This month alone I attended five conferences, some were small (50 people) some large (god knows, lost count). So here are my suggestions how to improve your presentations.
- Balance your slides. Use them as support, but do not just read everything you wrote on them. True story, when someone reads a written text to me my brain goes into “bedtime story” mode and it is kinda weird to realize how easily my Pavlov’s dog reflexes can be triggered during a presentation on power and ideology in L2 teaching. Don’t do that to me, please.
- Preload your YouTube videos. And while I am at it, use TubeChop I can’t even count the number of YouTube ads I was forced to watch and frantic fast-forwarding I had to witness, just because presenters did not take time to simply click on the link before they started their talk.
- Prepare handouts. Just make sure they are not simple copies of your slides. Maybe throw more resources and relevant literature there and offer to send your slides to the audience. But I need space to take notes and I appreciate your taking time to consider that some of audience members are like me.
- Put some pictures up there. My friend Victoria is the goddess of visuals and smart art when it comes to PowerPoints, and I have to say that her presentations are always fun and engaging. Way more than mine, though I try. You don’t have to use all animations or .gifs of cats you can find, but think of those of us who are visual learners and organize your information.
- Speak up. Use your outside voice. You don’t have to yell, but “what did he just say?” is a question I hear a bit too often at conference presentations and it is distracting.
- Stay true to your abstract and the topic of your presentation. “So, this paper is different from what I originally proposed…” I mean, excuse me? This is at very least irresponsible and honestly very disrespectful to reviewers, people whose place you took and your audience. I came to listen about policy and planning, but got stuck listening to theories of pedagogy… no.
- Stick around. We are all busy people and it does seem pretty arrogant, when you leave right after your presentation. Conferences can be as fruitful and successful as attendees make them to be, so stay and take a couple of extra questions, if you don’t mind.
- Stick.to.the.time.limit! Taking your time is not always fair. Not to presenters who come after you (you are stealing their time) and not to the audience. At one conference I almost missed my flight, because the presentation went 20 minutes beyond the announced time and eventually I still left before it ended, sneaking out sheepishly through the back door…
- Talk to the audience. I mean, please, there is nothing worse than being forced to stare at the crown of presenter’s head as she sticks her nose and reads from the paper. Make eye contact for goodness sake. I know, that it is tradition and I understand that this might be your first rodeo but traditions can be challenged and if you are starting something, maybe do it right? I confess, I have read my presentations too, but you know why? I just didn’t prepare well enough.
- Time yourself. This is different to Stick.to.the.time.limit one, because many conferences have magic 5 min, 3 min, Stop cards that a discussant would hold, forcing you to skip slides. “Ok, I will skip this, skip that, oh yes, the findings” over and over again. I feel frustrated, you are embarrassed and nobody is happy in the end. So just run your PowerPoint and know how long each slide will take. It’s easier than you think.
In sum, all I really want to say: just take time to prepare and practice your talk before you enter the room full of people, who came to listen to your presentation. You managed to catch their attention with your abstract, now try not to lose their interest.