Professional conferences, especially in the humanities, are a collaborative, friendly experience where peers and mentors alike want to hear your research, contribute to your future directions, and overall, wish you well. Despite this, presenting at your first conference can be intimidating, especially if you aren’t sure what to expect or exactly how to prepare. Below are some tips and techniques to help you plan for your conference.
Use Visuals Appropriately
Remember that everything is a rhetorical choice, and while it may be tempting to use images, audio, or a PowerPoint slide to add variety to your conference presentation, these extras should only be utilized when they add to the message. Make sure you are not using images or slides “just because.” Any additional elements should reinforce the message of your conference paper and should be used as part of the presentation. Otherwise, these extra features could be distracting to your argument.
Watch Your Time Limit
Be respectful of time, and make sure your conference presentation does not go over the allotted time. When writing your conference paper, keep in mind how long your presentation should last. For example, an individual presentation is typically given 15 – 20 minutes. The Writing Center at UNC-Chapel Hill states that as a general rule it takes 2 or 2.5 minutes to read one double-spaced page out loud. Typically, an 8 – 10 page, double-spaced paper is appropriate for a 15 – 20-minute presentation.
Practice reading your conference paper out loud before the actual conference date. This will, first, give you a chance to make sure you are staying within the time limit and also, let you practice through any difficult-to-pronounce words or sentences. Practicing allows you to sound polished and more confident.
If possible, try to practice in front of another person. A listener can provide feedback about any confusing phrasing or concepts. To provide a supportive practice environment, the GEA periodically hosts workshops in which students are invited to read their conference papers for feedback and advice.
Prepare for Questions
A period of question and answers typically follow a presentation. While you cannot predict the exact questions an audience will ask, you can anticipate the type of questions they may ask. As a researcher, you should be aware of the limitations or shortcomings in your work and how your research could be enhanced. Be prepared for someone to ask a tough question about how your research could be improved or a potential oversight. If you are already aware of the limitations of your research, you can address these questions with confidence. In addition, think about the next step of your research. An audience member may certainly ask about the future directions of your project. Consider this aspect before the day of the conference.
Just remember that you know the material best because it is your research! You are equipped to answer questions. However, if you don’t know the answer to a question – be honest. Just admit that you don’t know or haven’t considered that aspect, but it is something that you will look into. Answer tough questions as honestly and accurately as possible.
Attending conferences gives you a chance to network with students and faculty from different universities. Use conferences as a chance to meet people with similar research interests. You might even meet a person listed on your Works Cited page! Networking can foster new ideas and new perspectives about your research. The people you meet at conferences could just be potential joint authors or research collaborators.
Above all, be confident! People want you to do well and are truly interested in your work. Speak clearly and definitely – after all, you know this material better than anyone else.
Holstein, Jeannie. “How to Make the Most of Academic Conferences – Five Tips.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 26 Sept. 2013. Web. 02 Apr. 2016. <http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2013/sep/26/academic-conference-five-tips-research>.
Lehman, James D. Tips for Successful Conference Presentations. N.p.: Purdue University, 18 Nov. 2013. PowerPoint. <http://www.edci.purdue.edu/lehman/edci59100/Conference_Presentation_Tips.pdf>
Miller, Tyrus. “Tips for Successful Academic Paper Presentations.” Graddiv.uscs.edu. University of California Santa Cruz, 8 Nov. 2013. Web. 02 Apr. 2016. <http://graddiv.ucsc.edu/about/blogs/grad-deans-blog/11-2013.1.html>.
Oden, Linsay. “Preparing for Conferences.” Insidehighered.com. Inside Higher Ed, 19 Apr. 2015. Web. 02 Apr. 2016. <https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/gradhacker/preparing-conferences>.
The Writing Center at UNC-Chapel Hill. “Conference Papers.” Writingcenter.unc.edu. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, n.d. Web. 02 Apr. 2016. <http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/conference-papers/>.