On Friday, January 13th, I will be giving a presentation to Department of History graduate students. The topic? Conference presentations: tips, tricks, and things to remember.
I’m going to take a somewhat different tack than I normally would. It would seem, on the surface, an obvious place to design and give a lecture (complete, of course, with power point and copious note-taking by the audience). I’ve decided, however, to give the first ten minutes of a conference presentation that I have given to a real audience. Then, I’ll ask the students to dissect my presentation and give their own tips and tricks that they have used, read about, or think might be a good idea. A roundtable discussion, rather than a formal and one-sided presentation, will (I hope) be more effective.
Ideally, I’d like to see each of them give five minutes of a conference presentation that we could evaluate and give constructive critique, but that would take more time than we have.
Some points MUST be brought up, and I’ll be sure to do so if the students don’t spontaneously bring them up:
1. Choose a SMALL part of your research to present (part of one chapter, one strand of research, or one story to dissect).
2. No more than 8 pages double spaced (10 pages if larger font size, say 14 points) for a 20 minute presentation.
3. Practice it OUT LOUD. Time yourself. NEVER go over your time limit.
4. Use visuals and/or audio and/or artifacts; but DO NOT talk to the powerpoint.
5. NO JARGON! (And I would say, limited to no theory… save that for the written paper).
6. Dress nicely. NO casual clothes.
7. Use humour and storytelling. SHOW don’t TELL.
8. Voice techniques count: project, enuniciate, head up, look at your audience, slow down.
9. Leave room for questions (i.e. allude to ideas, points, etc. to give audience something to latch on to for questions)
10. Point out areas where you need help or would like audience ideas/response. Conferences are a super place to ‘workshop’ ideas in progress.
11. Re-word each question to be sure you understand it, before you answer it.
12. Thank the audience before you begin, and when all the questions are finished. This leaves a professional impression.
13. Have fun! Networking is best part of conference participation.
14. Remember: stuff happens. Powerpoints fail. Power goes out. Images don’t load. You get a rotten cold. Someone else has presented research that is too closely aligned to yours. Your methodology is old news. And, the airline lost your luggage and you have to present in your 2-day old clothes. Give it your all anyway — your audience will appreciate your humour, forthright disclosure, and modesty. There is always another conference…
All the best to you.