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Suggestions for effective conference presentation

Clare McBeath and Roger Atkinson

These suggestions are based upon a conference format in which the total time for each presentation is 25 minutes, and the proceedings, published before the conference, contain the full text of a peer reviewed article upon which the presentation is based. The ascilite Conference series is an example of this format. You should be able to adapt the advice below to suit other formats, such as TL Forum (some presentations are based on a full paper, most have 'abstract only' publication) and WAIER Forum (most presentations have 'abstract only' publication, a few have post-Forum publication of a full paper without external peer review).
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Prepare Make sure you know what you need to cover in the given 15 minutes. If you have submitted a full 6,000 word paper, you will not be able to present everything in your paper. You certainly would not try to read your paper - that would be a sure fire way to put your audience to sleep.

So decide on the points you want to make. You should structure your presentation so that the audience can follow the logic of your arguments - its needs a clear introduction, a middle and a conclusion - just like you were taught at school!

Next design your slides. They will probably consist of a PowerPoint presentation. Remember to keep the number of words per slide to a minimum. How many words per slide is enough? Try them out for yourself in you own lecture room. Can you read everything from the back of the room? Everything? If you can't, it is not acceptable as a slide. Is your meaning clear in all the slides? Have you used the best wording to make your message clear.

Then, as they say, throw away half of the slides you have created because you probably have too many! Ten slides in 15 minutes is probably enough, and of course your first slide will contain the title of your presentation, the name or names of the authors and your institution, leaving about nine slides to support your presentation.

Practise Next you must practise. Practise delivering your presentation in front of the mirror. Watch yourself. Try it out on your I-Movie or equivalent if you have this capability on your computer or on a digital recorder. Listen to yourself. Criticise yourself.

Examine the way you stand. Try to look confidant and sure. Keep your head up. Imagine you are looking into the eyes of your audience and holding their attention.

Plan your time We advise that you spend a maximum of 15 minutes delivering your ideas before opening your session up to the audience for 10 minutes of questions and comments. Questions and comments from the audience are valuable to a presenter and help to expand and extend ideas. They involve the audience and they encourage a genuine sharing of opinions. As such, they are an essential part of a successful presentation.

Or you might decide to involve your audience right from the beginning of your session. You might make your 25 minutes entirely interactive. Take care though. Don't let your audience get you off track. You still need to make your points and get your message across.

Beginning and finishing on time are very important. Your audience will be critical of your presentation if you don't keep the rules. Your time-keeper is supposed to keep you to time, but you should also keep an eye on how are going for time, as indeed you have to do when you are lecturing or tutoring.

Delivery Catch and hold the attention of your audience. You have to perform. You have to entertain. You have to keep your audience awake and alert, and interested in what you are saying.

Watch other presenters at the Forum, and determine what makes their presentations interesting and what makes them boring. Make a list of things you will not do under any circumstances. Make a list of things you will strive to do.

If you feel shy and inexperienced, don't let it show. You know you have an important and interesting message to get across, so find confidence in that.

If you have a co-author, you can share the time and share the strain of performing in front of an audience. But make sure you have planned and practised together beforehand.

These are just a few important tips to make your presentation effective. Take note and take heart. Everyone has to start somewhere. Best wishes for a stunning performance.

A few references

The intention here is to illustrate diversity, with perhaps a little quirkiness, rather than attain a comprehensive academic coverage.


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Created 15 Apr 2010. Last revised 12 Oct 2013.
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HTML: Roger Atkinson and Clare McBeath