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:

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Conference Presentations, Part III: Q&A FYI

Today I’m continuing my series on all things related to giving presentations, inspired by a day of workshops masterminded by SSU Theatre and Speech Communication professor Julie Kiernan.

As some of you know, I presented at my first academic conference this past January. I practiced my talk by myself several times, recorded myself and listened to it on a loop, and made my friends and family listen to me and give me feedback. I thought I was READY.

Spongebob I'm Ready!


To my credit, my talk went just about as well as I could have hoped. Then my panel ended and the chair opened it up for questions. [Insert record scratch here.] Um, what?!

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Conference Presentations, Part II: Combating Anxiety

Much like Colin Firth in The King’s Speech, many of us are terrified of public speaking.


Giant hat and microphone combo FTW. Source:

Unfortunately, saying words in front of other humans remains an important part of academic life, especially at venues like conferences. In a continuation of my series on giving presentations, I want to share some tips and tricks I recently learned from Theatre and Speech Communication professor Julie Kiernan on dealing with public speaking anxiety.

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Conference Presentations, Part I: Developing an Elevator Pitch

This semester, I’ve written a few posts about making conference presentations (check out the conference tag for a full list). This is a topic that has been increasingly important to me, as I’ve started to more actively participate in the scholarly work in my field by attending and presenting at conferences.  But giving conference talks and other kinds of presentations is something that I had never received any formal training in — and from the feedback I got from some of you on those earlier posts, it seems like I’m not alone in that experience.

But all that changed this past weekend, when I attended a fabulous day of workshops sponsored by my university called “Taking Research from the Page to the Stage.” The brain child of Prof. Julie Kiernan, of my school’s Theatre and Speech Communication department, these workshops offered explicit instruction on a wide range of topics related to making presentations. I got a TON of great ideas that I am just dying to share with all of you.

So, inspired by my friend Danah’s blog series on 21st century literacies, this post kicks off what will be a series of several posts on all things presentation. Today, let’s talk about the elevator pitch.

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Writing the Brief Academic Bio: A Genre Study

My Digital Writing class and I currently have something big in the works. I’m hoping to be able to share more the details of that project with you soon, but in the meantime, I thought I’d talk a little bit about a related piece of writing I’m working on now: the brief academic biography.

This is a genre most often needed when preparing a work for publication or submission to a conference. At first glance summarizing your academic-self in 50-100 words might SOUND really easy, but surprise! It’s for sure NOT.

grumpy cat making ironic shocked face

Source:… and of course Grumpy Cat.

If anything, it is more challenging than the longer academic bio or CV (see my blog post on CVs herebecause it is so condensed. You are forced to be entirely thoughtful of your content and syntax, right down to the word level. No fluff here.

Unfortunately, as a Master’s student, I’m in the awkward position of not having yet done a significant amount of scholarship in my field — or even necessarily having established exactly what that field is. So unlike a PhD student, postdoc, or professor, I don’t have a particularly meaningful body of research to refer to in the bio. My solution? Do a little recon on some typical conventions of the genre (specifically, the brief academic biography of grad students) to find out what is considered kosher to include and what isn’t. Here’s what I found:

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My Favorite Work Spaces

As a grad student, it is crucial to have a few go-to spots where I know I can automatically get into a productive frame of mind. I call upon each of them for different reasons and at different times. Here are a few of the beautiful places that help me get my work accomplished every day:

The library

A sunny corner of my university library

A sunny corner of my university library

Soo original, I know. But my university just completed construction on a gorgeous new library, so I take advantage of it at every possible opportunity. The best part: there are private (sound-proof!) study rooms that you can reserve for a study date with friends. With whiteboard walls, people! Walls you can WRITE ON! Enough said.

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A Must-Read Book for Grad Students

… In the humanities, at any rate. A professor of mine recommended me to Eric Hayot‘s The Elements of Academic Style: Writing for the Humanities earlier this semester and I’m so pleased to have been introduced to such a gem just before starting work on my thesis.

Source: Amazon

Source: Amazon

What Hayot does in this book that is so extraordinary is make visible all of the usually INvisible conventions of academic writing. As he says, “Why write a book on scholarly writing for graduate students and faculty in the humanities? Partly because no such book exists” (7). This is true, as far as I know. In short, highly digestible chapters (helpful for easy browsing at a reader’s convenience), he tackles topics like paragraph structure, footnotes and endnotes, and the various uses of parentheticals. Moreover, he does it all in delightful prose, as when he compares being “pro-jargon” with being “pro-gonorrhea” (178). But for me, perhaps the most concretely useful characteristic of Elements of Academic Style is Hayot’s frequent analysis of examples, for instance in his discussion of standard formats of academic titles of books and journal articles. He explains the efficacy (or not) of various real example titles.

I fully expect The Elements of Academic Style: Writing for the Humanities to be incredibly valuable to my upcoming thesis work, and I also foresee its applicability to the high school English classroom as I move into my teaching career. If you’re a graduate student, especially in the humanities, this book is nothing less than a must-read!

Bonus recommendation: Hayot calls Wendy Laura Belcher’s Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success “excellent”; I have yet to pick it up but I plan to soon (2).

What books are essential to your grad school career? Tell me about them in the comments!