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Attending first conference as an undergrad. Advice?

4 posts in this topic

I received a grant from my school to present an 18 page paper at a graduate conference in Hawaii. I am a TERRIBLE public speaker and have no idea what to expect. I emailed them asking how long I will have to present and have not heard back. Also, my paper was written through the English Department and has a lot of close readings (but not an excessive amount). I feel really nervous about reading those to a group of academics. I don't know. I'm a mess!

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Norms for conference presentations vary by field so it would help to know what field you're in. In mine, you don't usually read a paper but rather you give a presentation usually accompanied by slides or handouts, but this is precisely the place where expectations may vary. If you want to also give us the link to the conference website, we might be able to help you figure out how long you have to talk, etc. But if not, I bet you could get a lot of information by going on the website for this year's program, if it's up, or else last year's program, and seeing how long each talk is scheduled for. Keep in mind that there will be some time for questions, too. By far the most common format in my field is 20 for the talk + 10 minutes for questions. You might also see 15+5, 30+10, or 45+15, for example. The call for papers might also be a place to look, in my field you'll often find wording like "submissions are solicited for 20 minute presentations plus 10 minutes for questions" or some such as part of the CFP. 

One thing you might do in preparation is see if there are any local talks you can attend, to see how other people give presentations in your field. Your department likely holds reading groups of various kinds and has invited speakers at colloquia and perhaps job talks, if they are hiring this year. Ask your professor if there are any upcoming talks you might benefit from attending.

As for the actual preparation, practice, practice, practice. That's the best way to get rid of the nerves, or at least bring them down to a manageable level. Make sure you give at least one full-length practice presentation to a small local audience (your professor and peers, if possible) to get feedback, but you will also want to practice in addition either alone or with friends to get a sense of the timing. Plan, in particular, what you want to say in the very beginning. That's when you'll be the most nervous. Once you've established a rhythm and get into it, things will get easier. It's fine to begin by saying that you're nervous because this is your first presentation; that might help get the audience on your side and give you some slack if you get confused or flustered in the middle. You might also want to think about some possible questions you might get asked, although those are a whole lot more difficult to anticipate. Learn to say "thank you for that question, I hadn't thought of that. I'm not sure what to say, I'll have to give this some more thought after the conference". 

And finally, enjoy and have fun. Good luck! 

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Hey, I feel you! I will be presenting at my first international congress in May. Thankfully, it is in my city so I won't have the stress to be travelling on top of it but I am also nervous and do not know what to expect.



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