7 Sept 2015

My First Conference Talk

Before presenting at ASAB 2015 Summer Conference, my first ever conference talk, I was quite nervous. I'm fairly comfortable with public speaking, but did not know what to expect from an academic conference. In this state of uncertainty, I Googled "how to give a great academic presentation". Google threw up a few listicles. 'Get a Life, PhD' was the most helpful. All these tips are fairly standard. Use 24 pt font or higher. Don't fill your slides with too much text. The most useful advice for me was to practice.

I was supposed to practice with just my supervisor, but when I arrived at his office, another of his PhD students was also there to practice a presentation. Practicing with a few other people was incredibly helpful. They knew more about what to expect from conferences and helped me to rework my presentation. Being used to giving in-school presentations, I had followed a standard framework complete with an outline slide. They told me to cut the introduction/outline slide and highlight my findings more than my methods. People can ask about the methods during the question session if they want painstaking details. Short videos can be very effective at illustrating a point; for me, it helped the audience to see an example of a bonobo gesture.

The conference itself was perfect for a first time presenter. It was a small enough conference not to have parallel sessions. The small size of the conference and predominantly Postgrad demographic made for a very friendly and supportive audience. People asked thoughtful questions, and generally didn't try to attack a presenter's work.

Many people live Tweeted the conference. Tweeting at conferences has been controversial, because of fear of oversharing unpublished results. However, if you only Tweet a brief overview of each talk, it is a way of connecting presenters with other researchers doing similar research.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at ASAB Lincoln 2015. I was careful to take note of what I liked in other presentations, so that I can change some stylistic things in future presentations. Already looking forward to my next conference. Maybe it will be a big one!

Please share your conference presentation advice in the Comments section

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