Reprinted with Permission of Psi Chi Honor Society
Creating an Effective Conference Presentation
Nancy J. Karlin, PhD
University of Northern Colorado
Throughout my years of attending professional conferences,
I have been fortunate to encounter many quality paper and
poster presentations. However, during that same time I have
also been exposed to presenters who lacked preparation, failed
to present in an effective manner, and reported taking less
from the experience than anticipated. Clearly, few undergraduate
students have the type of conference exposure to negate the
nerves and provide the information necessary for an effective
presentation. Still, in many cases graduate students have
the same limited exposure, resulting in the same lackluster
results. In order to minimize the negative and maximize the
positive, a presenter should consider three areas: preparation,
presentation, and opportunity.
After the data has been
collected, analyzed, submitted, and accepted by a professional
regional or national conference, the work is not done. Several
additional steps are still needed to create an effective presentation.
Although similar, the steps for paper versus poster presentations
Conferences generally differ in the amount of space provided
for posters. You should check the guidelines for each respective
conference. However, most conferences provide a 3' x 5' or
4' x 6' boundary. Your poster should be completely prepared
before you ever arrive at the conference. This allows for
mistakes to be corrected at the only location where changes
can be made, home. When preparing, components of your poster
should be seen clearly from 3 feet away. This allows convention
participants to walk past looking for research of interest.
Do several checks of your type size before printing a final
copy. Some conferences provide thumbtacks or tape, but you
should come prepared to put up your research without any assistance.
Have friends or family
view your poster for issues of clarity, readability, and allurement.
As with any presentation, always attempt to be concise. Too
much information, in any presentation, can distract from the
The method of scanning
the poster components onto a single, large computer-generated
sheet is now being seen more often at conventions. This process,
which can be completed at most copy centers, allows for the
poster to be laminated, rolled up, and placed in a tube for
easier transportation. Every aspect of the poster is on this
single sheet. This includes the title, authorship, and college/university
affiliation found at the top of the poster. Using this method
of presentation allows for several color options, including
black print on white with any number of accenting colors.
Figures and tables usually stand out better when printed in
something other than black and white. An area of concern should
be how to make your poster stand out, thereby attracting the
largest number of viewers possible. If finances are limited,
be resourceful. Many colleges and universities have wonderful
resources available to students, especially when an institution's
name will be prominently displayed.
One method of providing
additional information is with a handout. Always bring from
50-100 copies to provide additional information about the
study. Typically, 50 copies are sufficient for smaller conferences
and 100 for larger conferences. At the top of each handout
should be the title of the presentation, authorship, conference,
conference year and location, and college/university affiliation(s).
The address of the first author should also be provided. This
allows for further contact by convention participants concerning
the research. Never forget additional paper for those times
when you run out of handouts and need to mail participants
Some of the best preparation away from the conference is in
front of a mirror, friends, or family. Initially, practice
in front of the mirror. Practice creates a comfort found with
familiarity. Remember that familiarity tends to breed success.
Second, practice in front of friends and family, thereby obtaining
information about staying within time constraints (12 minutes
for most conferences, with 3 minutes for questions), quality
speaking (i.e., speaking slowly, clearly, and with enough
volume), and answering questions from the audience. Third,
take questions and criticism as an opportunity for improvement.
This is not only true for practice trials before the conference,
but also during or after your presentation. No one improves
without experience, questions, and criticism.
Visual extensions of your
presentation will help with complicated information. Overheads,
slides, or handouts can transform a mediocre presentation
into a well-received and -understood informational experience.
Copy centers, as well as campus technology services, can prove
extremely helpful when developing the above supplements. As
with poster sessions, outlines of your paper are often very
useful as visual aids. Always practice with each component
of the presentation.
The Random House College
Dictionary defines experienced as "wise or skillful in
a particular field through experience." As mentioned
earlier, very few students have the level of experience needed
for quality conference presentations. Knowing the above provides
you with two pieces of information. First, very few students
will be any different than you in their overall level of expertise.
Second, after you have prepared and practiced, do your best
Poster sessions are designed to allow for a more one-on-one
interaction. Never leave your poster during the session, always
have your name badge prominently displayed, and be prepared
to answer questions or respond to critiques. Poster sessions
vary in the amount of allotted time. Some range from 50 minutes
up to 2 hours. Again, check the guidelines for each conference.
Typically, there is a 10-minute time period at the end of
the previous session for presenters to take down their posters
and for the next group of presenters to put their posters
up. Never show up late to your session or take down your poster
early. When giving a poster presentation, always look willing
to answer questions and demonstrate an eagerness to have others
look at your work. If you do not look interested in your work,
why would anyone else?
One of the main complaints about paper sessions concern those
who read their papers rather than talk to the audience. Even
if the entire paper is in front of you when presenting, never
read the paper to the audience. Consider extended periods
of practice or use note cards. Either method will help limit
the perception of reading. No matter which method you use,
always number your pages. Confounding things tend to happen
when preparing for or traveling to a conference. Only present
information that is important to the study. Oral presentations
should never contain lots of information, because the audience
will get lost in the details. Be very careful about giving
too many statistics. This tends to overwhelm the audience.
Remember to make your major points, wait for questions, and
then sit down.
There are several ways
to maximize the conference experience. First, when attending
the conference, wear professional clothing. It is still true
that first impressions impact perceptions. Some students make
the mistake of wearing what they might wear to class, thinking
this is appropriate. The individuals you meet will not have
your grade history, prowess in class, or research qualifications
to assist them in a quick evaluation. Self-presentation is
always a component. Second, attend a variety of presentations,
including those by people outside your college or university.
Third, know the reason(s) for attending the conference. Whatever
your reason(s) for attending, set your goals and make sure
you maximize your experiences.
The presentation experience
is one that should not be taken lightly, but it is also not
something that should be feared. The best way to maximize
without nervousness is to prepare well in advance. By preparing
early, the presentation experience should go smoother with
less anxiety. During the presentation and the conference,
take advantage of the opportunities provided. You can minimize
the negative and maximize the positive by considering preparation,
presentation, and opportunity.
THE AUTHOR: Nancy J. Karlin, PhD, is
an associate professor of psychology at the University of
Northern Colorado. She received her PhD in experimental psychology
in 1989, from Colorado State University. Dr. Karlin was inducted
into Psi Chi in 1986, and has served for several years as
a faculty advisor and, most recently, as Psi Chi's regional
vice-president for the Rocky Mountain Region (1995-99). Dr.
Karlin served on several national committees during her service
on the Psi Chi National Council, and she also wrote and produced
the Psi Chi national video (1998), which was distributed to
all chapters. Dr. Karlin is regional coordinator for the Council
of Teachers of Undergraduate Psychology (CTUP).