Attending an academic conference means more than just speaking in front of a group of audiences.
Any form of (effective) communication involves the two-way interaction: give and take. And the effectiveness of such an interaction, in my eye, surprisingly depends on a volume of details. The course from MyGradSkills on Academic and Professional Communication for New Researchers introduces useful tips of presenting and socializing in academic conference. Today I want to share my experience of experimenting with these skills in the latest conference I attended in November in Montreal.
Presentation part: speech content and Powerpoint slides
Personally I like to use the Powerpoint slides as snapshots to catch the audience’s attention. I find it is helpful to put some key words on the slides, with one or two well-chosen images to strengthen the message you will convey through speech. In this way, the audience may find easier and clearer to follow up. Over half of scholar in the conference utilized Powerpoint slides when they presented. However, some of them seemed less effective by either cramming the slides with a whole script of words, or just exhibiting images that showed weak relations to the speech. Neither of the way made most use of the visual aids in public speaking. The other thing is to tailor your speech to the non-professional audience. Increasing number of academic conferences are cross-disciplinary. It is productive, though challenging, to speak your research in a simple, concise and intriguing way. I found one scholar from UT made his theological and cosmological research easily digestible by using fluent vocabulary and supportive slides.
Socializing part: introduce your research, respond to others, get connected
Lunch, dinner, coffee and tea, wine and cheese reception, are always occasions for socializing with other scholars between each session of presentation. A dialogue always starts with introducing each’s academic background and research interests between two strangers. It is frequent that I (I believe for others as well) encounter people doing researches that I have known nothing about. After that I begin to ponder: how to make a good connection with these people? how to have an interesting dialogue? and how to take useful things away from it? After I listened to Shane Snow’s story telling techniques, I started to appreciate story-telling as a way of building relationships, care and trust, and tried to apply it to my conversation with the other scholars. For example, for people who know nothing or show little interest in my research of Daoism and ecological consciousness, I would narrate in a way that uses reliable characters (such as infant), novel facts (such as eastern tradition) and real tension (such as the local environmental crisis) to enrich the elements of my research story telling.
Though I am still experimenting the skill, I feel the conversation is more interactive in this way. The other way to generate productive dialogue is to ask questions. Good questions make you impressive. And it keeps the dialogue going. Sometimes people like to talk about the reason they start the research, or the challenge they might have in certain areas. So for me asking these questions help “heat up” the conversation as well.
Explore the city
I am always excited to attend conference in somewhere I have not visited before. It is a personally rewarding experience because you get to know about the unique facet of culture. A fancy restaurant, a stylist craft store, or friendly faces you have encountered, are something that always award me with good memory. More importantly, it enriches the conversation when you bring up these experience. I find people in general are happy to share their experience of having tasty food, or visiting local sights.
So how do you act professionally as well as personally in an academic conference? Anything interesting that you have observed, or like to share?