First of all, congratulations! Every year, about a thousand papers are submitted for a limited number of spaces, making the convention competition really stiff. Being chosen to present is an honor you should be proud of!
But, what’s that you say? This is the first paper you’ve presented? As a conference junkie, I’ve watched some really amazing presentations…but I’ve also sat through some really horrible ones. I’ve faced my fair share of audiences too, so I know how nerve-wracking the experience can be. Here are some tried-and-true tips to get prepared BEFORE the big day:
- Dust that paper off now. You probably haven’t looked at it since you submitted, but now’s the time to pull out that bad boy and do some serious reading and revising. The day of your presentation should not be the first time you read your paper out loud. The first few run-throughs can be a little rough, so you want to get them out of the way early.
- Read the convention website. Start your revision process by consulting the guidelines for preparing your paper and the suggestions for presenting your paper from the Convention Chair. Refer to them frequently.
Mark up your paper. Nobody will see it but you, so go crazy. Enlarge the font. Double space. Identify words that are hard to pronounce and either change them or spell them out phonetically. Insert reminders to yourself in your text like <slow down> or <take a breath>.
- Practice, practice, practice. Be sure to practice with at least a few people who will give you honest feedback. Good, constructive criticism will only make your presentation stronger. Identify places that need revision. Make eye contact with the audience. Speak slowly and calmly. Time yourself.
- Plant allies in the audience. The first time I presented a paper to a roomful of people, I thought I was going to faint! Luckily, I made my best friend sit right in the front row, so she was right there every time I looked up. Plus, nobody else knew she was my friend, so I looked totally legit. It’s important to have a friendly face in the audience. If you’re traveling to convention alone, attending some of the student leadership activities is a good way to make some buddies.
- Anticipate questions about your presentation. Questions are a sign that audience members are really interested in your ideas. Be prepared to answer questions about your claims or your process. You aren’t expected to know everything. In moments when a question catches me by surprise, I find the phrase, “That’s a good question. I haven’t thought about that yet, but thanks for bringing it up,” really helpful.
Never fear, I’m confident you’ll be great! After all, you were selected from nearly a thousand applicants.
See you in Portland!