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Guide for newcomers

Read our advice and top tips for those new to the conference.

What to expect at the RGS-IBG annual conference

Here is our guide for those new to the RGS-IBG annual conferences or to large academic conferences more generally. It covers participating in person and participating online. 

Please see also our guidance on

Do also take the time to (re)read the conference code of conduct ahead of the conference. 

If you have any questions not answered here, or through other conference communications, please do contact us.

Planning your time

This is a big conference – over 400 sessions across three days, with more than 30 sessions taking place in any one timeslot. It can be a bit overwhelming at first – but there are things you can do, both prior to the conference and while you’re here, to manage your time, make the most of the conference, and look after yourself along the way. This is important to do whether you are participating in person or online.

  • Have a plan: It really helps to put a rough plan in place, prior to the conference, of the sessions you’d like to go to (any you’re presenting in would probably be a good idea, to start!).

    • You will be able to view the programme online when it is published in May 2024. Online programmes usually have a nifty feature called ‘My agenda’ which allows you to add sessions of interest to your own personalised calendar and to start to build a sense of where you’d like to spend your time during the conference, and the RGS-IBG online programme is no exception. Use the bookmark feature to build your schedule for the conference - click the star next to a session or presentation to bookmark it.

    • In addition to the search function on the main programme landing page, you can also search and browse paper titles, participants, and organised sessions.

    • Check the 'location' to see whether a session is taking place in person at the Society and Imperial College London, or online. There will also be details in the session description of whether an in-person session is hybrid and can enable a remote audience. If you can see a Zoom or a livestream link, you should be able to join remotely. 

  • Are there particular people you’d like to meet or listen to? See if they’re giving a paper and plan to attend or view that session, so that you can ask questions, perhaps introduce yourself after the session, and so on.

  • Be ready to be flexible with ‘The Plan’ – papers will be withdrawn, and other opportunities will come up to meet people and take part in exciting things. Programme changes will be updated regularly in the online programme. Do check right up to the time of a session. 

  • Learn about something different. Think about going to a session that sounds really interesting, even if it’s nothing to do with your work. Sometimes there’s nothing better than going along to an unrelated session where you don’t have to worry about taking in each and every detail of all the presentations to work out where your own work fits in. Instead you can just enjoy listening to some of the world’s experts on a particular topic explain why they’re really excited about it and what they’ve been finding out lately.

  • DON’T try to do too much – it’s important to also allow for breaks during the conference day. Your brain will get full, and you will need recharging points. Conference stretches you intellectually (trying to take in all the details of these fascinating presentations), as well as socially/emotionally and physically, (being surrounded by people for 12 hours at a time can be exhausting - or likewise, spending several hours in front of your computer screen). Build in breaks.

    • Inevitably, just as there’ll be timeslots where we’ve annoyingly put all the sessions you’re interested in all on at once, sometimes there’ll be timeslots where there’s really nothing that speaks to you – use that time to take a break. Sometimes it really makes a difference to head away from the conference venues and get into a different space, particularly just before your presentation.

    • This year we're in the heart of London - take the opportunity to explore the city, or find some green space and clear your head. 

    • It may also help to find a nearby café to hide in for a while – head down the road to South Kensington, or find one of the cafes in Hyde Park.

Finding your way around

When you get here, you first need to come to the Registration Desk to collect your name badge and lanyard. This is in the Exhibition Road entrance of the RGS-IBG. Name badges are printed with your name (first name/last name, no titles) and the institution that you gave when registering online.

Near to the Registration Desk is a good place to arrange to meet people. Our publishers’ exhibitions is another great space to arrange to meet people. These are located in the Pavilion and Map Room at the RGS-IBG.

The conference takes place at the Society in London, Imperial College London, and online. Session rooms for in-person and hybrid sessions will be included in the final online programme. We will also update our accessibility guide in summer 2024 with key information about the in-person spaces being used.

