How to give a successful presentation at a conference

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This post is mainly based on Jeremy Day’s successful and entertaining presentation at IATEFL, with a few of my own thoughts and ideas tagged on.

Submit a Proposal: If in doubt go for it!This is exactly what I did and look where it got me!

Choose a Topic: Choose a subject that you care about, not  something just because it’s in fashion, – it won’t be anymore by the time your conference comes around. It’s also a great way of finding out a lot about a particular subject, there’s nothing more motivating to learning than talking about something to a group of teachers!

Choose your format: While some conferences have a fixed length for all their sessions, IATEFL differentiates between talks (30 mins) or workshops (45 mins), although the workshop is longer many first-timers prefer it because, with more participant intervention, it can feel less intimidating. Having done both at IATEFL I can tell you that 30 minutes goes VERY quickly, and most presenters seem to have trouble fitting their material into the allotted time. Whatever you decide on just remember that a workshop is not a talk and should include some group interaction, and to be honest a talk is livened up by just a couple of minutes “tell/ask your neighbour about…” as well.

Title & Abstract: Don’t be too clever and make sure you talk about what you say you will. Start with a controversial statement, or state a problem and how you will solve it. Some conferences (IATEFL) are very strict about title length (10 words maximum) and abstract length (50-60). These will be published in the programme and are what people rely on when choosing to come to your talk.

I’d also add that people want practical ideas they can put into practice, so say this in your abstract.

Summary: Here you will outline what you plan to do, and it’s what the conference organisers look at in their decision of whether or not to choose you (along with loads of other criteria you can’t do anything about, such as another 150 people offering the same talk or Scott Thornbury talking on the same topic). This should be 200-250 words and do not repeat the abstract, but go into more detail about what exactly you plan to do.

Planning: Think about what the audience want to hearI couldn’t agree more, even phrases such as “in my class we use posters for oral activities” can be improved by a quick change of perspective, “use posters” or “try using posters…” No matter how much we are interested in theory and research teachers still love to get a freebie activity to try in class.

Slides: Jeremy suggests one slide per three minutes or so,  I only had about six or seven this time (for 30 minutes) but with phrases appearing I suppose there was a change every three minutes or so.

Slides are NOT the presentation, they are a prop, although agreeable slides do add to a presentation. Marketing guru Seth Godin said no more than three words per slide, you can go a bit higher, I stick to the saying “no more words on a slide than a t-shirt”. Effects and animations are cool if you’re 12, after that, not so. I did actually see a presentation that featured fireworks in the slideshow, and thought wryly of Jeremy!

Hand Outs: If you are giving handouts then make sure they are brief and to the point, do your photocopies before as there is rarely the opportunity after you arrive. I gave my last couple of presentations as “paper-free” talks, I presented them as such and instead gave out my card for people to access this blog if necessary. Everyone seemed fine with that and it is easier than guessing how many participants you will have and either not having enough, or lugging a hundred-odd pages across the country or further.

I suggest less slides, if you are rushed for time (you probably will be) then you can always cut things you were going to say without the audience noticing, they will notice however, if you whizz through the last ten slides at lightening speed to get to your “Thank you” slide at the end!

Rehearse: For the audience and yourself. Especially yourself, you’ll be nervous enough anyway, and without sufficient practice you’ll forget half of what you wanted to say or won’t say it in the most effective way. Jeremy rightly suggests really focusing on the first five minutes, after that things will flow and from experience you’ll probably be to wrapped up in what you’re saying to look at your notes.

What can go wrong?: Everything, so plan for it! Especially internet, computers, jacks and convertors, etc. Aim high but be prepared to give your talk from your notes, and carry your notes and computer in hand luggage just in case! If you’re a mac user take every jack you can, especially VGA, this can make you very popular with fellow speakers who are not as on the ball as you!

Four Essentials:

Bottle of water – not only does talking make you thirsty, but a drink before will lubricate your voice, and a drink during can give you a necessary couple of seconds thinking time.

Tissues – you don’t want a heavy sneeze ruining everything!

Your notesas we said, don’t rely on the computer.

A clicker – looks much more professional, means you can wander about, and gives you something to hold on to, like a security blanket.

Your own computer – don’t rely on some unknown piece of technology, when I gave a webinar for Cambridge at the end of last year I had a nightmare when, just before it started I realised there was no ethernet connection on my mac, and then the computer I borrowed at the last moment was all “sticky” and the slides wouldn’t change when I clicked, a very sweaty-hand moment!

Nerves: Normal so don’t panic, the more you’ve practiced the less they will show, the audience won’t mind a bit of fumbling if your ideas are basically sound. Try and eat and sleep well in the week leading up to your big day, and the morning of the talk go for a walk, being outside and light exercise is great for stress.

A Good Start: Easy as A,B,C, (D)

Attention – get attention by starting with a story, a joke, controversial statement or an interesting image. I’ve noticed a lot of good speakers start with an anecdote.

Benefit – Be explicit about what the audience are going to get out of your session, as with good lesson objectives “by the end of the session you’ll be able to…”

Credibilitydon’t set yourself up as an expert, au contraire ” I’m not an expert but…” will win the audience over, but do explain your credentials, “I’ve used these activities successfully in my teens class…”

Direction – let the audience know where you’ll be going and what you’ll be doing during your presentation.

End with a quiz or some method of recycling what they’ve learnt during the presentation. I like to start with a question, and put it on a slide for participants to ponder over as they come into the room, and put it up again or refer to it at the end, it feels good to come full circle so to speak.

Please share your own nuggets of advice!

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About fabenglishteacher

I've been teaching English for a few years now and this blog is part of my never-ending quest to make learning English more fun, and easier for my students.
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2 Responses to How to give a successful presentation at a conference

  1. Pingback: How to give a successful presentation at a conference « Nada Radenković

  2. Pingback: Writing your Conference Proposal | Fab English ideas

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