Presenting at an Online Conference Part 4: Tips for Making a Good Impression

As I’ve attended online conferences, presented my research, and watched others present theirs, I’ve picked up some ideas about what makes a good (or not-so-good) impression. Here are my tips for making a positive impact on your fellow delegates.

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Be professional and have professional etiquette. Observe the time limits. In my experience, online conferences seem to lose time and run late more often than in-person ones. Don’t make this worse! Start on time and aim to finish on time. If your session starts late due to someone else’s error, still try to make yours finish on time. The conference organisers (and attendees) will thank you for it and remember how well you did. Be online and ready to present 5-10 minutes before your presentation and have a glass of water ready to go.

If you make mistakes, handle them professionally and move on. This goes for pre-recorded presentations too. You can leave small mistakes in there. It shows you’re human and are communicating naturally. I presented at a conference here in Auckland in 2018 where I had the entire 25 minutes memorised ahead of time. I whittled through the presentation without needing to look at my notes once. And no-one asked a single question at the end because they hadn’t engaged with me as a presenter – I came off too rehearsed and non-personable. Conversely at an in-person conference in 2021 I spoke comfortably to the slides (although well-rehearsed) and handled mistakes professionally and had the most excited Q&A time of the whole conference! While recording this exemplar video, I made a few minor mistakes (which I left in as evidence), but I edited out the time my cat (Michelle) jumped into my arms for a cuddle while I was making a point, the time I had a coughing fit, and the time the builders working on the balconies of the hotel next door decided to yell at each other.

Focus on communicating naturally – don’t lean into the microphone, sit up straight and comfortable, smile, and look at the camera. Don’t read your notes on the screen either. Only make bullet points and then speak to the audience like they’re a group of friends. Don’t read them an essay. It’ll sound flat and boring.

You’ll need to dress appropriately for your conference. Generally online conferences don’t have a dress code but “business professional” is a good rule of thumb. I generally wear a business shirt, possibly a jacket, but no tie. Probably don’t wear your pyjamas, but that depends on the conference you’re presenting to!

Focus your time and attention on the conference. Don’t be doing other things in the background, as tempting as it is to be clearing emails or making dinner. Clear your schedule and put your phone on mute.

One advantage of an online conference is that you can even prepare your Q&A. Think ahead of what questions people might ask. What questions did you ask yourself as you were doing the research? Pre-write answers to some of your questions and have them ready in front of you (perhaps in the background on your laptop) so you can refer to them if people ask you during the Q&A. Also have your research open in the background in case people ask for more detail so you can quickly flick to the relevant specific page. Like an in-person conference, don’t be afraid of the “I don’t know the answer to that” or “I’ll have to check and get back to you” or even “That requires more research”. You don’t have to have all the answers.

Include your contact details. Some people might not be able to ask or feel unable to ask in an online format. Whack your twitter handle up on the first and last slide, and other contact details on the last slide too. At the conference where I presented online, as the presentations were to be recorded and shared on YouTube, it was decided that attendees should email the organisers if they wanted to contact the presenters, and their messages would be passed on, rather than share the contact details of the presenters publicly.

If you’re pre-recording a presentation, be sure to leave enough time to edit. My video about online conferences took about 60 minutes to film and about 90 to edit. Editing always takes longer, and the more you do it, the quicker you are. Additionally, the fewer cuts you need to make the quicker it will be! The longest delay in the filming was when I had to re-record my entire presentation because while I had been progressing through my slides on my machine, they weren’t progressing in the recording so nothing matched up visually.

Check back tomorrow for links to more resources about online conferences.

About Scott Pilkington

Scott is a Postgraduate Coordinator and Health, Safety & Wellbeing rep at the Graduate Research School. His hobbies include museums, campanology, history, anthropology, cats, dance, fibre crafts, science communication, and gin. He’s a graduate of University of Auckland, University of Otago, Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, and of course AUT. His current research projects include how we use museums to communicate science, and the form and function of doctoral academic dress at New Zealand universities. Past research includes the Albert Park tunnels, taphonomy of burnt human skeletal remains, and the sex-politics-law dynamics of 13th C England. He is weirdly passionate about palaeoecology and urban spaces. He uses the pronouns he/him. You can often see him at GRS events being our resident photographer.

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