You can also ask at the conference helpdesk, and we will also have signage to all rooms, and helpful staff on hand in case you get lost. If you are confused or have questions, please come to the desk and ask.

It’s a very good idea, if you can, to scope out your session room ahead of time so that you’re sure you know where it is and what the set-up is. The rooms will be open from 08:00 on each of the days with sessions. If you are joining your session remotely, make sure to have downloaded Zoom a few days' in advance and made a note of your Zoom access details and/or link from the conference programme - please see our guidance on planning your attendance at the virtual conference.

Wi-Fi and staying connected - If you are at a university, likely you will be part of the Eduroam network. Check in advance and get this set up ahead of arriving at the conference to have good connectivity throughout the event. 


What should I wear at the conference?

We have a relaxed dress code at the in-person conference – from full suits to shorts and T-shirts and everything in between. However, this does not necessarily help with deciding exactly what you’re going to wear, so we’ve put together some additional tips:

  • If this is your first major conference, aim towards the more formal end of the spectrum, particularly on the day you’re going to present – think smart casual rather than gala dinner. The pictures on the conference website (from past events) can be useful to give you an idea.

  • London’s weather is changeable, so look up a forecast beforehand if you can, but bring options. Layers are good, and both umbrella and sunglasses can be useful (sometimes on the same day).

  • Wear something comfortable, to the fullest extent you can – the conference day is a long one. Comfortable shoes are a must. Pockets, if you can find clothes that have functional ones, are also really useful.

  • Think about both physical comfort, and social comfort – the ideal you’re looking for is clothing you don’t have to worry about during the day.

  • The more conferences you go to, the more you’ll get a sense of what norms are for your discipline, which ones you want to adhere to, and which ones you feel able to stretch.

  • If in doubt, talk to your supervisor or a trusted colleague before the conference for advice.

  • Did we mention comfortable shoes...

If you are joining us remotely for a session, it's also a good idea to wear something for your presentation that you feel comfortable in - and again, consider aiming for smart casual to help build your confidence. Think about the background that will appear behind you, or select the 'blur background' feature to hide what's behind you. 

Session types

We have lots of types of sessions at the conference. 

  • Paper sessions: each presenter speaks for 15-20 minutes including Q&A afterwards. You are not required to submit a copy of your paper, unless specifically asked for by the session convener or chair.

  • Panel sessions: after preliminary comments, the panelists engage in a discussion with Q&A from the audience.

  • Short paper sessions: very short presentations in which attendees get a rapid and intensive overview of a topic.

  • Discussion sessions and workshops, including world café sessions: discussion and/or activities led by the convenors on a particular topic. There will be more details given in the session abstract and at the start of the session.

  • Plenary sessions: the conference Chair convenes 3-5 Chair’s plenary lectures on the conference theme. There are also high-profile journal-sponsored lectures through the programme.

  • Posters: some posters will be on display in person at the conference at the RGS-IBG, with online versions in our online Poster Gallery.

Session participation and etiquette

At the conference, it’s generally considered polite to stay for the entire session (mandatory, if you’re a presenter!). But if you have to go in and out, please leave and enter quietly (much easier for a remote session!). If the room is full, find a seat on the floor or stand at the back.


If you’re presenting

  • Remember that this is a really great chance to talk to people working on closely related themes and material to you, to share your work with them, and to hear about the really interesting work they’re doing. It’s going to be rewarding.

  • If you are attending online, make sure to set up your online name badge in the virtual conference space and enable networking options. 


Writing your talk

  • As you write your presentation, think about making it as accessible as possible for those for whom English is not their first language, whether that's you, your fellow presenters, or those in the audience. Aim for clarity and simplicity. See our guidance about how to make your presentation accessible.

  • Come well-prepared, having thoroughly rehearsed your presentation. Make sure you’ve read/said it aloud at least once, and more if possible, ideally using a timer or stopwatch to see how long this actually takes you to do.

