Tips for Presenting at a Student Conference
Below you will find oral and poster presentation tips to help with your conference presentation.
(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 how you compose yourself. Make a good first impression by looking 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. 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 use and the organization of your presentation. 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 letters 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. 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.
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.
(This section was written by Jane Tougas in the Faculty of Computer Science at Dalhousie University who can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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 and layout
- Choose from PowerPoint, LaTeX, FrameMaker …
- Remember to allow time (and money) for printing/laminating
- Make it easy to read and understand
- Poster should stand alone
- verbal explanations should supply details, not essentials
- Typically, use 3 to 5 columns
- Arrange material vertically from top left corner to bottom right corner
- Determine logical sequence for material
- Number sections to make flow obvious
- Arrange material into columns
- Authors and Affiliations
- Data and Results
- Conclusions and Future Work
- Reference and Acknowledgements
- 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!
- 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
Authors: 72 pt
Affiliations: 36-48 pt
Section headings: 36 pt
Text: 24 pt
Acknowledgements: 18 pt
- Include first and last names
- omit middle initials and titles
- Include academic affiliation
- omit city and province
- One background color
- Stick to muted colors
- Avoid red/green combinations
- red/green color blindness is common
- 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
Questions Your Poster Should Answer
- 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?
- You need to be able to give an overview of your work in 3-5 minutes
- Have a good opening that explains the main focus of your poster
- Be able to summarize your conclusions and their importance
- Practice your presentation ahead of time, and time it!
- Avoid jargon and acronyms
- Speak clearly and slowly
- Don’t overload on detail
- Don’t assume that people are experts in your field
- Don’t stand directly in front of poster
- Anticipate questions and rehearse answers
- Most common question: “How does this work differ from the other research in this area?”