Wednesday, 14 May 2014


Welcome to the first post in a new series of blog posts entitled: A-Z: An alphabetical journal through the doctoral experience. 

WARNING: this post is entirely subjective and not in the slightest bit generalisable.

A is for AUDIENCE.  As we all know, a 'good' academic conference is dependent on the coming together of multiple factors: location, venue, regularity of coffee supply, quality of the food/mattresses, how friendly the crowd is ... And the brilliance - or otherwise - of its keynotes.  

Truth is, we all spend a significant proportion of our time at these events, in the audience. How do you behave? Are you a tweeter (tweeting 'key messages' uncritically, every 2 minutes to your 40 followers to prove you're at the conference and haven't gone shopping)?  Or a noter (eagerly recording summaries of keynote presentations in files you'll never find again)?  A zoner (having established the irrelevance of the presentation to you, zoning out and unashamedly checking emails, sending texts, reading papers for forthcoming sessions)?  Or a zealot (spending most of the presentation barely containing yourself until questions are invited and you can shoot up your hand to make - at length- the point you have longed to make for the last 30 minutes concerning a minor issue relating to your own research)?   How often do we simply sit, listen, absorb and reflect, taking advantage of this valuable thinking time?

Of course, the likelihood of us doing that is significantly dependent on the quality of those keynotes.  To that end, calling all Presenters - the key point to remember at all times is that you HAVE an audience and that, other than your reputation, the point of inviting you to present at the conference is for you to a) communicate something b) meaningful and c) relevant.  This means that even if you are personage of significant standing and eminent reputation in your field, with a trolley-load of qualifications, accolades, titles and major research grants, please do not assume this entitles you to: 

a) refuse to use the available and working microphone when asked;
b) ignore the copious good practice advice for presentations and put 20 lines of closely spaced text on each slide;
c) read out those slides word for word;
d) begin your keynote by saying how delighted you are to be invited to speak at such a worthwhile conference but that you want to use the opportunity today to talk about something completely different;
e) pay no attention to time, assuming that your audience (or at least those that can hear you) will be so interested in what you have to say that they will joyfully forgo 20 minutes of coffee/networking/lunch/paper sessions. 

Let me conclude by recommending a couple of Nick Hopwood's handy blog posts on the subject:
making academic conference presentations more effective  
is your conference audience really listening?