The academic conference paper serves a couple of purposes.
- draft of an eventual journal article
- getting feedback
- meeting people with similar interests
You probably have 15-20 minutes to present. And one of the most common complaints about conference presentations is that they go over time.
How do you prepare?
Preparing for this is a 2 stage process.
1. Write the paper.
Have it available for interested people to take away (either on paper or as a PDF). Clearly mark on the title page “This is a draft. Do not cite without author’s permission. Constructive feedback welcome.” Put your contact details on there, too.
The paper will look like a draft of a journal article. It’ll have an introduction that sets it in the context of current debates, etc.
You can’t possibly just read the paper in the time allowed. And even if you could, it would be dull, dull, dull. What works in writing, especially formal academic writing, does not work orally.
2. Create a presentation
The purpose of the presentation is to get people interested in the written paper.
The part of the paper that is going to be most interesting is the part about your research. Focus on presenting your findings or your theoretical developments or whatever it is that you are doing here.
If you want feedback on some of your analysis, present that and generate some specific questions that will invite the feedback you need.
It may be difficult, but start from the assumption that you are qualified to speak of these things. You are well grounded in the literature and you are sharing your findings
Keep it short. You are not trying to squeeze everything important in the paper into this 15-minute slot. Talk slowly and clearly. Try not to go off on too many tangents.
3. Create visuals (optional)
Most academics should be able to follow a 15-minute presentation. However, many people find visuals helpful.
Your slides are not your handout. Your paper is the handout. Your slides (if you have them) are there to help the audience follow the presentation.
Be selective. Key points. Outlines. Diagrams. Images.
You don’t want the slides to distract people from what you are saying.
4. Create an alternative handout (optional)
Some people will want to read the paper. Others may find what you are talking about interesting but not be directly interested in the paper.
Do you have a business card or some other way for people to get your contact details? Does it say something about your areas of interest so they remember who you are when they get home and dump all the business cards, papers, etc out on their desk? What about if they find the business card 3 months from now?
Editors also attend presentations at conferences. They are looking for new authors and learning about new trends in your field. You might want to create a one-page document you can give to editors (either in your presentation or when you speak to them in the publishers fair) with details of your research and your contact details. Resist the temptation to make this generic. What is interesting about what you are doing? Add the title and program details for your presentation so they can connect you with a specific paper. Offer them the full paper, too.
Enjoy the conference
This is not a trial by fire. It is an opportunity to meet others who share your intellectual interests (and passions).