Ready, Set, Present: Be ready for your first conference presentation

There are many ways to make the most of learning experiences at university, and one valuable transferable skill is presenting to an audience. Katie talks about her experience of presenting at a conference for the first time and what she learned…By Katie Hall

When I returned to university to undertake a Masters one of the reasons I chose the part-time route was to take advantage of the many and different extra-curricular opportunities available at Warwick.

From Academic Skills workshops and resources to library support and research seminars, not to mention clubs, societies, volunteering and paid work, it was hard not to feel overwhelmed about where to start.

I was lucky. After attending as many workshops as I could fit into term 1, I found an exciting-sounding job through Unitemps, and after a successful interview was offered a part-time researcher role on the widening participation and research (wrap) project. As well as contributing my own experience and knowledge I would have the chance to learn and practice some new skills in the context of Academia.

At the same time, my coursemates and I were working on another project, to produce an anthology of students’ creative writing.

Both of these projects required a significant amount of public engagement (marketing). For wrap, it was about disseminating research findings and influencing key stakeholders in the university; for the anthology, called Manifest, it was about fundraising to cover production costs, selling copies and getting the word out to agents. It struck me that conferences, both within Warwick and across the UK, would be a fantastic way to spread the word.

As the conferences tend to be academic, it was important to think about how I could make that link for wrap and Manifest. This, first of all, helped to shortlist the types of the conference we could apply to present at. For wrap, Warwick-based conferences such as the International Conference of Undergraduate Research (ICUR) and the Warwick Education Conference were relevant as we had primary and secondary data findings and analysis to share. For Manifest, I chose to focus more on applied practice and the process of creating the publication, and so the English and Comparative Literature Postgraduate Symposium and the Postgraduate Interdisciplinary Conference were a good fit (both welcomed PGT students and were student-led). Other opportunities this year have included the Research Harambee.

The 5 Ps, Or: Preparation prevents pretty poor performance

The only way to deliver a good presentation is to prepare. Alongside choosing the right event, where I was sure I was going to speak to an audience whom I wanted to hear my messages, I took my usual pragmatic approach. I found and used some support resources, such as the preparing presentations and delivering presentations workshops, using tech in presentations library drop-in, some moodle courses and written materials available to all students.

Armed with this wealth of tips and information, I developed my own process:

  • I wanted to use slides sparingly, with images, not bullet-point lists of words to talk through – infographics (free software such as canva can help) or royalty-free image libraries are useful.
  • I selected only one or two maximum key messages for each presentation, so the content was thematically focused.
  • I tried to tell a story, rather than deliver a dull set of facts and findings.
  • To keep the audience engaged, I created a small amount of interaction, throwing thought-provoking questions to the audience.
  • I practised. I asked colleagues to think of questions they might ask and prepared answers. I tried to slow my speech down and remember to breathe.
  • I used notes – not a full written speech, but my own bullet lists as talking points.
  • I turned up and listened to what other presenters had to say on the day and to say hello to the chair.

Some of my learning from areas that did not go well, helped me improve for the next time:

  • Whatever happens, keep to time. If things are running behind schedule, agree with the chair if your slot will reduce.
  • The fewer the slides the better. Having slides on a loop was handy, so I didn’t have to worry about clicking next
  • Allow time for questions. And it’s okay not to have all the answers to them on the day.

The only way to know what it’s like is to give it a go, and honestly, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. I have started to have an instinct for what can fit into twenty minutes, what slides will win the audience over, and a belief that no-one can tell if my hands or voice are trembling with nerves. I have become more confident and have been able to talk about the experiences in interviews.


Do you have any experience with presenting your work? Are there any tips you would like to share with your peers? Tweet us at @warwicklibrary, email us at, or leave a comment below.


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Cover image: presentation / xteemu / CC0 1.0

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