How to present at a conference: Part 3 – Developing your presentation

The title of this third part in my series (read part two here) on presenting at conferences is quite pertinent, as it’s exactly what I should be doing now. So, in order to help me get started on getting my thingy ready, here’s the summary of the workshop I’ll be giving in just over a month’s time.

‘As a universally popular and accessible form of entertainment that transcends national boundaries, the TV game show is a phenomenon recognizable to language learners throughout the world. Thus, as a means of teaching, the potential use of such formats has wide-ranging implications for classroom practice.

Many language learners face difficulties when trying to develop their lexical knowledge due to traditionally employed methods which focus less on the cognitive processes required for such constructive increases in their vocabulary knowledge. The task of the language teacher therefore is to develop a more stimulating environment in which language learners are better able and more

In this workshop, we will present a series of activities, lexically related, based on popular TV game show formats such as ‘blockbusters’ and ‘Who wants to be a millionaire’. These shows can be easily adapted by teachers for use in the language classroom. They offer opportunities for the recycling of vocabulary in a motivating and engaging way.

Firstly, the workshop will allow participants to discover and reflect on the potential of such activities through the process of participating in actual classroom activities and then discussing their relative values. Additionally, participants will have the opportunity to share their ideas on comparative practical applications, thus making them relevant to their particular teaching contexts.’

So, how can I go from this, which I wrote about six months ago, to an effective workshop that will keep the punters happy?

1. Refer back often

As I’ve just said, I wrote this proposal many months ago, and if I don’t refer back to it regularly, the chances are I won’t be able to effectively stay on task. People attending your session will expect the abstract (a much reduced, 60-word version of the above summary) to be an accurate reflection of what actually occurs: do what you say on the tin. In the above summary I describe how I intend to deliver several practical activities that teachers can easily adapt to suit their own teaching environments. If I say I’ll be giving practical teaching ideas, how do you think my audience will react if I spend half of my time giving a literature on the theories of vocabulary acquisition? Compare the abstract below with the one that I put in the last post about creating your proposal.

‘This workshop presents a series of activities, lexically related, based on popular TV game show formats that are easily adapted for use in the language classroom for recycling vocabulary in an engaging way. The workshop allows participants not only to discover and reflect on the potential of such activities, but also to share ideas on their relative practical applications.’

Look at my summary again. Have I effectively given the conference participants an idea of what my workshop will be about (really do leave comments if you don’t think so, I’m still learning too)? It isn’t so easy condensing it into a mere 60 words. If you compare this with the previous example I showed you, you can see that I had a very different kind of session planned to what I’ll be delivering next month. The audience always comes to a session with an expectation and it is your responsibility to ensure you deliver.

2. Who are your audience?

Think about who your audience might be and prepare accordingly. The beauty of IATEFL is that you can indicate if you’re pitching your session to new teachers or to crusty old professionals, which is really helpful when it comes to preparation. Think about who is likely to attend. I doubt, for example, that I’ll be attracting researchers to my workshop. More likely, my room will be full (ish) of classroom teachers looking for new ideas to implement into their teaching. Ask yourself what people will be expecting from your presentation.

3. Stick to the time limit

Keep the time limit of your session in mind so that you can cover all of your material without having to omit anything important while you’re giving the presentation. Bear in mind that you absolutely won’t get started on time, so don’t imagine that you can dive straight in. The first 5 minutes will be taken up by people wandering in and finding a place to sit; this is inevitable so don’t plan around needing this time (I’ll have a couple of suggestions about how to utilize this period of time in part four). Running late will have a knock on effect to the following presentations. I hate being in a session that overruns as it means I’ll be late for the next session I wish to attend and will look rude when I finally arrive. Also, another presenter is almost certainly going to want to get ready for the room and you’re eating into their preparation time: don’t run over!

4. Practice makes pretty good if not perfect

In part two, I mentioned how it was a totally reasonable course of action to present your session at a small, local conference before taking it to a big international event. This is a great way to give your session a trial run, often with a smaller and perhaps more familiar group of colleagues. The time between your two presentations can be used to streamline and revise what you did so that it will be even better the second time round.

Another possible alternative is to present at your own institution. I can’t imagine anywhere that wouldn’t welcome the opportunity of one of their teachers giving some professional development. A big reason why I’m not too worried about my IATEFL presentation is that I’ve already done exactly what I’ve just described, using the feedback of my colleagues to ditch something that didn’t work very well and generally improve my workshop.

Well, this little series of posts is actually helping me get ready for my upcoming session by making me reflect on whether or not I’m following my own advice. I hope it’s making for interesting reading for all of you who find yourself in a similar position. I’ll be back in the next week or so with the final part of the conference series: Making sure you present professionally.

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7 thoughts on “How to present at a conference: Part 3 – Developing your presentation”

  1. Thank you for a very clear and very thoughtful post. Having just come back from TESOL Spain, I can see the importance of the points you raise, particularly about timing and ‘doing what you say on the tin’.

    1. Thanks, David.

      I can’t believe it is three years since I wrote these posts. I’m happy that people are still finding them useful. Indeed, I still turn back to them myself whenever I’m getting ready for a conference!

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