Top tips on presenting at a conference

This is the last of a three part series on virtual conferences and how to make the most of them. The first session was on adapting your networking strategies for an online conference, the second one was on conference proposal writing and this final one concentrates on session delivery.

What are some general guidelines for presenting a conference paper?

It seems like a very obvious point but it is worth mentioning anyway: make sure you rehearse your delivery and are comfortable with the time limits.

Whether this is virtual or face to face, try to be early. Check the technology works for you (or get someone else to check it), that your Pressie or PowerPoint functions well and that links within it are accessed smoothly.

If the links do not work, set up your workaround by accessing the links in another screen and be ready to share those screens at the right time.

Instead of trying to “cover” everything you might have discussed in your paper, pull out key talking points. What do you think the audience will be particularly interested in?

It seems odd to write this as most editors are shy but… don’t be shy. Offer ways to contact you for more details 2 or 3 times on different slides. If you have a website, you might like to put it in the same place, perhaps the lower right corner, on every single slide.

It is not easy to maintain people’s interest in a presentation. Try to include some humour or moments of surprise to attract and sustain attention.

Use an upbeat and positive tone of voice. Try to sound like you are enjoying it (even if you are extremely nervous).

If this is a physical conference not a virtual one, double check the time, day and room for your presentation because programs can have last minute changes. Be there early and check the timing (beginning and end) for your session.

Whether face to face or online, normally there will be a facilitator who will introduce you, ask for questions and keep you within your time limit. Reach out early to this person and get comfortable.

If this is a physical conference, the text on your slides should be at least 24-point in size and with no more than 4-6 points per slide.

Remember that participants are mainly interested in your findings and the implications; allocate the most time to that.

Anticipate some questions and if possible get someone you know to ask some that you can easily answer.

To follow up, consider sending something new, not just the slides, for example, a table with key research findings and a reference list.

Can your style help your presentation to stand out?

Conferences are full of information overload. Three simple ideas can polish your delivery:

Keep it accurate:

(give complete references, use quotes from original sources, proofread slowly, check the spelling for all names).

Engage the audience early:

(ask for some brainstorming, start with a quiz, tell a quick story or joke).

For a longer session like a workshop, keep the main information visible:

(show essential guidelines, cluster information logically, number steps or pages, set clear time expectations).

In preparing this, I have drawn on years of teaching experience and conference participation. Some of these points have been adapted from Jalongo and Saracho’s (2016) Writing for Publication. I hope this has given you a step by step approach to session delivery at a conference, whether virtual or face to face.