Conference Presentations Part IV: Top 10 Most Randomly Useful Tips You Never Knew You Needed

I’m back with with Part IV in my series on giving engaging presentations, with all advice courtesy of a workshop series I recently attended, Taking Research from the Page to the Stage. Our words of wisdom for this post come from SSU Theatre and Speech Communication professors Julie Kiernan and Tom Healy.

Today I want to share the top 10 most randomly useful tips for making a presentation that you never knew you needed. At least, never knew I needed them!

Ja'Mie gif

Thanks, Ja’Mie. Source:

Without further ado:

1. Never apologize. For anything. Seriously. Including not knowing the answer to a question. Your job as the presenter is to exude confidence. If you cough, stumble, whatever, just say, “Excuse me,” and keep going.

2. Make business cards. Conferences present an important opportunity to network with colleagues in your field. Handing someone a business card rather than a ripped scrap of paper with your email address scrawled in incomprehensible script makes it more likely that person will hang onto your contact information.

3. Develop an elevator pitch. I was recently convicted of the importance of this even as an academic rather than a business person. For more, see my blog post on developing an elevator pitch here.

4. Follow the 666 rule for slideshows. Digital slideshows can be a useful supplement to a larger talk… or they can go oh so wrong. Try the handy 666 rule: no more than 6 bullets per slide, no more than 6 words per bullet, and every 6 slides, break up the text with some kind of image to cultivate visual interest.

5. It’s better to record your voice than videotape yourself when practicing. I heard this recommendation from both Julie and Tom at the workshop. When practicing, it’s more useful to record just your voice rather than videotape yourself; videoing yourself during rehearsal can just be distracting and you end up not focusing on your voice as your primary method of delivery.

6. Bring water with cucumber or orange. Coffee and other caffeinated beverages may seem like a good idea, but don’t imbibe too close to your presentation time or you may end up needing to RUN to the restroom. Awkward. Instead try flavored water as a more refreshing choice for your vocal cords.

7. Dress one level above the audience. Another handy rule of thumb is to aim to be slightly, but not significantly, more formal than your audience. For a more in-depth discussion of appropriate academic attire, check out my blog post on it here.

8. Present using a keyword outline. This is a big topic that I’m just going to touch briefly on here. It’s also an ambitious goal that I have yet to achieve myself. Rather than reading directly from your paper (as many scholars, in my field at least, often do), Prof. Kiernan suggests developing a keyword outline of your talk (I found an example of what that looks like here). Practice, practice, practice with your keyword outline, using your full-length paper like a set of training wheels, until you can talk extemporaneously and conversationally just using your notes.

9. Be yourself. According to Prof. Kiernan, and professional actor Paul Melendy, this is one of the most important things you can do to deliver a successful presentation. Your audience wants more than anything to feel that they have connected with the authentic you. So don’t lose sight of that out of nervousness.

10. If you have an accent, start by speaking more slowly. This was a really interesting pointer for folks for whom English is a second language. The human ear is good at training itself to understand an accent, but it needs a brief period to adjust. If English isn’t your first language, and/or if you have an accent, speak more slowly at the beginning of your talk to give your audience a chance to habituate to your particular voice, and speed up later on.

That concludes this week’s series on making presentations, and my semester! I’ve had a lot of fun as your Heisenberg here at Breaking Grad (School), but since this blog was a project for a particular class, I’m not sure how regularly I’ll be posting here in the future. Best of luck to all of my readers in their graduate programs, and I’ll see you in class!




3 thoughts on “Conference Presentations Part IV: Top 10 Most Randomly Useful Tips You Never Knew You Needed

  1. Thanks for all the great tips, Megan! I can’t wait to try some of them next week at some conferences I’m presenting at!

    And thanks for such an amazing blog; it’s been so informative! =)


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