#Open Hacks for Conference Presentations and Panels (not only) for Digital Humanists

Cite as: Ulrike Wuttke, #Open Hacks for Conference Presentations and Panels (not only) for Digital Humanists, Blogpost, 01.08.2019, CC-BY 4.0. Link: https://ulrikewuttke.wordpress.com/?p=1696, last edited 02.08.2019 (I added some extra advice I received via Twitter, thanks!).

Last months I attended DHd 2019 in Mainz and Frankfurt am Main and DH2019 in Utrecht (Netherlands). These were great conferences: great people, many interesting presentations and discussions, great folks. However, they also inspired me this blogpost, that sums up some hacks on conference presentations and chairing panels, how to prepare, give, and spread them online. These are hacks that work for me and that I hope will be usefull for others.

The following hacks are in a way ‘collected wisdom’. They are tricks and hints that I have read somewhere or were being given and that I internalised. Where I remembered sources, I have quoted them. I also included some great general resources at the end of this post. If you have more hacks, thank you for letting me know, so that I can include them!

For Presenters

Preparation Phase

  • #1 Prepare your talk in advance! Presentations written on the plane or the night before tend to be poor and badly timed.
  • #2 Use a tool like Speechinminutes to calculate the length of your speech! If you go over time you will be stealing time from other presenters which is unfair. A good chair will cut your speech when you have reached the time limit. 
  • #3 Don’t lose time to explain tiny little details how you reached a conclusion. Focus on the main points and arguments and even consider talking less and leaving more time for question and answers. Read the interesting advice “Flip your presentation format” from Pat Thomson.
  • #4 You can point at the end to literature and other resources, even your research data, that underpin your argument for more information. See for practical information on how to share research data on website of HU Berlin and read my blogpost about Open Access to Research Data in the Humanities.  
  • #5 When preparing your slides, remember that slides are meant to be a visual aid! Avoid slides that are too densely packed with text (German “Bleiwüste”). 
  • #6 To enhance readability, use a big font size (24pt especially for the modern smaller presentation systems) and watch the size of screen shots (zoom in for details), nothing is more frustrating than seeing text or screenshots with the presenter commenting ‘probably you can’t see it…”.  
  • #7 If you plan to publish your slides online, include the URL/DOI of the presentation in each slide, or to avoid cluttering of your slides, at least in the first and last slide (some Open Access repositories like Zenodo allow you to reserve a DOI).
  • #8 Get an ORCiD (Open Researcher Contribution Identification) so that your presentation slides can be linked to your scientific record. Increasingly other forms of scientific outputs such as presentations, research data etc. are considered an intrinsic part of a researchers scientific record, therefore they should be published and easily identified (see DORA).
  • #9 To structure your presentation “breadcrumbs” (headers or footers that indicate on the slide in which part of the presentation you are) are useful, especially for longer presentations. 
  • #10 Put your full contact information on the last slide and your Twitter handle on the first, so people can tweet easier about your great presentation.
  • #11 Avoid live demonstrations of databases, website etc. Often conference wifi is rather slow and not working in the moment you need it, and live demonstrations take a lot of time. Pro tip: Use Screenshots (in the right size, zoom in for details) or record a screencast (quick and dirty screencasts can be made with QuickTime or Camtasia, often universities etc. have a licence).
  • #12 Practice your presentation at least once! Practice increases your confidence and improves the timing (to repeat it, really, an unprepared talk is not cool).
  • #13 Check your slides for spelling mistakes! Spelling mistakes look rather unprofessional and are rather distracting. Pro tip: As we tend to be our own worst proofreaders, ask someone else to proofread your slides for you. 
  • #14 If you intend to read from a script (that’s okay, not everyone is Cicero ;-), print your text in a larger font (e.g. 14 pt), I have also seen people who read their presentations from tablets. 
  • #15 Pro tip for the bold ;-): Share pre-version of slides for comments from community, e. g. via Twitter using Google Presentations (though there seem to be some problems with Disability Access)

