As an entry point into “real” academic work, graduate students are encouraged to present at academic conferences in order to build their CVs. At this point in my academic career, I’ve presented at approximately fifteen conferences in the last four years. I would say that although I am by no means an expert, I have a pretty good understanding on what one should do while at a conference – conferences are a way to brand yourself* as an emerging academic/junior scholar.
1. Stick to your time limit.
Conferences usually give each presenter between ten and twenty minutes for their presentation, with fifteen minutes seeming to be the most common. When preparing for your presentation, make sure you stay under your time limit. Saying “can I have more time?” or “I’m going to take more time” disrespects the time, effort and scholarship of the other presenters. There is a time limit for a reason: stick to it.
2. Keep your questions concise.
If you have a question or comment, be brief. Nothing is more irritating to the rest of the audience than sitting through a question that takes five minutes to spit out. If you want to talk about your research with the presenter, do it after the session or ask for their contact information.
3. Know how to use presentation software effectively.
Personally, I hate Prezi because the rapid spinning makes me nauseated. I also find that many of the graphics in the templates don’t relate to many subject areas. I think it should be used at your own risk.
As for PowerPoint, when designing your presentation keep you fonts and texts readable, your points brief, and your presentation dynamic as possible.
4. Try to speak rather than read.
Admittedly I still struggle with this a lot: I tend to read my paper more than speak about my paper, which makes my presentations not as strong (or so I think, as someone who prefers speakers to speak rather than read). The more time you give yourself to practice, the more comfortable you become with your material and the less likely you will be to read.
5. Be conscious of the use of your voice.
If you sound bored with what you are presenting your audience will be bored too. Be enthusiastic: if your work wasn’t interesting you wouldn’t have done it, right?
6. Dress well.
Overall, I feel that a lot of people tend to dress too casually at academic conferences (flip flops, ripped jeans, crop tops, faded t-shirts). Yet, I don’t think the adage “dress to impress” is necessarily appropriate for academic conferences since I don’t believe that business attire is always needed. I would also argue it’s often conformist and for the most part dull.
What you want is an outfit that won’t make you too hot or too cold, isn’t showing too much skin (for women think specifically about crossing/uncrossing your legs under the table – people will, unfortunately, look), and that you really like. Make sure you have shoes that are comfortable (and bring band-aids if you get blisters), but if you insist on wearing running shoes please do it with pants. If your hair is long, be conscious of whether or not you’re apt to play with it if you’re nervous; if you will, pull it back.
By all means, your personality and personal style should be illustrative of what you’re wearing, but at the same time, I don’t feel it is appropriate to look like what you’d wear if you’re under the age of twelve or to the beach.
All in all, conferences can be really great spaces to learn and engage with other graduate students and scholars, but I find there is a lot to consider once you find out your abstract has been accepted.
*I feel rather icky about saying “brand yourself” but, sadly, it’s part of the game we seem to have to play.