By Elisa Shaholli, Peer Research Ambassador
An integral part of the research process comes near the end: presenting and sharing your work with various audiences. The sharing process is the culmination of the time spent, words written and edited, and knowledge acquired throughout the duration of your research project and can be a very rewarding experience. It can also be one of the more anxiety-inducing aspects of research, especially if it may be one of the first times you are sharing your work with others. In this blog post, I’ll be sharing my experience presenting at my first conference in Ireland this summer, and tips that I found were helpful in doing so!
1. Writing a Draft and Getting to Know It
This summer I presented at the International Association for the Study of Irish Literatures (IASIL) Conference in Limerick, Ireland. My research was done through an independent study in the English department with Dr. Mary Burke and focused on Roma and Irish Traveller communities.
My first draft was over 12,000 words and submitted for my independent study.
It’s important to realize, though, that although every conference varies, very rarely are presenters allotted enough time to be able to present that length of information. For my conference, presenters were given around 20 minutes each to present, so I had to think to myself:
- What are my main points?
- What are a few findings that I really want to highlight from my research and share with others?
- Which select topics can I choose from the many in my full paper, and address in greater depth during the conference?
- What would be most interesting for audiences to hear?
- What information do I think I’d be remiss to not talk about during the conference?
After considering these questions, I created a document that condensed my initial draft to around 2,000 words, which enabled me to present in less than 20 minutes.
What helped with writing this draft was speaking it out loud. Reading in our heads and presenting orally are two different phenomena. What sounds great on paper sometimes can make for convoluted or overly complex speech. I practiced my draft aloud to myself numerous times, thinking in the perspective of an audience member and what sounded best and what needed to be changed.
2. Wait! But How Do I Even Find a Conference?
If you have research you’ve developed from an independent study or the Office of Undergraduate Research’s lengthy list of research opportunities, you may be reading this post and wondering how one goes about finding conferences to begin with.
I highly recommend reaching out to faculty members at UConn within your department or area of study for suggestions. As faculty, research is an integral aspect of their careers and professors can point you to events they have previously attended, heard about, or that they know are upcoming, including those affiliated with professional organizations in which they are members.
You can also find conferences through online searches, and double check them with faculty members you are working with. Colleges around the world host events for scholars and faculty to present at and finding university-affiliated conferences are good outlets to check out.
Unfortunately, there are conferences hosted worldwide that are not legitimate, so checking in with resources at UConn such as the Office of Undergraduate Research and faculty will help with finding the outlets right for you.
3. Practice, Practice, Practice
After having a draft developed that can fit in the allotted time you have as a presenter, I highly recommend checking in with your faculty mentor and acquiring their feedback.
Usually, as a presenter, alongside verbally sharing your work, you might also be sharing a visual, such as a PowerPoint or a poster. At my conference, all presenters had PowerPoint slide decks in addition to verbally reading a more detailed draft.
For visual presentations, keep accessibility in mind. Try to make the visual medium that: visual. Having pictures or videos to illustrate points you are speaking about paints clearer pictures in an audience member’s head and can also make your talk more attention-grabbing. If words will be added in your visuals, try to utilize bullet points and split long paragraphs into multiple slides.
Since my conference was the first I ever presented at, I felt nervous as to how my presentation itself would go. I didn’t want to sound nervous, even though I was feeling just that.
To prevent this, I would stand in front of a mirror and practice my speech from start to finish, over and over again. The repetition made me feel more comfortable with my speech and made it so that my presentation felt less like a foreign task and more like second nature. This also helped in realizing what parts of my presentation needed to be further developed or changed.
The way to become comfortable in the uncomfortable– here speaking at a conference in a country I’d never been to in front of people with years more of research experience than I had– was putting myself in mock situations such as the one I’d be inserting myself in.
Practicing repeatedly made it so that when it was actually time to present at the conference, even though it was my first experience, it didn’t feel that way, since I’d gone through my presentation by myself so many times already.
4. Have Fun!
Most importantly, remember to have fun and enjoy the process– the ups, downs, nerves, and all. Everything gets better with time and experience, and you’ll never have that ‘first’ conference or ‘second’ conference again.
If you do jumble any information or stumble over any words, remember that you are human. Keep going and live in the moment as much as you can. You’ll surely wish to relive the experience once it is over. I know I do!
Elisa is a senior majoring in English and Economics. Click here to learn more about Elisa.