Presenting Talks and Posters
Summary of ECPN Webinar
Recording of ECPN Webinar Presenting Talks and Posters with Katie Sanderson and Ariel O'Connor; March 11, 2015.
In this Webinar, Katie Sanderson (Assistant Conservator of Photographs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art) advises on how to draft an abstract, a presentation, or poster, and tips for public speaking. Ariel O’Connor (Objects Conservator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum) then shares her tricks for creating visually engaging and effective PowerPoints. Their presentations are summarized below.
Writing an Abstract
Think of your abstract as a mission statement, which you can refer back to as you prepare your talk. An abstract should not be a summary of your paper, and should have a clear structure with an introduction to the question or problem; contextual information; project objectives; and a summary of results to be discussed (these may not be available at the time of writing).
Brevity is key; Sanderson recommends aiming for 300 words. Be sure to check the word limit for conference submissions and whether you will have an opportunity to edit before it is published.
In 2015, Suzanne Davis wrote a blogpost for ECPN titled "Tips for Writing and Submitting Your AIC Abstract." Although this post includes information specific to the submission process for the AIC Annual Meeting, it includes broadly applicable advice for writing an effective and clear abstract.
Preparing Your Presentation
First organize your thoughts in an outline; this can be developed into a full script later. Next, think about your audience and how to engage them: are they conservators, or the general public? If your talk is directed to fellow specialists, consider what they already know and what they may need a refresher on.
If you are including graphs or table, you will need to orient your audience to your selected format. Only include the most relevant data to support your point; this may be only a small selection of your collected data. Rather than presenting tables of numbers, which can be difficult for an audience to digest and recognize trends, consider visual ways to show your data. Sanderson recommends testing out several different ways to display data (pie chart, bar graph, line graph, etc.) before selecting a final format.
Creating an Effective PowerPoint
In the second half of the Webinar, O’Connor takes participants step-by-step through several tools and tricks for making your PowerPoint presentation stand out, including: managing and formatting images, embedding videos and using video screenshots, quick ways to create diagrams, and useful toolbars in PowerPoint. This portion of the Webinar begins at the 33 minute mark.
The ECPN Handout PowerPoint Presentation Checklist, prepared by O’Connor, adapted from notes by Dan Kushel and Jiuan Jiuan Chen, adds to the checklist provided in the Webinar of what to bring to the conference venue. ECPN Handout: PowerPoint Presentation Checklist prepared by Ariel O'Connor, adapted from notes by Dan Kushel and Jiuan Jiuan Chen, SUNY Buffalo
Practice, practice, practice! Read your paper aloud numerous times until it flows naturally, adjusting the language each time to reflect how you would normally speak. Presentations shouldn't be identical to your written papers; the sing-song cadence of reading a formal written paper be distracting. Present to friends or colleagues. You may even consider recording yourself (but Sanderson warns: don’t listen to the recording in the days immediately preceding your presentation!)
Structure is key to keeping your audience engaged. Think of your talk as a story; establish a cohesive narrative that flows well, rather than sticking to a strict chronology. Sanderson also recommends avoiding repetitive structure — that is, outlining what you are going to discuss, discussing it, and then summarizing what you just discussed.
Edit yourself. You should dig deep into your research to know your topic inside and out, but not all of this work will end up in your talk. Your talk should be just the tip of the iceberg; you want to encourage questions and leave some information for discussion the Q&A. It is good to think about possible questions in advance, but keep in mind that it is acceptable to say “I don't know…” and follow up with a reference or way to find the answer.
Sanderson has a lot of great, quick tips for conveying confidence and professionalism when you present; be sure to check out the Webinar at the 24:50 mark for this.
Designing a Poster
As with presentation slides, less is more — especially when it comes to text. Only the most essential information should be included in text blocks. If possible, use photographs to illustrate a point rather than text. A good poster includes nice images, a clear structure with section headings, and your contact information (you may consider including a photo of yourself).
Format the poster in a program you have worked in before, such as PowerPoint or a design software. Pay attention to formatting requirements for the conference, and be sure the size of your slide (in Powerpoint) or canvas (in Adobe) is set to the same size as your actual poster. Please see this post on "Poster by Powerpoint - show what you know" by T. Ashley McGrew for more tips on using PowerPoint to design your poster.
You may want to create a handout (e.g. a bookmark or pamphlet) with your contact information, or details from your poster people will want to take home with them. These can be held in a transparent sleeve hung below your poster if there isn’t a table at the venue.
Presentation Venues for ECP's
Below is a selection of venues that offer poster and oral presentation opportunities that may be suitable for emerging conservation professionals.
- Annual Meeting of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC)
- Triennial International Conference of the Institute for Conservation (ICON)
- Student Conference of the Association of North American Graduate Programs in Conservation
- Check to see if a nearby conservation or preservation association host opportunities to share research, for instance the "Three Ring Circus" held each year by the Washington Conservation Guild
The following venues with allied professionals are also recommended as a great way to expand your audience and professional network. Although these conferences are largely architecture-based, presentations and posters encompass a wide range of materials and may be relevant and informative for other specialties. Submissions from all conservation professionals are encouraged. See this blog post for more detail on each organization’s meetings and conferences.
- Association of Preservation Technology (national and regional chapter conferences): large association-wide conference bringing together architects, engineers, construction management firms, preservationists, planners, and conservators. Offers material-specific sessions as well as talks on the annual conference theme. The Student Scholarships Program fully funds student speakers to attend.
- Preservation Trades Network: tailored towards highly-skilled tradespeople who are educated in the practices of including stone carving, forging, gilding, and log house carpentry.
- National Trust for Historic Preservation: largely architecture-based but welcomes conservation contributions.
- Vernacular Architecture Forum: largely architecture-based but welcomes conservation contributions.
- Association of Gravestone Studies (national and regional conferences): contains a conservation component at the regional New York chapter meeting.
Advice for Undergraduate Researchers
For undergraduates with a special interest in conservation, it's never too early to get involved in research. There are a number of appropriate venues for undergraduates to gain experience presenting creative inquiries or research related to science, art history, or other conservation-related disciplines. Many universities have undergraduate research offices that can offer guidance to first time or emerging researchers. Undergraduate research offices have staff that can help students to identify research goals, get paired with appropriate mentors, and share potential funding or presentation opportunities. Even if your college or university does not have an office for undergraduate research, you can seek assistance from experienced researchers on your campus who will guide you to appropriate resources. Many schools host undergraduate research forums and symposia, which are ideal when presenting research for the first time. If you are interested in sharing your work with a more broad audience, consider seeking state, regional, or national research gatherings that invite undergraduate research presentations, for example the Emerging Researchers National Conference in STEM or the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students. Although both of these examples focus on STEM-related research (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), your mentors in conservation, art history, museology, or related disciplines could point you to other appropriate venues. Your school may also have an undergraduate fellowships office or an undergraduate fellowships officer who could point you to funding opportunities for research or other academic activities to help you advance towards a career in conservation.