Conference Presentation Tips, Part 2: Delivering an Effective Conference Paper
October 23, 2015
Presenting your dissertation research at a conference is fun, but it can also be daunting. Not only does the content of your presentation need to be polished and perfect, but your presentation style needs to be top notch so that you make a good impression with other scholars in your field. Here are some tips for delivering a conference presentation that will make other scholars sit up and take notice – and might just make them want to read your dissertation.
It goes without saying that you should practice your conference presentation. Ask your dissertation advisor, your colleagues, your professors, or even your family members if they’ll listen to a practice run and give you feedback. Make sure to ask for feedback on your delivery, not just your content: do you speak clearly? Do you stand up straight? Do you make eye contact? Dean Tyrus Miller of UC Santa Cruz reminds us that giving a presentation is a type of performance, and mastering the art of performance takes practice.
Stay Within Your Time Limit
A 20- or 30-minute conference presentation time slot may seem like a long time. But that time can fill up quickly. When you practice your conference paper make sure that you time it and that it fits within your designated time. Going over your allotted time makes a bad impression: it takes away from the time of your co-panelists and can irritate your audience. In a recent New York Times column, Christy Wampole implores conference presenters to swear: “I respect the time of my colleagues who’ve come to hear me speak. I will do my best to be as clear and succinct as possible, and make their attendance worthwhile.”
If you need to cut sections of your paper to fit in the allotted time, ask yourself: which sections are the most crucial for giving my audience a cohesive picture of my research? If you spend a lot of time quoting other scholars, for instance, consider paraphrasing or including those quotations on a handout instead of reading them.
Speak Slowly and Clearly
If your paper is too long, don’t try to compensate by talking quickly. This simply makes you harder to understand. Speak clearly and at a reasonable pace. You should also consider revising your writing so that it sounds like you are speaking naturally. If your prose sounds stilted when you read it aloud, rephrase it so it sounds more natural. For more info on oral presentation skills, check out these resources from USC’s Center for Excellence in Teaching.
Don’t Overload Your Powerpoint Slides
If you’re using powerpoint slides in your presentation, use them strategically. Slides are best used to present visual aids that illustrate your point: images, graphs, charts, or other visualizations work well on powerpoint. Big blocks of text, however, do not work well on powerpoint slides. It’s often difficult for audience members to read large blocks of text that are projected on a screen, and, in trying to do so, they may stop listening to the words coming out of your mouth! When I include text on a powerpoint slide, I’ll often just include keywords or short phrases that highlight the points that I’m making. As Kathleen at The College Investor points out, “slides are background décor.”
Dealing with the Q&A
The Q&A session of a conference presentation can often be the most stressful part of a conference. What if people ask you things that you don’t know? What if someone harshly criticizes your work? The first thing to keep in mind is that harsh criticisms shouldn’t be taken personally: academia is full of diverging viewpoints, and conferences are full of people looking for a soapbox. Secondly, remember that it’s ok if you don’t know everything. If someone asks you about something that you don’t know, you can thank them for bringing the issue to their attention and tell them that you’ll keep it in mind for future research. As you’re practicing for your presentation, it’s a good idea to come up with a list of questions that you hope nobody will ask – and then prepare answers to them! You may not need them, but it could help alleviate your stress. Finally, don’t be afraid to plant questions in the audience! If you’ve got friends coming to hear you talk, ask them to ask you a good question. You could even have them ask you to elaborate on points that you may have had to cut out of your paper for the sake of time.
No, really! The conference presentation is your chance to show off. It can help you meet other scholars and make meaningful connections. As David Perry argues, in his response to Christy Wampole, conferences can be an energizing and revitalizing scholarly experience.
If you need help editing your conference paper, turn to an editor from Dissertation-Editor.com. We can help you take the qualitative and quantitative research and complex arguments from your dissertation chapters and translate them into a conference presentation that is interesting and effective. We can also copy-edit handouts, presentation slides, and other materials. From conference presentation editing to dissertation formatting, we provide dissertation services for graduate students in any field. When you need dissertation editing, dissertation formatting, or dissertation research help, give us a call.