Advice / Events

Same Department. Different Research: Speaking to an academic audience for the first time

This post is by Hannah Roberts. Hannah is currently a PhD Student in the School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences

Since 2009, the postgraduate research students in the School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences have come together to create a conference that showcases the research being conducted within the school. It is an excellent opportunity for disciplines that don’t normally interact, to learn about the research that goes on under their own noses and provide opportunities for potential collaborations.

HR1This year, the conference was no exception delivering a wide range of knowledge from planetary science, geochemistry, radiochemistry, geomicrobiology, atmospheric sciences, palaeontology, petroleum geoscience and many more.

As I am in the second year of my PhD, I took the opportunity to present some of my most recent findings. Although many of the people in my research group understand the background behind my PhD and the experimental conditions that I use, I found that trying to communicate X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy to an audience with no prior knowledge was extremely challenging! How was I to break down a complicated synchrotron method in less than 2 minutes for a 12 minute talk?

My first attempt was, well, a mess. After A LOT of editing I eventually narrowed it down to around 20 slides. However when I practiced presenting the talk I ran over a significant amount and I knew that I needed to cut out certain parts. I had to select slides that would provide the audience with just enough information to understand the justification of my work. For the methods, I used several images and animations that provided a visual understanding of what I did, followed by my results and I concluded with a short summary.

On the day I was nervous. Although I have spoken in front of an academic audience before, this was on a much bigger scale. A top tip for calming nerves is to focus on your presentation and what your opening line will be. Once you have this, the rest will follow on.

Thankfully the presentation went well, and seeing members of the audience nodding along to what I spoke about was encouraging. I was also given two questions which I was able to answer (much to my relief!). The rest of the conference was much more enjoyable after this point where I learnt about a range of topics (including what a few of my friends do!).HR2

To finish, the conference meal was held in The Place Aparthotel near to Piccadilly station with lots of free drinks and food! Prizes for the best presentations and posters were award, and much to my surprise I came second in the oral presentations!

While this was great, the chance to give a talk to a large audience and receive positive feedback was even better and I would recommend practicing at a smaller conference first to anyone who might be thinking of attending an international conference. I believe that practicing my presentation, both to myself and in front of peers to receive feedback helped me greatly, especially as I spoke too fast at first. Additionally, cutting down on the number of slides, but improving the content of each, saved me from rushing through each one with the audience being able to follow my story. Hopefully, the next conference will be a similar success!

What are your conference stories? Have you had any similar experiences? Comment below.

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