Tips for Presenting at a Student Conference

Below you will find oral and poster presentation tips to help with your conference presentation.

Oral Presentations

SA man(Prepared by the Science Atlantic Psychology Committee, with special thanks to Mary Tanya Brann-Barret, Cape Breton University Communications)

Your hands are all clammy, your throat is dry, and you can’t decide what is worse, the immense sweat pouring from your body or the abnormal beating of your heart in your chest. Suddenly your name is called its your turn to speak. Panic sets in.

These reactions to public speaking are quite common and one should expect a little nervousness when speaking in public. Public speaking is one of the more anxiety-provoking situations people face. The anxiety is manageable and can be lessened, though not completely eliminated. However, you can be nervous and still do a good presentation.

 

Controlling Physical Reactions

Some of the physical reactions can be controlled with these simple tips:

  • Take a deep breath before you stand up to approach the podium. Then take another deep breath before you begin speaking.
  • During the speech, breathe properly by taking deep breaths. The audience appreciates little pauses during the speech, you catch your breath (literally) and they catch their breath (figuratively).
  • If your face tends to get red during public speaking, wear a coloured shirt to offset color of your face (a red shirt for example). If you think you look pale, wear a lighter colour.
  • If you think your neck turns red or blotchy when speaking, wear a high neck shirt.
  • If your hands get sweaty, put a little Kleenex in your pocket to wipe off hands, no one will ever know!
  • If you feel a rush of nervousness and speak too quickly, try to “feel your feet.” This means concentrate briefly on the sensation in your feet, toes, the weight of your shoes, etc., it’s a little trick that helps focus attention away from nervous physiological reactions.

Remember the 3 V’s:

  • Visual – refers to what you see the speaker doing. Make a good first impression by look at the people around the room, not only at the computer slide or paper. In most audiences, people want to be supportive, so they will smile and nod if you look at them. If you are interested in the topic, then help the audience to find their interest in it too. Try to omit distracting gestures (like stray hand movements) but feel free to use enhancing gestures. For example, if you say “on one hand…” hold out your hand, and when you say “on the other hand…” hold out your other hand. If you make a sweeping statement, a sweeping gesture with your hand will seem appropriate (e.g., “In all of psychology, no theory has been as influential as …”).
  • Vocal – refers to the sound of your voice. Keep the volume up even at the ends of sentences. We all have a tendency to speak lower and faster when nervous, but try not to fall into this habit. Speaking slowly helps the listeners to follow your points. If you practice your speech 100 times, it is still the first time that the audience is hearing it – give them a chance to process the information. Plan to pause from time to time. Be enthusiastic about your topic, avoid monotone – remember this is your topic that you worked super hard to research so be proud and express yourself! Speak loudly, without shouting. Speak at the volume you would use to talk to a friend sitting in the back row of the room. Breathing deeply helps with keeping good volume. Use a variety of speeds, slow down for emphasis.
  • Verbal – refers to the words you you and the organization of your talk. Make sure your presentation has a clear introduction, body and conclusion. Be sure to define your terms early on, and organize them well. Include attention getters such as an interesting picture, quotation, or statistics related to your topic, then state your purpose in one sentence. Talk your audience through the organization of your presentation. “We will discuss three issues, first X, then Y, and end with a discussion of Z.” At the end of each section, tell the audience that you are now moving on to the next section. If you use overheads or PowerPoint, use these as aides to what you say. Use them to show organization, define your terms, show pictures, figures, and tables. Don’t overload the audience’s eyes with information that will distract from what you are saying. The visual supports the verbal, not the other way around. This means that your ideas, your words should be the focus of the audience so don’t rely on the visual aids to carry the load.If you find your speech overloaded with information, cut some of it out. Try to build your speech from the ending, backward. The keys for the audience are the conclusions. Find 2 or 3 things that you want them to remember. “If you remember nothing else, remember these 3 things…” Build your presentation to support those conclusions, provide the most important details of method and theory that are necessary to see your conclusions as credible. Oral presentations cannot be as detailed as a journal article or thesis paper, though the organization can be similar. Be sure to have a clear conclusion, restate your purpose and main points.

Technical Difficulties

If anything goes wrong with the computer equipment, overhead, etc., don’t panic. It happens to everyone at one time or another. The problem can probably very easily be fixed, and there will be several people ready to offer assistance. Best of all, the audience will be completely sympathetic to you. Remain calm and proceed as best you can. Remember that the audience is not expecting perfection, they’re not expecting the rapid pace of a play or TV show, and nobody expects a novice speaker to be flawless. There are no marks at stake and nobody will take away your degree. Take your time, tell the audience something they will find interesting, show enthusiasm for your topic, and the rest will fall into place. Count on the audience being friendly and supportive. Just remember it is natural to be nervous, at APICS, all the presenters are going to be nervous together.

Just remember this is your research topic, your field of expertise and the faculty is there to help! This can be one of the most positive experience you have as an undergraduate. Most students come away from their presentation at APICS with fond memories. Conquering public speaking anxiety might just be one of them.

