reducing many of the fears that we have about giving a talk. It will let you to become more fluent and confident in what you present once you know it backward and forwards. If possible, find a colleague or some friends or family and deliver your test presentation to them. It will make you feel differently and this can really help you trouble-shoot the talk. Ask them for straightforward feedback and their suggestions afterward. Since you’re presenting to other people at the conference, why not try it in the preparation phase? Another option is to try to also give your talk in auditorium that is different from where you usually are at your University. You will experience how diverse it is to present in a room you are not familiar with in the preparation phase, which will be the case for your conference talk. Also, you could practice in front of a mirror or record yourself on a tape recorder. You might feel silly delivering your presentation to your cat or your toddler, but you need to do it and do it again. 


6. Be at the venue at a good time


We’ve all attended conferences where the speaker is trying to transfer his slides across to the ‘home’ computer. If you will try to get to your venue earlier, you can be sure that your slides is already on the computer and they work well when projected onto a screen. You don’t want to rush in just before giving your talk, this would only increase your stress and make it a mess. Also sometimes you might have to deliver earlier because a talk that was supposed to come before yours was canceled. Conference halls have a special and unique atmosphere that can rub off on presenters. Checking out the venue and room where you have to present also will help you to get familiar with the set up of the room: where is the audience seated, where is your desk and other things which impact you during your talk. Very often conferences are organised abroad, for example  GlobalKS conference organiser produces large events in dozens of locations around the world. In this case, if you have to travel to the conference, always arrive one day before the conference starts (or at least before your talk is on) at the venue.  

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