First Time Conference Presenter? We Have Some Last-Minute Tips for You!

Dear Colleagues,

We know that some of you will be presenting a paper at a national conference for the first time in a few days – congratulations! Presenting scholarly work at conferences is an important part of how we in academia nurture and disseminate knowledge about our chosen fields. Hopefully those of you who are new to this sphere of our profession have received help and advice from the advisers and professors with whom you work at your home institutions. But just in case, we thought we’d prepare a few tips so as to smooth your path and allay any anxiety you have about the experience.

First, double check your allotted speaking time (your session chair can provide you with this information). Depending upon whether you have three or four presenters on your panel, your allotted time will differ – make sure you know exactly how long you have to present. Speakers who go far overtime are a bane of conference-goers everywhere and in every field! Going over the limit steals time from panelists who follow you, and also, potentially from the Q & A; neither action will endear you to your peers, and it’s simply unprofessional. So tailor your paper accordingly: a good rule of thumb is that it will take you two minutes to read one double-spaced page.

Also, if your chair hasn’t already requested one from you, send her or him a brief biographical blurb or bring one with you to your session, so you can be introduced before you speak. (Brief is the key word here; remember, “brevity is the soul of wit”!)

Find your panel location in advance of giving your paper to avoid confusion and delay at your slotted time. Many of us “elders” have had the experience of being blasé and “winging it,” then not being able to find the room we’re supposed to be in, getting flustered and worried about tardiness – it’s not fun. Preparedness really is key, as some of us might remember from Girl Scout or Boy Scout days!

And perhaps most important: If you are unsure about how to give a conference paper – anything from pacing to making your argument – do approach colleagues who are experienced conference presenters. A good presentation really is its own creature: standing up and reading straight from a dissertation chapter, no matter how scintillating that chapter might be (and we’re sure it is!), is NOT a good idea. Listening to someone speak is a vastly different experience from reading, and the best public speakers have always taken that into account. So, for example, if your presentation began as text for a written venue (e.g., a draft journal article from which you’re taking one section), be sure to listen on your final practice runs for sentences you’ll want to shorten and/or words that can’t be processed by an audience hearing you speak your paper.

Also think about how you present yourself: many of us speed up when we’re nervous, and reading too quickly can also make your presentation difficult to follow. Take a deep breath, and take a drink of water if you need to do so; modulate your voice, and really talk to your audience. (Do you like to listen to a monotone voice? We didn’t think so! And BTW, that reminds us – make sure you have water with you!) LOOK at your audience – don’t look down and hide. (This also makes you hard to hear, especially for those not seated in the front.) Relax: anyone who comes to your panel has a real interest in your topic. They want to hear what you have to say, so think positively and say it!

During the Q and A, if it happens that one panelist doesn’t seem to be drawing as many comments and questions, reach out by re-directing a query his/her way: “What do you think about that question in the context of your project?”

That’s all for now! We hope that this little bit of advice, from people who totally have been there, helps! And once again, we’re very glad you’ll be joining us in Denver very, very soon!

-The Conference Planning Team


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