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Presenting Your Research

Presenting your research at a conference or seminar is an important opportunity to inform others of what you have found, get feedback on your findings, and, most importantly, to network with people who also have an interest in your field of work.

button  Planning to present

  • Choose a conference/seminar that fits: There are many opportunities so be selective about where you present to get an audience who are interested in your work and the best opportunities for networking. Sign-up to newsletters and mailing lists for research groups working on your topic area – this way you will hear about the conferences quickly (see useful links).  
  • Find out what is required: Not all conferences have the same format. You might be asked to present a 20 minute paper with 5-10 minutes of questions (one traditional format), or present a 5 minute summary of your paper and participate in a panel discussion at the end (an Interactive Short Papers format). Some conferences require you to submit your full paper for peer review before you attend, while others only ask you to submit a title and abstract. Make sure you understand what is required of you, and choose the best format for you and your research.
  • Prepare an abstract: All conferences will ask you to submit the title and abstract of the paper you intend to present.  This is your opportunity to highlight the importance of your research, your central argument, and the key topic areas your research covers. If you are submitting an abstract for a conference or conference session with a theme or particular area of focus you should try to highlight the significance of your paper to that theme. Each conference will specify the length of abstract they require, but aim for 300 words. Make your title catchy and simple so that your audience will want to hear your paper to learn more (see useful links).  Most of all, submit your title and abstract early or on time – you’re more likely to get a slot in a session that reflects your research interests.
  • Apply for funding to attend: If you have been successful in your submission, you may need funding assistance to attend the conference. Check the conference website to see if they offer funding, and then check with research groups and learned societies that support research in your area (see useful links). 

button  Presenting your paper

  • Arrive early and get to know the space: If you have time, check out the room where you will be speaking. Knowing where the presentation will be shown, where the audience will be sitting, and where you will stand can cut down on how nervous you feel. Arriving early for a session is a good way to meet the session chair and other presenters before you start. It also means you will have time to check that your presentation is loaded correctly.
  • Communicate clearly: Try to speak naturally and confidently, using notes rather than a script. Try writing down a few bullet points for each aspect of your paper. The more times you practise your paper out loud, the better you will remember. Make eye contact with your audience as much as possible. Don’t try to say or do too much in the time you have been allowed.  Make sure you have a short introduction, a longer middle section, and then a short conclusion – tell people what you are going to say, tell them, and then remind them what you told them!
  • Manage your time: Make sure you know how long you have been asked to speak and stick to it. Practise delivering your presentation to a friend or family member.
  • Get the most out of your presentation: Use PowerPoint sparingly, to reinforce important points and show pictures.  People will remember the visual aspects of your presentation long after they remember the title, abstract or data. Aim for one slide for each 2-3 minutes of speaking. When you make important points, emphasise them by drawing attention to the supporting information on your presentation.
  • Have a backup: Sometimes, technology fails. Carry a spare copy of your presentation on a CD or datastick. If you created your presentation on a Mac, carry a copy that is compatible with PCs. For overseas conferences, plan for different power supplies and plug sizes!!
  • Be prepared for questions: be prepared for questions about your research, some of which may criticise your approach. Good chairs and discussants will be constructive and thorough, and point out lots of things you may not have thought of. Be calm, ask someone to repeat the question if you did not understand or need more time to think about an answer, and be honest if you do not have the answer right now. If you can, also have someone make a note of what the questions are – you will probably forget it as soon as you’ve answered, and it’s helpful to know what areas to improve before you present again or write-up your research into a paper for submission to a journal.
  • Be prepared for criticism and hard questions: Respect the critique – it shows they have listened to something you said. Do not be overly defensive or overly aggressive. If you can, deal with the criticism with more information about your research.  It’s also OK to say: “I hadn’t thought of that, thank you, I would like to talk to you more about how I could incorporate that insight into my work.” If your argument is wrong, or you missed a major work that overlaps with your research, try to be positive – it’s better to learn that now than later! Enjoy yourself! This is your opportunity to tell an interested audience about your exciting research.  Don’t worry about the size of the audience.

button  Being at conference

  • Make notes: In addition to making notes in sessions about papers you have heard, try to make a note of people you met – this might be as simple as asking for their business card and making a note of the conference name and date on the back of it. Keep a copy of the paper you gave (both the presentation and the verbal speaker notes) so that if someone follows up after the conference, you can send them a copy. 
  • Get feedback: Don’t rush off at the end of your session, and try to connect with people who were in the audience during tea and coffee breaks or lunch. Don’t be afraid to approach other people – just be prepared to answer the question “what are you working on?” with a short explanation of your research.
  • Don’t miss out: Look for opportunities to network with others working in your field. This might be at evening receptions, during coffee breaks between sessions, or just walking from one room to another. 

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