Conferences are where the latest discoveries, technologies and science are first announced, and being accepted to present your work at a conference is a vital step in your career. (Sometimes it?s even a condition of your continued employment, especially if you go the academic route.)
Of course, standing in front of an audience of your peers can be scary, or terrifying. But relax. It doesn’t have to be. Give it some thought, and it can be easy.
Know What You’re Getting Yourself Into
Before you submit your paper, know the parameters of what the conference is looking for and what will be required of you when it is accepted. Are they looking for specific topics? Do papers need to be a certain length? Are graphics required? What are the deadlines? If there is a peer review process (and there usually is), will be papers be accepted outright, or will you be required to do revisions before it is finally accepted?
After your paper has been accepted, make sure you know what is expected of your presentation. How much time do you have? Is a PowerPoint required? How early do materials need to be provided, and in what format? (Most conferences publish all of their papers in a volume called the proceedings, which are then given to all attendees and sold to libraries around the world.) Do you need to create a poster, handouts, or other supporting materials?
Once you know all of these formatting questions, you can start to prepare yourself.
Boil it Down
Depending on the conference and its requirements, you may or may not be reading your entire paper word-for-word. You may be giving the highlights, or an outline, or just the results.
When it comes to your poster, handouts, or PowerPoint, less is often more. Don’t clutter it up with too much information. Give people something to read, but keep it as basic as possible. If you present too much information on the screen, you will lose your audience. Your actual discussion should contain the bulk of the details. Give them a reason to pay attention to you.
Practice, Practice, Practice — Then Practice Again
Long before the conference date, start to prepare yourself. Practice in front of your PowerPoint and read your presentation out loud, several times, until you are used to what you are going to say. You should be able to do most of it without ever referring to your notes.
You should also know not just the words of your paper, but the technology behind it. If the audience asks questions, you want to be prepared to answer without fumbling.
When it finally comes time to present your paper, relax. Take it easy. Breathe and be calm. Talk slowly, take your time, and relax. Smile, enjoy yourself, and be animated: show off your passion in your subject to keep your audience’s attention. Take advantage of pauses to give your audience time to react to what you say, or to let what you said sink in, or just to give yourself a chance to catch your breath without it being too obvious.
End your presentation naturally. Offer your contact information, and ask if there are any questions. If there are, answer them. If not, thank your audience for attending and walk off the stage. (Take your time leaving the room, though, in case anyone wants to talk to you one-on-one.)
There! You’re done! Nothing to it, right?
And hey, now you’re more practiced for paper # 2.
John Platt is a marketing consultant and journalist living in coastal Maine.