By Jemma Houghton

Conferences are a great place to share your research, get feedback, and network in your academic community. However, it can be nerve-wracking to present for the first time… or even the second, tenth or hundredth time!

The key is to be well-prepared. Here are some tips to help you in planning a presentation and being ready for the Q&A session:

  1. Find a style that works for you. Everyone has a style that suits them best. Some like to have a written script, others have a couple of key points noted down and some prefer not to have anything written down at all. Practice different approaches and choose the one that suits you best.
  2. A presentation is not a paper. A conference presentation is not a journal article! Keep in mind that it will usually be designed to be heard rather than read, and adjust your approach accordingly. Make the content clear and easy to follow, avoid intentionally complex language, and use simple sentence structures.
  3. Keep to time. The importance of this cannot be stressed enough. Nobody likes their time reduced because someone on their panel ran over. Practice your presentation more than once to make sure you can do it within the time limit.
  4. Practice, practice, practice. The more you practice your presentation, the more confidence you will have on the day. You read at a different speed in your head than out loud so it is best to practice out loud, either to a friend or privately.
  5. Be with your audience. It’s good to find ways to connect with your audience. To make sure that your audience can see and hear you, you might need to think about where to stand or sit, practice speaking at the right volume, or ask about what sound equipment is available. It’s good to make eye contact with your audience if you can, but if you need to read from your script that’s OK too.  Don’t be afraid to ask for the things you need to make your presentation go well – whether that’s a glass of water, a chair, a microphone, or a friend to come along and support you.
  6. Slides. Slides should not just be masses of text. Try to use short bullet points and/or some pictures. Be aware that people in your audience might have different accessibility needs: try to balance text and images so that they help get your points across without being overwhelming. And remember: the words you say should make sense even without your slides!
  7. Questions. You do not have to answer straight away, pause to give yourself chance to think (maybe take a sip of water or thank them for the question). If you need to, ask for the chair or audience member to repeat or rephrase their question.
  8. Keep a record of the papers you have given. Have a list somewhere detailing the titles, dates and conferences that you have presented at.

Postgraduate conferences, like the BSHS PG conference, are a great place to practice giving conference papers in a more relaxed setting. Remember the other speakers are likely to be nervous too!