Lessons Learned Presenting at Conferences

I am a strong believer in attending and presenting at conferences for professional development.  Each year I try to attend the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) —http://www.aera.net/AnnualMeeting.htm — as well as the annual meeting of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) — http://www.aect.org/events/.

As a side note, in addition, whenever possible I also attend ISTE’s — http://center.uoregon.edu/ISTE/2010/ — Sloan-C’s — http://www.sloanconsortium.org/aln — and EDUCAUSE’s —http://net.educause.edu/ConferencesSeminarsandInstitutes/31 — conferences to name a few.

So when I plan to attend a conference, I strive whenever possible to also present at the conference.  Often, I will even try to present more than once.

Well this last fall I went a little overboard and during basically a three week stretch I presented  11 times at three different conferences (two of the presentations though involved two parts so it was actually only 9 different sessions).  To be fair, when I originally completed the conference proposals, I never expected to have them all accepted. But through this process I learned a few things that I will take with me moving forward:

1. Never present more than 3 times — ideally strive for only 2 presentations — at a conference.
I enjoy attending sessions as much as I do presenting at sessions but I found that when I attend a conference where I present more than 2-3 times, I rarely attend that many sessions because I am spending most of my time preparing for my own sessions. Also, be prepared that they might accept any and all proposals you submit so think twice before sending in a bunch of different proposals.  If you want to present 2-3 times, only send in 3-4 proposals (assuming at least one will not be approved).

2. Always bring business cards to each session.

3. Find the room you are planned to present in.
Checkout the room you plan to present in before your session to get an idea of the location, room size, layout, Internet access… to name a few. During EDUCAUSE 09 I spent over 30 minutes trying to locate the room where the poster sessions were being held.  I barely found it in time to put up my poster before the session began.

4. Show Up Early.
Be sure to show up at the room earlier enough right before your session to ensure that such things as an LCD projector are  there.   At AECT, the hotel would remove the LCD projectors at the end of the day which meant that the first sessions each day often began with a rush to locate an LCD projector.

5. Create Handouts.
See Tufte’s work about this — or check out  Improving the Design of PowerPoint Presentations or a Review of the Cognitive Style of PowerPoint — but avoid giving copies of your slides as handouts.  If you want to give a handout (and I recommend it), then create a handout–ideally no longer than one page (front and back).

6. Determine the how many handouts you need.
Ask people who have presented in the past and/or the conference staff how many people typically attend each session so that you can have the right number of handouts. Most presentations, in my experience, tend to have 10-15 attendees. Therefore, you are often safe with 20-25 handouts.  However, during my last three week conference stretch, I had one session with over 75 people in it and another with about 35.

6. Post the slides online.
While I am not a fan of handing out my PowerPoint slides as handouts, I do try to post my slides online so others (both who attend the conference and those who didn’t) can access my slides.  But rather than giving out some long URL (e.g., http://www.slideshare.net/plowenthal/educause-2009-tweeting-the-night-away-using-twitter-to-enhance-social-presence) or even using a tinyurl (e.g., http://tinyurl.com/ybjepyr)  which might confuse people, simply point them to a Webpage with all of your presentations (e.g., http://www.slideshare.net/plowenthal).

7. Avoid traveling on a day you present.
This might be silly but try to avoid this if possible. At AECT this past fall I had to present on Halloween but I really wanted to get home in time to trick or treat with my kids.  I carefully picked my flight to help make this all happen but guess what…  my flight was delayed.

I am sure I am forgetting a few things but this list is a start.

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