Tuesday, 18 June 2013

My first conference talk

The chemistry postgraduate conference was at Leeds last week and I gave my first ever proper conference talk. Being in the last couple months of my PhD and therefore extra busy, extra stressed and with no time for distractions like these silly presentations, I left things to the last minute.

So it was only an internal meeting and the audience mostly made up of other postgrads from the organic section, but speaking to a full room is never an easy task.

The build up

A hash together of group meeting slides and figures from previous reports gave me something to practice in front of the lab group, with 3 days to go. I tend to think I am quite good at winging it and this is generally my theory for life, but in this case it wasn't great. I realised this was kind of a big deal and therefore I should put a bit of effort in. Therefore next couple days were spent creating ChemDraw schemes, making cartoon figures and in 3 hour meetings with my supervisor.

presentation slideAthene Donald wrote a great blog post about the pitfalls of conference presentations, with the key point being practice, practice, practice! I can only agree with her. I also got a handy tip from my supervisor to make sure it started well. he suggested that I learnt a script for the first couple slides of introduction so that I knew exactly what to say at the beginning and wouldn't stumble through incomprehensible mumbles.

Amazingly, it all went rather well. I knew what I wanted to say and said it. I spoke confidently and even managed to get a couple small laughs in, thankfully no tumbleweed moments. I handled some probing questions, avoiding anything too deep on the synthesis or too general on the reasons (applications are overrated). Shown above is one of my slides giving the (one day) infamous cartoon depiction of the cholera toxin protein, everyone knows that it's red right? In our lab, every protein has its own colour.

And relax

My talk was the last one of the day, a potentially awful slot if everyone is fed up by then and itching to get to the wine reception. But it was nice afterwards to not have to sit through any more pretending to listen whilst going over my notes. I had some great feedback from friends and academics and then got in to the bitching about some of the other talks.

Blue background and then blue data points on a graph, bad idea. Switching to a second presentation because you left out or forgot to talk about something, bad idea. Talking in a voice so deep you make the floor vibrate, bad idea (maybe I'm just jealous about not having a deep manly voice for this point).

I now know what to expect next time around and what to do better. I'll always remember this as a first effort and maybe with some feeling of nostalgia. The conference was followed by a ball in the evening that was also a memorable event, or not so for those of us overindulging in the free wine.

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