Preparing a conference presentation: Part 2


Photo by AdamR, Freedigitalphotos

About a month ago, I wrote the first post of a two-part guide on how to prepare a good conference presentation. I had asked my colleagues to give me their best advice, as I had never presented in a panel session before.

Well, now that the presentation date has come and gone, I thought I would share some follow-up thoughts.

Here’s how it went:

First, following the advice to get there early, I rushed to get to the conference venue on time—nay early even! I assumed there would be coffee, and was sadly mistaken. Next time, I might sacrifice being punctual for a quick trip to the nearest coffee shop. Turns out I could have used that extra jolt of caffeine, as I’ll explain in a second.

A big theme in my colleagues’ suggestions was to anticipate the audience. I guess this part might be a little outside of your control in most cases. In my case, I totally missed the mark. I thought the room would be filled with a mix of students and senior researchers, but the rows of seats were mostly occupied by PhD students from a large diversity of fields.

Furthermore, I thought that given the bilingual call-out for the conference, there would be an even mix of Francophone and Anglophone audience members and presenters. WoOops. This was a Franco crowd. Moreover, looking at the program, it quickly became clear that I was the only panelist delivering my presentation in English. Oh the (linguistic and cultural) shame!

One thing that was totally within my control was the quality and content of my presentation. I am pretty sure my PowerPoint presentation was clear, not too crammed, and visually pleasing. Moreover, my rehearsed talking points were (I thought) highly accessible. Having everything practiced, especially in front of peers beforehand, truly decreased my level of stress. I can’t recommend it enough.

The tricky part came after the presentation. Whereas I was told there would be a 20 minute window for my presentation and a few minutes of questions to follow, what transpired was in fact a series of presentations followed by a 20 minute panel discussion session.  It was during this session that I, embarrassed by my anglo presentation delivery, told the audience that I could take their questions in French. WoOops…



Though I think I earned points for effort, turns out I did not know even half of the technical words of my research field in French. What ensued was a good mash up of perfectly grammatical phrases, combined with my best guesses for what “cluster-based sampling” and “multilevel linear regression” might be in French, and a whole lot of apologies. I think I might have even invented a word or two.  It was not my finest moment.

So given that little adventure down So-now-do-you-still-think-you-are-functionally-bilingual Lane, here are some DO’s to add to my previous list:

DO find out about the discussion format, and how much time you will be asked to answer questions.

DO find out about the language preferences of the audience, and either stick with the language in which you are most comfortable with your research lexicon, or, if you’re presenting in another language:

DO find the translations for key terms beforehand. Though I consider myself to be a bilingual person, having grown up here in Quebec, specialized French research vocabulary is not something I get to practice often outside of McGill.That is, until now!

In case you’re ever in need, my go-to English-French translation site is

As a last note, hats off to all you grad students working, studying, and writing in your second or third languages! You definitely do not receive enough credit for your skills.  I salute you.


* All photo rights  belong to icanhazcheezburger!

One response to “Preparing a conference presentation: Part 2”

  1. Emilio Dirlikov says:

    Nice to read not only about the suggestions, but how these suggestions actually worked out in practice! Thanks for this!

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