BABY’S FIRST CONFERENCE: How to get and survive your first paper presentation

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This past week, I presented at my first-ever conference. Since I felt worried I would be entirely unprepared (and maybe booed out of the room), I thought I’d share a few tips on acquiring and surviving a conference presentation:

Step 1) You don’t get anything you don’t apply for. Check your email! Last semester, a call for abstracts arrived in my inbox that was directly related to a paper I wrote in Anne Spirn’s seminar. So, I sent it in- why not!

Step 2) GET PAID. The Department of Architecture allows you to apply for funding for one conference per year. So does the Planning Department. And if that’s not enough, the GSC also has funding sources. So, travel on MIT’s dime!

Step 3) Practice, practice, practice, present! (Well, I only practice practiced.) At least enough to feel confident. But don’t read your paper. 90% of the time, a spoken presentation was stronger and easier to engage than a written one, even if the presenter wasn’t a strong public speaker. If you do read, do it slowly, look up often, and interject your own thoughts where relevant. When I finally presented, it was in a smallish room with 20-30 people. Not that big of a deal! And while I was nervous during my presentation, I relaxed during the Q & A- I knew my topic and enjoyed having a conversation about it. Next time I will approach my presentation with more of this attitude.

Step 4) Sit back, relax, and gather some knowledge. Go to the other presentations you find interesting, and gather cues from their presentation styles. But don’t feel pressured to go to everything- at some point, 12 hours straight of listening to other people talk is just too much. I admit to a short chai and shopping escape.

Step 5) Network! Not in that annoying way, where you run around handing out business cards. I was surprised that a number of people approached me after my presentation that were interested in my topic. I had some great conversations and made some interesting connections, and likewise decided to connect with others who had topics I found provocative.

Well, there you have it! I hope to see all of your shiny faces presenting papers somewhere soon!

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