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How to present a paper at a conference

Conference paper presentation is a recurrent activity in the life of many scholars. It can be an opportunity not only to showcase your writing prowess but also how powerful an oral presenter you can be. However, though it can be an exciting and career-boosting event, especially for younger inexperienced researchers, it can also be a potential banana skin for any presenter that is not well prepared. The few tips below should make your presentation a breeze.

Make out time for several rehearsals

Whether it is exams you want to write or a conference paper you want to present, adequate preparation is key. Repeated rehearsals of your presentation is one effective way of preparing for the audience you are going to face. Find a space you’ll turn into a mock conference venue and continuously rehearse your presentation there.

You may also want to have a mock audience that will help to evaluate your performance in each rehearsal session in addition to offering useful advice based on their observations. Take note of these observations and any advice, especially constructive criticisms, and endeavor to improve in the areas your mock audience finds you wanting.

If possible, watch videos of previous presentations of the conference organiser. While watching try to observe if the organiser has a particular way of arranging the presentation hall and if the audience is of a particular size in terms of number, how the audience interacts with the presenter, and how the organiser moderates the conference, among others.

All these visual and audio observations will present you with a clearer idea of how to rehearse most effectively. Remember, practice makes perfect, so the more you practice the more you are on your way to an outstanding presentation.

Present authoritatively

A conference paper presentation can be a great opportunity to boost your personality by impressing an audience that may include senior professional colleagues and potential employers from all over the world. Therefore you need to exude authoritativeness in every sentence you make and convince the audience that you not only possess a deep understanding of the subject matter you are presenting but that you can also effectively educate anyone who cares to listen.

Needless to remind you that the best way to authoritativeness is via a painstaking study of all aspects of your paper because knowledge is power so you can only be authoritative if you have a thorough understanding of your topic

However, while arguing forcefully and authoritatively, try to appear modest and friendly rather than overconfident and arrogant. Be sure to include some examples in certain contexts for easier comprehension by your audience.

Adhere to the allotted time

Each conference proceeding is a collection of several papers presented by different scholars. Because of this multiplicity of presentations, conference organisers usually have a time ceiling per presentation (often less than 30 minutes). Your paper may be such that can take more than 30 minutes to be comprehensively presented orally. But with limited time, you do not have the luxury of a comprehensive or elaborate presentation. This means that you have to tailor or rehearse your presentation to reflect only the most important details of your work and nothing else.

These important details should include the purpose of your research, the major theories that underpin it, your research methods, key findings and the significance or importance of the findings, your conclusion(s), and recommendations based on your findings and suggestions for future research. You may also want to tell the audience if you faced any limitations while conducting your research. 

In a nutshell, try to conclude your presentation within the allocated time to avoid encroaching on the time of the next presenter and/or being embarrassed by the moderators. It will appear inconsiderate and unprofessional if you encroach on the time reserved for other presenters or conference activities.

Be prepared for the occasional lapses in technology

In these digital days, technology tools and gadgets usually play a disruptive role in many human gatherings, including academic conferences. So chances are that your presentation may be technology-assisted. This means that you need to have a number of “what ifs” in mind as you get ready for the presentation date.

What if the paper you electronically submitted to the organizer is no longer accessible for one reason or another? What if the flash drive or memory card you stored a spare copy of the file fails? The logic here is to preempt any inconveniences that technological failure may cause and have enough soft and hard copy back-ups of your paper so that all your hard work is not ruined by digital inefficiency.

Be open to interacting with the audience

Consider yourself a teacher entering the classroom to disseminate knowledge to learners. Therefore, like every good teacher, you have to adopt a variety of appropriate teaching methods, especially the learner-centered method that encourages active student/audience participation which can come in the form of questions.

Moreover, many conference proceedings usually include question and answer sessions so you must be adequately prepared since questions can come from any part of your paper.

Overcome stage fright

Even though there is nothing to fear or be anxious about (especially if you have rehearsed your presentation repeatedly), stage fright is usually experienced by first-time and younger presenters who are a little bit overwhelmed by the occasion or size of the audience. If you notice early signs of stage fright, try to take deep breaths and be as calm as possible. The more you talk, the more confident you’ll become, and with time the fright usually stops.

Make occasional eye contact with your audience

Remember to frequently maintain eye contact with your audience while presenting your paper. Shying away from eye contact with them can be interpreted as a lack of confidence to face an audience. It can also make the organisers feel you have poor presentation skills. 

Consider visuals

Though you will not have time to speak as elaborately as you’ll like, you can still consider using visuals if you and the conference organiser think it will make the presentation better. Using visuals in presentations helps make things clearer for the audience in terms of improved understanding, especially when discussing abstract concepts.


It can be a wise idea to have a chat with presenters at previous editions of the conference you’ll be participating in. This will help you learn from their experience in all aspects of the preparation and give you a clearer picture of what to expect at the conference. If you know any of the conference organisers, it will also help to have a chat with him or her for information on how to prepare and what to expect.


Presenting a conference paper can be a chance for many scholars to enhance their self-esteem and career prospects in front of an audience that may include potential employers, senior colleagues, and other influential personalities. However, the exercise can become a nightmare to forget if you are not well prepared. The few tips above will assist your preparation and hopefully, help you present excellently.

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