  • Don’t try to cram your whole project into a 15 minute presentation. Better presentations have a clear focus, whether that’s your key findings, a particular case study which illuminates the project, or a methodological problem you’d like some input on. Less can be more!

  • Bring your presentation slides in two formats in case a computer can’t read your file –  Powerpoint and a PDF is a good back up option in most cases. Bring a print out of your notes you can read from too if you find that helpful (and just in case of serious technical difficulties!).

  • You can also upload a copy of your presentation to your paper details in the online programme. We will publish details of how to do this in spring 2024.


In the session

  • If you're presenting in person, check out the room ahead of time, if you can, so you know where you’re going and are confident you can find it again. Rooms are open from 08:00-19:00 on each conference day. You can go in during coffee breaks and at the start and end of lunch too.

  • Technical problems happen – if they do, everyone else will be so thoroughly relieved it's not happening to them that they’ll almost certainly be really, really nice to you in the Q&A. The session chair or stage manager should be able to help, but if you’re having problems, call the conference helpdesk on +44 (0)20 7591 3027 (details will be in the room on the day) and we’ll send someone to assist.

  • Consider taking a break immediately before your session to read over your notes one last time and to steady your nerves. Breathe – you’ve prepared for this.

  • Stick to the time limits.

    • Your session chair should contact you in advance of the session to let you know how long you will have to present, and it's a good idea to confirm this with them at the start of the session. As a general rule, in a session with 5 presentations, we recommend that you plan a presentation of c.10-12 minutes so that there's time for Q&A and for moving between presenters (particularly important in online or hybrid sessions). 

    • During the session, your session chair will have signs with five minutes to go, two minutes to go and STOP. Keep an eye on them during your presentation so you know how long you have left to go. Online, your session chair will let you know at the start of the session how they will do this, whether that is posting in the chat, or unmuting themselves to verbally let you know. If you run out of time, give your one key point/wrap up and STOP. You don’t want to be that person keeping everyone from lunch or their next tea break!

    • However, if someone else in your session has seriously overrun their time, your session chair should still give you your full slot to present so that you don't lose out (there's more on this in our guidance for session chairs (coming soon)). Don't be afraid to insist on getting your full ten minutes (while being careful to stick to time yourself!)

  • During Q&A, take notes of questions while they’re being asked if that helps, and don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if you’re not sure what the question was. If in doubt, ‘that’s a really important/valuable point, thank you for raising it’ never fails.

  • Once it’s over, take a seat and relax. You did it!

  • Take the time at the end of the sessions to receive questions and speak to other presenters.

  • Consider asking questions of other presenters too. Think about the types of questions you appreciate and how they are framed – try to model that.


See also our guidance for presenters (coming in spring 2024), and our guidance for session chairs (coming in spring 2024).

Food and drink at the in-person conference

We provide a boxed lunch, water from refillable stations (make sure to bring your own refillable bottle), and tea and coffee. You’ll find lunch tickets for the days you are registered in your name badge pouch – exchange these for a boxed lunch at the serving points onsite in the Main Hall and Marquee at the RGS-IBG. You can also find out about receptions and social events, including those aimed at postgraduates, in our guide to attending the in-person conference (coming in spring 2024).

Networking tips

  • If you have business cards, bring them. Don’t worry too much about getting them printed if not. We also encourage you to use the virtual business card feature in the online conference programme to share your details if you would like to.

  • If you attend an excellent talk, or if you have to miss a session of interest, consider following up with the presenter(s) after the meeting by email. Many presenters are happy to share a copy of their presentation or paper upon request. While we won’t share their email addresses with you, we can forward on your request to other presenters if you send it to us at the conference inbox ( 

  • Think about attending some of our informal meet-up sessions and social programme highlights - more information is available in our Programme highlights (coming in spring 2024).

  • This year, many presenters will be uploading additional content to their presentations in the online programme. Make sure to view this, and to use the Comment function to ask them questions.