Presentation Phase

  • #1 Hand over your presentation to chair / organising committee in time (and in required format!) 
  • #2 Be in time in your presentation room to get accustomed with the equipment and test your presentation. Pro tip: Always bring your presentation (additionally as PDF), in case it is not on the presentation computer or looks weird. 
  • #3 Bring your own adapter (especially for Mac)! 
  • #4 My personal hack to deal with sliding computers:  
Inserting a pen might prevent your laptop from sliding over to low barriers on speakers desks
(Picture by Ulrike Wuttke CCO)
  • #5 Start your presentation with a short Icebreaker (why you are happy to present, what connects you to the place, conference, etc. and say your name again) to bond with your audience. Also thanking the chair and organisers for introduction, invitation is a kind thing to do!
  • #6 Look up from your presentation from time to time, especially when you read from a script, again, practicing will help you! Also, don’t talk to the slides and with your back to the audience! 
  • #7 A presentation is not a rap! Don’t go too fast to squeeze in a few more words. It’s really terrifying for the audience! 
  • #8 Leave enough time for the audience to view your slides! Do not skip through loads of slides, this is really frustrating for your audience. If you know you don’t have time to view all slides, exclude them in advance. 
  • #9 If your presentation includes quotes or text in uncommon languages, first read a translation or a paraphrase before you read the original. This way, your audience knows what it will be about and will have enhanced understanding. Thanks to @katharinakager3!
  • #10 Stick to timing (see practice)! Use a timer on your phone etc., so you don’t steal time from others and to allow room for discussion. Pro tip: Consider making your presentation shorter than the allotted time, if the question time is really short and you know this in advance.
  • #11 Avoid dry mouth: Bring your own bottle of NON SPARKLING water. Thanks to @CHPrager!
  • #12 Last but not least, here is a Twitter Thread on how to deal with hostile questions:

Post Presentation Phase

  • #1 Publish your presentation as PDF (preferably PDF/A, Zenodo uploads with a PDF preview get way more interactions!) and additionally whatever format your presentation program of choice produces (also html/xml are interesting formats) in an Open Access Repository such as HAL, Humanities Commons, and Zenodo. Check if the organizers have provided a “community” for the conference and add your presentation there. Don’t forget to include conference metadata to your upload! You can also include speaker’s notes or a separate script of your presentation.
  • #2 Make a blog post of your presentation, nice example by Dot Porter: The Uncanny Valley and the Ghost in the machine, 2018 
  • #3 Some formats like Prezi, Google Docs, and Google Presentations seem to have problems with Disability Access, get informed these issues and choose alternative formats. Read more by Barry Dahl about Accessibility Concerns of Using Prezi in Education (and let me know if the situation has changed)
  • #4 Tweet to your published presentation using the conference Hashtag.

For Session and Panel Chairs & Moderators

  • #1 Aim for diversity of your panel. Do you really need to come up with a panel of white man (no #manel!)? Read Barbara Bordalejo, Minority Report 
  • #2 Prepare the presentation of the speakers, especially how to pronounce their names if they are in a language foreign to you. Try to prepare at least one memorable fact about them, but avoid reading a 5 minutes long biography, and use their titles. Pro tip: You can always e-mail them for this information and give a word limit. 
  • #3 Insist on speakers and audience to use the microphone. Read why this matters in Jessie B. Ramey’s blog post A Note from your Colleagues with Hearing Loss: Just use a Microphone already
  • #4 Try to make clear how presenters feel about Social Media, esp. posting photographs of them presenting online and tell results to audience, also specify conference hashtag (session hashtag), I have seen these hashtags already on blackboards, whiteboards etc.  
  • #5 Stick to timing (no. 1)! Don’t allow presenters to steal time from others. Bring aids to help you to stick to timing (cards with minutes left like 2 min, 1 min, siren on your phone, egg timer, etc.) and tell the speakers about your timing policy, e. g. that you will remove the microphone if they go over time, or go over and thank them.
  • #6 Stick to timing (no. 2)! Also, don’t go over time in general and steal time from the break. 
  • #7 Stick to sessions that are planned as slots (e. g. 30 min.), in order to allow the audience switching to other rooms and to allow individual feedback for all speakers. 
  • #8 Prepare a question for each speaker to make sure that all speakers get a question, but incite the audience first to ask. It is important to leave some time for people to gather their thoughts and courage, therefore wait about 30 sec. at least, though this may seem long to you.  
  • #9 Let first question be ask by a woman. Read Maggie Kuo about why this matters ‘Women ask fewer questions than men at conference talks, new studies suggest’. I couldn’t find the source anymore to evidence that suggest that if a woman asks the first question, it encourages other to do likewise, but I often see that once one women has asked a question, others follow en suite.   
  • #10 If you feel bold, comment on overtly long questions that are not questions, but a reminder of the person’s own achievements 😉

Last but not least, these are hacks that I found working for me. Some might work for you and your field, others might not. And yes, I have been there before and will be probably again, making mistakes. And not all hacks suit every individual (institutional) situation. 

As I am not the first one to has been thinking about this topic (obviously! ), here are some great general resources and reads: 

  • Twitter thread on How to Chair:

What do you think? Do you have other hacks and know any more great resources that should be mentioned? Please leave a comment below or tweet!

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