Preparing a Conference Presentation?

Having your work accepted for presentation at a conference is an exciting accomplishment, but it also means more work in preparing and rehearsing what you will say.  If you have questions, want some advice/feedback, or just want to run through your presentation before the conference, we would love to visit with you in the Speaking Center.

The following advice for conference presenters was adapted from Caroline S. Parsons’ Fall 2012 Simply Speaking article:

You’ve submitted your paper and it has been accepted at an academic conference – good for you!  Now, the task of preparing what to say and how to say it at the conference begins.


Begin preparing what you will say during the conference as soon as possible, so you have months to think about it before the conference takes place. You put a lot of work into your paper, and now you have an opportunity to talk about it with other peers and colleagues in your discipline.


Before the Conference

While structuring the outline of your presentation, focus on its purpose. Be selective about the main points you want to convey. Know how much time you have to speak, so that you can budget the most important information first. Organize your presentation by briefly introducing yourself and by describing the goal of the presentation/paper. Prepare your remarks about any necessary background the audience needs to know. If the audience is already highly knowledgeable, you don’t have to provide a detailed background.


At the Conference

Be early to your panel presentation. If possible, get an idea of who will likely be in the audience. Sometimes, it is important to change strategy (e.g., amount of background and details, formality of language) according to audience.


Make sure technology works before beginning your presentation. Beware of Murphy’s Law of Technology: if the projector does not want to cooperate, the show must go on. Be prepared to go low-tech if necessary. If you intend to hand out any material (e.g., maps, tables, questionnaires, the paper itself), think about how and when it is best to distribute it.


Present your ideas with confidence.  Remember, your paper was selected as part of an important conversation and your audience wants to hear what you have to offer to that conversation. Conclude your presentation by suggesting some points for discussion with the audience.


If you prepare a PowerPoint presentation, include only key points and assume each slide takes at least two minutes. Don’t overdo color & design. Make the font size large, at least 20 point size. Limit text animation and sound effects.


Time management is essential for a professional presentation. If time is running out while you are presenting, skip unnecessary details and state that you will be available after the presentation if someone wishes to get more information from you. During rehearsals, time yourself to make sure you are able to present the most relevant information.


If your paper is selected for a Scholar-to-Scholar poster session, use your poster to provide a clear and explicit take-home message. Be prepared to stand beside your poster and to answer questions from convention attendees. The poster should provide a similar structure to a research paper: an abstract, introduction (i.e., brief rationale or review of relevant research), method section, results section, discussion/limitations, and a conclusion or summary. Keep text to the bare essentials and stick to the most important ideas. You can convey details via discussion when you are standing by your poster. Direct the visual attention of the viewer by using bullet points, graphs, figures, underlines, and bold face font whenever possible. Programs like PowerPoint can be helpful in creating your poster. If your campus offers a large-scale poster printer (check with the Copy Cat), ask if you may use it to print your poster. Affix it to a foam core board if possible.


After presenting, the audience typically participates in a question and answer session with the panelists for about 15 minutes. When you receive a question about your paper from the audience, be sure you understand the question first. Rephrase the question or ask for the audience member to repeat it. Sometimes, you will receive long and complex questions. Do not be worried by this. If you are not sure you know the answer to the question, say you do not know. If you are not sure what the question was, or if it was more of a statement, ask for clarification.


After Your Presentation is Over

Conferences are about more than just presenting. They offer a terrific opportunities to network and get to know people you may work with or collaborate with in the future. Socialize! Learn cutting-edge research in your field. Visit the book publishers’ convention hall. Listen to presentations by your favorite textbook authors. Take notes. Make a plan for next year’s writing projects. Decide how you would like to contribute to some of the interesting academic conversations you heard at the conference. Help to build the body of knowledge and then go home refreshed!

Caroline S. Parsons is a lecturer in Communication Studies at The University of Alabama and serves as Program Planner for Lambda Pi Eta National Communication Honor Society.

Acknowledgments:  Thank you to Dr. Meredith Bagley, who presented much of this information to Communication Studies graduate students at The University of Alabama in November 2011.

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