Tips to give a great academic Conference Presentation


One key part of academic development is developing the skills to give great conference presentations. These are skills that can be learned; although some people are naturally talented public speakers, you can develop and train yourself to be better at presenting your work and ideas. Your ability to present confidently and effectively will be a key transferrable skill in your professional development.


One of the most important skills you can learn as an early-career researcher is how to give an effective research talk, lecture, or presentation in front of an audience. At some point, every academic has to learn how to do this; the earlier, the better.

Most working university academics have to give student lectures on an almost daily basis.


Standing up in front of a room full of people is a very nerve-wracking experience. Remember: it’s completely normal to be nervous about putting yourself and your work on show in front of others.


Learning the skills required to give effective talks and presentations is key to academic success. Preparation is key:


·      Planning for your presentations will ensure you are able to control your nerves and do a good job.

·      How you manage yourself during your talks also makes the difference between success and failure.

·      People form impressions very fast and usually these stick.

·      Follow our guidelines, tips, and tricks to ensure that you do the best job possible when presenting your work in front of an audience.


If you don’t feel you have a natural gift for public speaking, you might use that as an excuse not to keep working at it. But what most successful speakers will tell you is that natural talent only takes you so far. The key here? Practice, practice and more practice. And keep it simple. Many of the best speakers have worked hard at mastering the skill. They approach public speaking as a craft that can be honed through dedicated persistence.


What techniques can I use to improve my public speaking?


Here are some suggestions we have, based on our experience running workshops and giving presentations, that you can use to improve your skills. These will work whether:


·      you’re giving a big presentation at an international conference

·      you’re giving a talk within your own university

·      you’re teaching students, or

·      you’re presenting your research as part of a job interview


These techniques can work and help you to improve: practice makes perfect, after all.


1. Think about the reasons for your presentation

Why are you speaking, and why is your audience there to listen? Are you trying to educate them, persuade them to take action or simply connect with them? If you know your goal, you can choose engagement tactics to help achieve it. Academic researchers will, most often, be writing to get across the results of a new study: so be clear about your goal. You’Il want to educate and inform your audience members while demonstrating your expertise and commitment to a specific industry.


2. Rehearse: Practice makes perfect, especially in a second language

Did you know that Steve Jobs, one of the founders of Apple Computers, used to practise all his speeches? He’d think over each movement and word: this kind of work can pay off! Cast a spell over your audience with a great, well-rehearsed talk.


Indeed, if you put the time in and rehearse your talks you’ll be a lot more comfortable and more likely to achieve your goals. What about time, though? Some academic speakers literally make a script, practise that script again and again until it feels natural and seems natural to the audience. Is this worthwhile? Here’s a good rule of thumb: If an opportunity is low-stakes, spend less time on it. If it’s high-stakes, carve out the time on your calendar to practise until you get it right. You don’t want to walk into that next major academic conference to give a keynote speech and just ‘see how it goes’.


A key tip for success when giving talks is Organisation: how to identify the key message of your presentation to ensure that your audience remembers you and walks away thinking ‘Wow! That was a really interesting talk’. What sorts of content do you need for a time-limited conference presentation? How many slides should you use for a 15-minute talk and what sorts of things need to be included? Content, presentation, and structure are some of the keys to delivering an effective talk.


3. Put on a show and don’t let your slides take centre stage

Truly great speeches live in the intersection of education and theatre. What theatrical elements can you inject into your presentation to make it memorable? For example, even if you practise until you can give the speech in your sleep, still leave room for improvisation on stage. Your presentation will sound more natural.


Don’t fall into the ‘death by Powerpoint’ trap. We’ve all attended talks where the slides are bad, hard to read, poorly constructed, distracting, or just plain terrible. We’ll teach you how to easily design and create effective slides that sell your message and are engaging and interesting for your audience. Why not consider infographics or a conference poster as eye-catching alternatives? Our services can help you develop, design, and produce alternatives.

Nerves are normal; we’ll teach you some tricks to overcome stagefright so that you appear confident and self-assured in front of your audience. We’ll also show you how practising some parts of your presentation is a must to ensure success while improvisation in other places can also be good to ensure engagement with your audience.


Nobody has ever been truly inspired by a slide deck. Instead, your presentation should rely on your words, i.e. the story you’re telling. But if your presentation must include slides, prepare them after writing your speech. You might find that visual elements won’t improve your presentation after all. Plus, using a slide deck as a crutch could be a colossal mistake as technology can fail! We’ve all attended talks where the speaker has to spend loads of time at the start fiddling with the projector and trying to transfer their slides across to the ‘home’ computer. Try to get to your venue earlier and make sure your slides work well when projected onto a screen! (not just the screen of your computer).


Some people have a natural talent for public speaking. But for the rest of us, it takes practice and smart tactics to become effective and memorable speakers.


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