Your First Conference: Part 2
DURING THE CONFERENCE
What should I bring to my presentation?
First, always double check your room location. Sometimes room locations change or floor plans can be confusing, so try to physically visit the room if possible. Second, almost all rooms are set up with projectors and screens, but you will need to bring your own laptop if you want to utilize a visual presentation. If possible, test to make sure your computer works with the technology provided before your presentation. Third, you may want to bring hard copies of your paper or of key points that you wish to emphasize as part of your presentation to hand out upon request.
Prepare an “elevator speech.” You should have a short, roughly 30 second version of your speech explaining your research that can answer the “so what do you do?” question that you’ll get at the conference.
Send copies of your paper to your panel. This provides the discussants with what they need to give you feedback after the presentation. In turn, respondents should always provide you and the other presenters with written feedback as well as their presentation response. However, keep in mind that your paper should only be sent to the panel chair if the conference requires it.
Dress comfortably, but conservatively. Adhere to the formality of the conference when choosing your conference attire. The dress code for conferences are a little different than for a job interview or other events that require business professional attire; think business casual. Some great go-to options for anyone are:
- Pants: Khaki or navy pants, neatly pressed are safe business casual for both men and women.
- Shirt: Polo shirts, blouse, or a pressed long-sleeved, buttoned down shirt are an appropriate choice for this sort of environment.
- Shoes: Be sure to wear shoes that are in good condition and comfortable. Athletic shoes and flip flops are not acceptable, and heels are uncomfortable during long periods of wear.
How do I get to know people?
Do not spend too much time alone. Mealtimes and snack breaks are a great time to network and meet scholars in your field. If there’s someone you’ve been trying to meet with, see if you can go with them to lunch. If you don’t know anyone, ask to join a group that’s headed to eat. Even if their topics of interest end up being outside of your research interests that can still be a good opportunity to practice your elevator speech, as well as a way to meet different people in your field. Additionally, there is sometimes a specific event for graduate students to meet, so plan to attend if there is one being held at your conference.
Read name tags. Pay attention to attendees in the audience, sitting next to you at lunch, or standing in the hall and consider approaching them. The best way to do this is by showing interest in them and their research instead of trying to sell yourself, make your conversations about them, not you.
Don’t be afraid to approach researchers. A good way to meet people, especially for graduate students/first time conference attendees, is through an introduction. Remember, every researcher was once a graduate student and know what it’s like. If you’ve read a researcher’s book or paper, it’s easy to start a conversation with them by saying that you’ve read their work, and sharing how you found it meaningful to your own research. If you want to get feedback on your research from them, don’t be afraid to ask.
Look for people who look like they don’t know anybody. Keep in mind that people at the conference are in the same situation as you. Look for people who look like they don’t know anyone either and introduce yourself. They are usually easy to spot and often first time conference attendees as well.
RESPONDING TO AUDIENCE QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS
Answering audience questions and responding to comments is often the most anxious and dreadful part of the presentation, or even the entire conference. There can be many misconceptions among graduate students about panelists or audience members verbally attacking student presenters—in fact, it’s the opposite. Most conference attendees and researchers want to support graduate students, and often ask helpful questions and make positive remarks about their presentations. However, the best way to prepare is to practice and get feedback from advisors and other graduate students before attending the conference.
What do I do if someone asks me a question and I am uncertain of the answer?
Ask the questioner to restate the question in a different way or provide an example that illustrates what they are asking. This will give you a few moments to think of an answer and the questioner may be clearer in a restatement. Another option is to politely say that you are uncertain and suggest that another panel or audience member may have a good answer; and hopefully someone will be able to offer a good response. If not, the panel chair should interrupt and move the Q & A session forward.
AFTER THE CONFERENCE
Is my paper ready to submit for publication?
Not likely. Take time to consider the comments made by panelists and audience members and revise the paper. Journals rarely accept papers without any revisions on the first submission.
Should I follow-up with people I met?
If you have made a substantive connection, yes. A thank-you email to your panel is courteous, however, only follow up with people who are likely to remember you or who you felt you made a meaningful connection with. Ongoing communication with these researchers can be fruitful.
Plan for next time—it is never too early to begin planning for the conference or to begin revisions on your paper before submitting to journals.
OTHER THINGS TO KNOW
It’s okay to move between rooms. Sessions are often scheduled in blocks consisting of a series of talks. While it’s considered somewhat rude to leave in the middle of a presentation, it is okay to leave (typically during the Q & A) between presenters. If you plan on moving between rooms, try to avoid sitting in the middle of a row or near the front of the room to minimize disruption.
Rest up (and responsibly caffeinate). Conferences are essentially sitting and listening to lecture after lecture of information that may or not be relevant to your research interests, which can be mentally and physically exhausting. If you’re dozing off during a session, you’re not only being rude, but also missing what could be important information.