CL2015 – Presenting for the First Time at an International Conference

In July 2015 I was lucky enough to give a presentation at the Corpus Linguistics 2015 conference at Lancaster University. This was my first time presenting at an international conference, and I was nervous but very excited. I thought I would use this blog post to elaborate on my experience of presenting at a conference for the first time, and hopefully give some advice to people who may be worrying about giving their first conference presentation (or to see how my experience compares to those of you who are already well practiced at this)!

All the way back in January 2015 I put together my abstract to submit to the conference. This was quite a tricky process as the abstracts for CL2015 were required to be 750-1500 words in length. This meant that more than a simple summary was needed, but that I also couldn’t go into a great amount of detail about my method or results. After many re-drafts I managed to find a balance between the two, and with crossed fingers and toes I submitted my abstract. Crossing my fingers must have worked (or maybe it was all the re-drafting…) because I was delighted to find out that I had been accepted to present at the conference! The feedback from the reviewers was mostly positive, but, even when reviewers suggest lots of changes, it’s important to see this as a way to make your work even better rather than as negative feedback.

After the elation of being accepted had worn off, I had a sudden realisation of “Oh my God, I actually have to stand up and talk about corpus linguistics in front of a whole room of actual professional corpus linguists!” However, after lots of practice in front of my PhD supervisors and fellow students who would be presenting at the conference I began to feel more confident. That was until the first day of the conference arrived and I found out that I would be presenting in one of the biggest lecture theatres in the university!

After a few moments of worry about whether anyone would be able to hear me, or whether anyone would even come, I thought “Well, there’s no point being nervous, you’ve practiced as much as you can, let’s just enjoy it!” And, as is usually the case when you’ve spent a long time worrying about everything that could go wrong, everything went absolutely fine. I had a good sized audience, my presentation worked, and I managed to answer all of the questions put to me. Something I found very helpful whilst presenting was to have a set of cue cards with very short bullet point notes on for each slide – I barely looked at them, but it was reassuring to know that they were there in case I completely froze up! The only thing that didn’t go quite to plan was my timing; I was a couple of minutes short of the allotted 20 minutes for presenting. However, over the course of the conference I learnt that this is vastly preferable to being over the time limit. Giving a presentation which is too long makes you seem unrehearsed and leaves you with no time for questions or comments. It can also ruin the timings for all of the other presenters following you, so make sure you rehearse with a stopwatch beforehand!

I received some lovely feedback after the presentation both in person and on Twitter. This allowed me to meet lots of other people at the conference with similar research interests to mine, and gave me lots of ideas for future research.

Overall, presenting at CL2015 was a very enjoyable and extremely valuable experience. It taught me that, with the right amount of preparation, giving a presentation to experts in your field is not something to worry about, but rather an opportunity to showcase your work and help it progress. My top tips for those of you worrying about presenting at a conference would be:

1) Don’t rush your abstract, you won’t get the chance to worry about presenting if your abstract doesn’t showcase why your work is important and interesting.

2) Practice with friends, colleagues, anyone who will listen! And time yourself with a stopwatch – you don’t want to be the one that the chair has to use the scary ‘STOP TALKING NOW’ sign on!

3) Use cue cards if it makes you feel more confident. However, DON’T write a script – this will make you seem over-rehearsed and you won’t be as interesting to listen to.

4) Put your Twitter handle on your presentation slides so that you can network and people can give you feedback online as well as in person.

5) See presenting as a valuable chance to have your work evaluated by experts in your field, and enjoy it!

Do my experiences of presenting at a conference for the first time match yours? Have you found these tips helpful? Let us know @corpussocialsci!