Poster Presentations

(This section was written by Jane Tougas in the Faculty of Computer Science at Dalhousie University who can be contacted at tougas@cs.dal.ca)

SA man smilingOutline

  • Poster design tips
  • Poster presentation tips
  • Sample judging criteria

Goal of Poster Presentation

  • Stimulate interest and discussion
  • Receive feedback on research
  • Generate contacts

Planning the Poster

  • Decide on one concept or question
  • Determine poster size
  • Choose poster orientation
    • portrait
    • landscape
  • Choose poster style
    • one large poster (such as 33 x 44)
    • individual columns (such as three 11 x 48)
    • individual pages (such as twelve 8 x 11)
  • Choose from PowerPoint, LaTeX, FrameMaker …
  • Allow yourself lots of time
    • at least a week!
  • Do not wait until the last minute
    • things will inevitably take longer than planned
  • Remember to allow time (and money) for printing/laminating
  • Make it easy to read
  • Make it easy to understand
  • People only have a few minutes per poster
  • Poster should stand alone
    • verbal explanations should supply details, not essentials

Poster Layout

  • Typically, use 3 to 5 columns
  • Arrange material vertically from top left corner to bottom right corner
  • This makes it easier for people to read, without having to move back and forth
  • Determine logical sequence for material
  • Organize material into sections
  • Number sections to make flow obvious
  • Arrange material into columns
  • Sketch your layout before you start
    flow

Poster Content

  • Title
  • Authors and Affiliations
  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Data and Results
  • Conclusions and Future Work
  • Reference and Acknowledgements

Poster Text

  • Keep it short and simple
  • Remove all non-essential information
  • Attract visual attention: use graphics
  • Try for:
    • 20% text
    • 40% graphics
    • 40% empty space
  • Left align text
  • Double space
  • Pick one font and stick to it
  • Avoid italics
  • Use larger/colored font for emphasis
  • Use bulleted points rather than paragraphs
  • Remember:
    There is always too much text!

Poster Title

  • Make it interesting!
  • You want to lure people from a distance
  • Should be easy to read from 15 feet
  • If title is too long, shorten it
    • Don’t reduce the font size

Suggested Font Sizes

Title: 96pt
Authors: 72 pt
Affiliations: 36-48 pt
Section headings: 36 pt
Text: 24 pt
Acknowledgements: 18 pt

Poster Title

  • Make it interesting!
  • You want to lure people from a distance
  • Should be easy to read from 15 feet
  • If title is too long, shorten it
    • Don’t reduce the font size

Authors

  • Include first names
    • omit middle initials and titles
  • Include academic affiliation
    • omit city and province

Color

  • One background color to unify poster
  • Stick to muted colors
  • Avoid red/green combinations
    • red/green color blindness is common
  • Don’t overuse color
  • Be consistent

Graphics

  • Make large enough for viewing from at least 3 feet away
  • Text should support graphics, not vice versa
  • Use heavier lines in tables and graphs for easier viewing

Poster Editing

  • Proofread
  • Spell check
  • Get feedback before printing
  • Get feedback in time to make changes

Words of Advice

Like anything else, creating a poster can take as much time as you let it. Start early and allow time for mistakes, but decide how much time you can afford to spend on this, and stick to your decision.

Questions a Poster Answers

  • What’s the research question?
  • Why is this question important?
  • What strategy is used?
  • What are the results?
  • Why are these results unique/important?
  • How does this relate to other research?
  • What comes next?

Poster Presentation

  • You need to be able to give an overview of your work in 3-5 minutes
  • Practice your presentation ahead of time, and time it!
  • Get feedback from colleagues
  • Make eye contact
  • Avoid jargon and acronyms
  • Speak clearly and slowly
  • Don’t overload on detail
  • Have a good opening that explains the main focus of your poster
  • Be able to summarize your conclusions and their importance
  • Don’t assume that people are experts in your field
  • Don’t stand directly in front of poster
    • But don’t disappear either!
  • Give people a chance to look
    • But don’t ignore people who are interested
  • Anticipate questions
    • rehearse answers
  • Most common question:
    “How does this work differ from the other research in this area?”

Answering Questions

  • Listen carefully
  • Wait for them to finish the question!
  • Repeat the question (rephrase)
  • Answer the question
  • Ask if you’ve answered the question

Poster Presentation

  • Consider having handouts
    • miniatures of poster
    • additional details not included in poster
  • Remember to hand out business cards
  • If you have a table, put some candy on it to attract visitors!

Sample Judging Criteria: Content

Score: 2
  • Purpose of work unclear / irrelevant
Score: 4
  • Contributes little to scientific development
  • Somewhat contributes to scientific development
Score: 6
  • Purpose of work clearly defined, understandable
  • Definite contribution to scientific development
Score: 8
  • Purpose proficiently stated and explained
  • Significant scientific contribution

Sample Judging Criteria: Organization

Score: 1
  • Insufficient flow to poster
  • Lack of overall organization, structure hard to follow
Score: 2
  • Poster marginally flows between sections
  • Some difficulty following structure
Score: 3
  • Flow of poster clear, logical transitions between sections
  • Overall organization fairly strong
Score: 4
  • Poster maintains flow throughout, well-paced
  • Exceptional overall organization, easy to follow structure

Sample Judging Criteria: Presentation

Score: 1
  • Presenter appears unprepared, unable to convey ideas
  • Presentation is not concise, too much / little information given
  • Inappropriate presentation style
Score: 2
  • Presenter appears somewhat prepared, attempts to convey ideas
  • Presentation is fairly concise, information usually appropriate
  • Presentation style somewhat appropriate
Score: 3
  • Presenter shows clear understanding of topics, well prepared
  • Presentation is concise, useful information conveyed
  • Appropriate presentation style
Score: 4
  • Presenter shows insightful knowledge, easily able to convey ideas
  • Presentation is extremely concise, appropriate information given
  • Presentation style extremely appropriate

Sample Judging Criteria: Computer Demo

Score: 1
  • Demo does not tie into poster topic
  • Not useful in furthering understanding of topic
  • Demo is not understandable, presented unclearly
Score: 2
  • Demo marginally ties into poster topic
  • Topic is slightly better understood with demo
  • Demo can be partially understood
Score: 3
  • Demo mostly ties into poster topic
  • Further understanding is gained due to demo
  • Demo is easily understood
Score: 4
  • Demo integrates completely into poster topic
  • Demo adds greatly to understanding of topic
  • Demo is understandable

Resources

References