Tips for planning conference presentations

Planning to present at a conference involves a number of steps. This post is for those of you who are new to making conference presentations. What do you need to do? What resources might help? Read on…

1. Choose a conference to attend

For newcomers to academic work, it’s sometimes difficult to select a conference to attend. If you have not yet been to a national conference, local conferences provide an entrée into learning what is expected of conference presenters, and the variety of formats that presenters use to share their research with other scholars (e.g., posters, roundtable discussions, presentations, and conference papers). In selecting a conference where you would like to share the findings from your research, consider where the scholars whose work you cite attend and present, and who you see as primary audiences for your work. A key part of attending a conference is talking to others researchers about shared interests, and making connections with scholars whose work intersects with your own.

2. Review the requirements for proposal submission

Watch out for the calls for  papers and presentations from the conference you plan to attend. Many of these are distributed by listservs and websites advertising the conferences. Carefully check what is required in submitting a proposal for the conference you choose. Conferences use a variety of formats for submission, so if you have not attended this particular conference, it may be helpful to talk to someone who has presented there to see what is expected. Some conferences accept most, if not all of the proposals submitted – this is typical for local conferences. National and international conferences are typically peer-reviewed, and may reject just as many proposals as those accepted. Peer-reviewed conferences typically provide presenters with reviewers’ comments, which can be used in thinking through the ideas presented in the initial proposal and revising those as you develop your presentation or paper.

3. Write an abstract

Because different conferences may use different formats, it is difficult to provide a specific set of guidelines for writing abstracts. Various authors have, however, provided practical tips on writing conference abstracts (e.g., Ickes & Gambescia, 2011; Smith & Carney, 2011), and examined published abstracts from journals to locate the typical elements of an abstract and stylistic characteristics (Kamler & Thomson, 2004). The main thing is for authors to carefully review the requirements for a particular conference,  adhere to both what is included content-wise, and how the abstract should be formatted. And of course it’s always good practice to submit the proposal by the due date.

4. Conference presentations

Once you have been accepted to present at a conference, you will need to work on your presentation (preferably not at the last minute!). How presenters choose to present their work varies considerably, depending on the conference and context of the presentation (including the duration of time allotted for the presentation, and whether or not papers need to be submitted to discussants prior to the conference). Some presenters use  tools such as Keynote or Powerpoint to present their ideas in abbreviated formats; while others read from full papers that they have prepared. There is no one way to give a good conference presentation. Some conferences publish prepared papers in conference proceedings for which presenters may have been required to submit a full paper prior to the conference. Proceedings also come in multiple formats – including paper, and digital formats, including online dissemination. Lucinda Becker talks more about the differences between presenting a conference paper or presentation.

5. Engaging one’s audience

Although there is lots of guidance to presenters for making an effective presentation to be found online, e.g., Tips for Successful Academic Presentations, and there are also tips for how to keep audiences awake (!) (Wineburg, 2004), in my view, there are no sacred seven steps to a perfect presentation. We have all likely attended conference presentations in which presenters were less than organized and failed to effectively engage their audiences. Yet what one person finds engaging may bore another person even when well-presented. However, effective presentations typically rely on the presenter having engaged in solid preparation and effective rehearsal, together with careful attention to a particular audience both prior to giving a presentation, and during the presentation itself.

All the best with writing your conference proposals and planning for your presentations. Below I’ve added a few additional resources that may be helpful. If you’ve come across other useful advice and resources, be sure to add that in the comment box below.

Kathy Roulston


Ickes, M. J., & Gabescia, S. F. (2011). Abstract art: How to write competitive conference and journal abstracts. Health Promotion Practice, 12(4), 493-496.

Kamler, B., & Thomson, P. (2004). Driven to abstraction: Doctoral supervision and writing pedagogies. Teaching in Higher Education, 9(2), 195-209.

Renfrow, D., & Impara, J. C. (1989). Making academic presentations-Effectively! Educational Researcher, 18(2), 20-21.

Smith, M. C., & Carney, R., N. (1999). Strategies for writing successful AERA proposals. Educational Researcher, 28(1), 42-45, 58.

Wineburg, S. (2004). Must it be this way? Ten rules for keeping your audience awake during conferences. Educational Researcher, 33(4), 13-14.

Additional resources

Garmston, R. (1997). The presenter’s fieldbook: A practical guide. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon.

Knowles, M. S. (1992). Applying principles of adult learning in conference presentations. Adult Learning, 4(1), 11-14. doi:10.1177/104515959200400105


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