Getting a PhD: Conference presentations

In other words, getting invaluable feedback on your research!

As daunting as poster and oral presentations can be, the value of such events is well understood. Some benefits of attending and presenting at a conference include:
  • Receiving invaluable and immediate feedback on your work (improvements, new ideas). 
  • Building your confidence in public speaking, and getting clearer ideas about what makes a presentation good or bad. 
  • Learning about other interesting fields. 
  • Networking opportunities. 
  • Opportunities for a change of environment (most of the time will be spent within the conference venue but squeezing some quality time to sightsee after the conference is a doable treat). 
Some tips that may help to prepare one for presentations include:
  • Realising that you have done satisfactory work, otherwise the conference organisers would not have invited you to present your work. It is sometimes hard to imagine that experts in your field could learn something from you, but the nature of research is such that there are many, many opportunities to learn something new. 
  • Identifying the target audience: Are they researchers within your field? Researchers from various fields? Non-specialists? 
  • Empathising with your target audience: prepare an oral presentation that looks appealing, informative and has good flow. To help you do this, try putting yourself in the audience's shoes (or seats). Would you find endless lines of barely readable text interesting? Neat, informative graphics are much better. Additionally, it is easier to follow a presenter who gives some eye contact while talking. 
  • Preparing a realistic number of slides: A really helpful tip I got from a supervisor was to budget 1 minute for each slide. So assuming a 15 minute slot has been allocated, this often means 10 minutes will be used for the talk and 5 minutes will be for questions. I prefer to prepare 10 slides (or a few extra if I can go through some slides quicker than others). A proper number of slides may also influence the pace of delivery; rushing through slides does not give the audience a chance to absorb the findings, but spending too long/talking too slowly could exhaust even the most tenacious of audiences. 
  • Practice, practice, practice! I find that I feel more confident when I know the sequence by heart (not cramming the exact words but the logical 'flow'). In addition, presenting your work to your supervisor(s) well ahead of the conference also helps spot potential weaknesses in logic/methodology. 
  • Anticipate questions and prepare answers for them. 
This post was solely focused on oral presentations but useful information on both poster and oral presentations can be found here.

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