Conference paper presentations are an essential way to communicate your findings and share your results widely, especially among your peers. Find the right conference and an audience that will benefit most from learning about your findings, and you could greatly enhance your career prospects. However, your presentation needs to drive your point home.
How do you do that?
To make an impactful presentation, you must be well prepared and consistent and seek ways to resonate with your audience. Sometimes, the biggest challenge is to manage any anxiety related to public speaking. But the good news is that effective presenting is an acquired skill and can be practiced and improved upon. So, practice as much as you need to feel confident in your abilities.
Here are some do’s and don’ts to ensure that your presentation makes an impression.
• Tell a story. To hook your audience, you can take them along on your journey of discovery. What inspired you to take up this research? What were some early successes/failures? Including some personal anecdotes to your presentation can help audience members connect with you as a person, as many of them may have had similar experiences.
• Practice, practice, practice. You should aim to strictly adhere to the time allotted to you for your presentation. It helps to record yourself practicing, or rehearse in front of a friend, so that you know how long you are taking, and where to improve. This also helps you gain confidence in your presentation skills. If you put in the time and effort, you will surely be successful!
• Positive body language. Your body language is the first impression that your audience forms of you. You want to stand tall and confident, with a smile, and try to remain upbeat and positive throughout your presentation. Remember to establish eye contact and sweep a glance across the room occasionally to keep audience members engaged throughout your talk. You could mark pauses in your paper to give yourself time to look up and collect your thoughts.
• Aim for simplicity and consistency. Your slides should be well formatted using a consistent template and legible fonts. Try to keep text to a minimum, as the audience will be focused on listening to you speak. Most of your information should be conveyed visually, using steps, sequences, diagrams, or images. Ensure that your visuals are self-explanatory and do not end up confusing the audience further. Remember, audiences have limited attention spans, so less is more in this context.
• Embed a short video. In addition to visual content, adding a short video of a challenging concept can be a simple yet memorable way to send the message across. A video also adds variety to your presentation and can keep the audience’s attention actively engaged. You may even share the video on social media later, to promote your presentation at the conference and amplify the reach of your message.
• Use humor. Academic conferences tend to have long, taxing sessions filled with technical content, so lightening the mood with a little humor can help make your presentation stand out. Remember that not all humor may be well received, especially if you have a diverse international audience, and there is a chance that your joke may fall flat or come across as insulting. Hence, be mindful of its content. On the positive side, a joke or two can make your audience more comfortable and make you come across as a confident and competent presenter.
• Dress the part. Your appearance goes a long way in forming a subconscious impression of you in the audience’s minds. If you are well-groomed and sharply dressed, your audience is more likely to see you as a legitimate authority in your area of expertise, and this positive first impression can be the edge you need to earn their respect.
• Don’t read directly from your slides. This gives the audience the impression that you are not confident of the content in your presentation, or don’t know it well enough. It is also boring and repetitive, so avoid putting any text that you wish to say aloud on your slides. You want the slides to support your talk in a creative and useful way, not simply repeat the things you are saying anyway. Instead, have a creative graphic or some data representation, like graphs, etc. to support your talking points on the corresponding slide.
• Don’t try and say too much. Keep the text on your slides as concise as possible, so that the audience can quickly take away the key points and continue to focus on you. Make sure you explain any technical words and try to give a recap of key points when building a complex argument. Also, do not crowd slides. Break up your presentation into smaller bits to avoid overwhelming your audience.
• Don’t show big tables or more than one graph per slide. Data visualizations can be effective but can easily become confusing and inaccessible. Your audience will not know what to focus on, so it’s better to put multiple graphs on multiple slides and keep data tables to a minimum number per slide.
• Don’t talk very fast. Try to maintain a steady pace of speech, not too fast and not too slow. Your audience will not be able to follow along if you speed through important or challenging concepts. It is important to remember to pause, breathe, and slow down, if you feel yourself getting nervous.
• Don’t speak in a monotonous voice. Your tone of voice and inflections can have a huge impact on how interesting or boring your talk turns out to be. Try to add variety in your speech, using a change in tone to indicate to your audience what you consider to be important bits of information, or parts of your presentation that they may find interesting.
• Don’t hide behind the podium. You could present your entire talk from behind the podium, but this prevents your audience from connecting with your body language and seeing your excitement about your work. Make a greater impact by walking around the stage as you speak. Your audience will automatically pay more attention to you, and they will be able to decipher your body language better, and even feel your excitement as you speak passionately about your work.
Now that you know what you should aim for and avoid while presenting at a conference, be sure to incorporate these all these points into your preparation. And most importantly, don’t forget to enjoy yourself and feel proud of the chance you are getting to showcase your work at the conference!
1. “8 Tips for presenting a paper at an academic conference” by Kakoli Majumder, Senior Editor, Editage Insights, accessed on Sep 12, 2022, https://www.editage.com/insights/8-tips-for-presenting-a-paper-at-an-academic-conference
2. “Conference Presentation Dos and Don’ts for Scientists” by Dr. Tullio Rossi, Founder, Animate Your Science Blog, accessed Sep 12, 2022, https://www.animateyour.science/post/conference-presentation-dos-and-donts-for-scientists