Writing and editing a conference paper for oral presentation

Have you ever attended academic conferences where the occasional presenter’s droning voice or convoluted syntactic constructions have made paying attention a real challenge? Perhaps you have even witnessed the following scene: hearing that time is up, the frazzled presenter begins leafing through a stack of unread pages and attempts to condense the remaining material into a few hasty, final remarks. If this sounds familiar, you may have promised yourself never to imitate that person at the podium.

Here are some tips to help you keep that promise and write a talk that engages your audience and invites discussion:

  • First and foremost, read the paper aloud as you edit and make sure that the meaning of each point comes across clearly upon the first reading.
  • The best word order for oral delivery is generally not the same as with written texts. Reading aloud to yourself or others beforehand can help you decide which word order adds the most clarity and produces the best effect.
  • Pay special attention to the beginnings of paragraphs. Consider them signposts that help both you and the audience to follow the stages in your argument.
  • When preparing texts for oral presentation, you may find that repetition (something best avoided in published texts) can make your paper easier to follow and more engaging. Basic rhetorical devices such as anaphora (repeating a sequence of words at the beginnings of neighboring clauses) can help make your oral argument clearer and more effective.
  • Keep sentences relatively short and syntax fairly simple.
  • Bolding or underlining words or phrases can help improve your delivery. Practice reading your talk aloud and pay attention to spots where adding emphasis makes your meaning clearer.
  • Take time constraints seriously and edit your presentation down to a reasonable length. A 20-minute presentation should be approximately 8 or 9 double-spaced pages. Even if there is no time-keeper to cut you off, make sure to end on time as a courtesy to other presenters and a way to leave room for discussion.

If you use presentation software to map out your talking points, practice your delivery with the help of the tips listed above. Challenge yourself to make your talk every bit as informative, organized, and on-point as a well-written paper!


© Judith Robey, PhD, and Oxford Editing, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given Judith Robey, PhD, and Oxford Editing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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