In The Design of Everyday Things, Donald Norman reminds us that “[p]reparing a good talk is design. And it is critical to see things from the point of view of the listener or viewer.” When you are preparing to present a conference paper, then, your primary focus should be on your audience. How can you organize your research to keep your audience energized and engaged?

Designing your draft: As with a work of drama, your presentation should have an arc: open with a hook that allows you to introduce your argument, move into the rising action of your textual and critical analysis, and build to the climax and resolution, where you leave the audience with your larger takeaways. In general, presentations are easier to follow if you move from the familiar to the unfamiliar, starting with information the audience may already know and then adding your insights. In academic writing, this move is referred to as “creating a research space” or “identifying a gap,” and by highlighting this move in your design, you show your audience how you are contributing to our ongoing conversations about Montgomery and her work. 

Designing a slideshow: While slideshows aren’t necessary for your presentation, they can support your ideas and contribute to the audience’s engagement. Use slides to share images, highlight main themes, provide quotations you intend to analyze in depth, and guide the audience through the arc of your paper. But be mindful as you design your slides: the audience may become bored or distracted if your slides are dense with text or bullet points, and they may struggle to read the slides depending on the font size, colours, or visual composition. When designing your slides, then, imagine how they will appear to a person in the back of the auditorium.

Practising: Once you have completed your presentation and slideshow, practise it. Read the paper out loud multiple times, listening to your voice and imagining how the audience might respond. Should you slow down here to emphasize a point, modulate your voice here to embody a character, linger here for a (hoped for) laugh? Practising will also help you feel more comfortable looking up from your paper, allowing you to make eye contact with your audience. And practically speaking, practising will ensure you stay within your allotted presentation time (generally eighteen to twenty minutes). I’ve learned that I can comfortably read one page of my writing—I use double-spaced twelve-point Times New Roman font—in roughly two minutes, so I know to limit my presentations to nine to ten pages. Practise reading your writing to learn your own pace and to show your consideration of your audience, who will want time to ask questions after your presentation.

Psyching yourself up: Public speaking can be scary, and one way to mitigate those nerves is to focus in advance on designing your materials and practising your delivery. But also remember that your presentation is an opportunity to share your excitement about your research with an audience that is keen to hear about your research. As you prepare to present, take a deep breath and enjoy the experience. Your audience will sense your energy and hopefully share it!

Submitted by Tara K. Parmiter, Assistant Director of the Writing Center, Senior Language Lecturer, Expository Writing Program, New York University

Next (April 12, 19): “Revising a Conference Paper for Publication,” by Emily Woster

Banner image of PEI waves. Anne Victoria Photography, 2018