Practice doesn’t quite make perfect when it comes to conference presentations, but it certainly helps! I had the great opportunity to have a run through of my conference paper with a mixed audience of fellow PhDers and a few of my postgraduate students on the MA programme I teach on. Usually I don’t do a run through with a live audience because, well, I don’t find the time. However for this paper, I made the time because I wasn’t used to the presentation format and wasn’t feeling very confident. Different types of presentations require practice. I’m used to presenting with slides so actually reading my paper as a presentation was a new experience for me. The first few times I read through my paper it felt stilted and weird. So I thought maybe a live audience would help.
Normally I find it more terrifying to present in front of my peers rather than in front of complete strangers but this time it was oddly comforting to stand before friendly faces. It allowed me to relax a bit and focus on my presentation. Trying out a new format was interesting because I discovered I was paying more attention to how I was presenting. As an experienced teacher I take public speaking for granted because I’m used to standing before a group. However presentations are different to teaching and I find myself switching “modes”, so to speak, when giving this particular talk. In the end, this experience taught me a few things, some were things I observed about myself where the rest were from the generous feedback from the audience:
Be personable: From the feedback I received the majority of people thought I wasn’t really relaxed when I was reading my presentation. I came across as aloof and cold (?) but when I wasn’t using my notes, they felt more engaged with what I was saying. Some of it I think was due to the fact that they know me. So I’m now faced with either more practice reading my paper or changing the format entirely and present with just notes.
Take more time to properly introduce the topic: For many in the audience, the concept of VEM-NEST (visible ethnic minority, native English speaking teacher) is new and many felt I could have taken more time to really explain the acronym before moving into the more theoretical aspects of the presentation.
Allow for more time for discussion: I used most of my allotted time which left around 8 minutes for question and answer. There was so much to be said and shared that I am thinking of adjusting my presentation to allow for more time for the audience to have their say. The feedback forms themselves were full of short anecdotes and descriptions on the topic, where audience members shared their opinions or views on the form since we ran out of time.
So I have a lot to consider before my presentation this Thursday (21st March)! I’m feeling OK about my presentation and am wondering what would be the most appropriate presentation format for this particular conference. I think after I’ve attended a few talks tomorrow I’ll have a better idea.