Be prepared. You can combat a tendency to get nervous speaking in front of an audience by preparing thoroughly. Practice your presentation many times. Think about questions that your audience might ask and prepare some responses.
Delay your start. Nervous speakers feel the need to speak as soon as they take the stage. If you take a deep breath and pause briefly, you will feel more control and present an attitude of strength.
Use eye contact. As you speak, look at individual audience members. Instead of scanning your gaze across the entire room, look at one person and present one thought. Then move to focus on someone else. This serves two purposes. It will help you slow your speech as you focus your attention on someone. It will also help you see your audience as individuals rather than a large collection. Even if you do not make contact with each person in the audience, the appearance helps personalize your presentation for everyone.
Speak - ve - ry - slow - ly. Nervous speakers tend automatically to speak quickly. This can make you difficult to understand, which leads to a lack of focus by your audience, which then makes you feel more nervous. To break this cycle, you must consciously speak very slowly. If you believe you are speaking naturally, you are probably speaking too fast. When you feel that you are speaking... unusually... slowly..., then... you... are... probably... speaking... just... right.
Use deep breaths to your advantage. If you feel your nerves taking over, just pause and take a deep breath. This will help you regain composure and will slow your speech. In addition, the brief pause has a way of attracting attention. Any audience members who were drifting will be likely to refocus on your presentation.
Focus on the positive. If your topic is at all controversial, you may notice audience members who frown at you, scowl, cross their arms or display other negative body language. Ignore them. Focus instead on those audience members who support you and your presentation. You may not change the attitudes of those negative members, but your presentation will be better.
In my previous post, I laid out a timeline for choosing an academic conference. This post will lay out four steps to help you successfully prepare for a paper presentation at an academic conference.
Pay attention to the deadline for proposals.
Your proposal outlines the paper you are going to write, not a paper you have written. You may treat your proposal as a commitment device to “force” you to write the paper, but the final paper may well differ from your original intention.
The Claremont Graduate University Writing Center offers some good examples of proposals here.
Write a winning abstract to get your paper accepted into the conference.
Abstracts are an afterthought to many graduate students, but they are the what the reviewer looks at first. To get your paper accepted to a conference, you’ll need to write an abstract of 200 to 500 words.
The emphasis should be on brevity and clarity. It should tell the reader what your paper is about, why the reader should be interested, and why the paper should be accepted.
Additionally, it should:
- Specify your thesis
- Identify your paper fills a gap in the current literature.
- Outline what you actually do in the paper.
- Point out your original contribution.
- Include a concluding sentence.
Academic Conferences and Publishing International offers some additional advice on writing a conference abstract as you prepare for your paper presentation at an academic conference.
Pay attention to your presentation itself.
In order to convey excitement about your paper, you need to think about your presentation as well as the findings you are communicating.
Note the conference time limit and stick to it. Practice while timing yourself, and do it in front of a mirror. I also recommend practicing in front of your peers; organizing a departmental brown bag lunch could be a great way to do this. As you are preparing, keep in mind that reading from notes is better than reading directly from your paper.
Once you arrive at the conference, check the location of the room as soon as you can before the event. Arrive early to make sure any audiovisual equipment you plan to use is working, and be ready to present without it in case it is not.
Always stand when giving your paper presentation at an academic conference. Begin by stating your name and institution. Establish eye contact across the room, and speak slowly and clearly to your audience. Explain the structure of your presentation. End with your contribution to your discipline. Finally, be polite (not defensive) when engaging in discussion and answering questions about your research.
By focusing on (a) making sure your work contributes something to your field (b) adhering to deadlines and convincing conference organizers that your paper is worth presenting and (c) creating a compelling presentation that aptly highlights the content of your research, you’ll make the most of your time at the conference.