Shitty Conference Presentations

I’ve discovered two fundamental truths about conference presentations. First, 80% of them suck. People show up under-prepared. Second, because so many people delivery shitty presentations, it’s easy to stand out from the crowd and make a strong impression by preparing. A conference presentation is an excellent way to sell yourself and your scholarship.

Presentations aren’t papers. Alter the content of your arguments to better reflect the mode of engagement: LIVE PERFORMANCE. There are things you can do in a presentation that you can’t do textually. As Marshall McLuhan said, “The medium is the message.”

You might be a shitty presenter if you:

  • …read directly from your paper. It’s especially awful when people have a 25-page, highlighted manuscript in front of them.
  • …use PowerPoint when it isn’t absolutely necessary.
  • …don’t provide at LEAST 75% eye contact.
  • …don’t spend at least 70% of your time on the analysis section. I’ve seen many presenters run out of time before even reaching their analysis. Use presentations to sell YOUR ideas, not the people you cite in a theory review.
  • …go overtime.

Here are some recommendations that will make you king or queen of the conference panel:

  • Work with a full-sentence outline, not a full-length copy of your research report.
  • I rehearse presentations during my commute and can memorize a 10-minute presentation in two weeks—just by running it while I drive. These are YOUR IDEAS. If you can’t communicate those arguments without looking directly at a sheet of paper, you’re likely a shitty presenter.
  • Look at people in the eye when you present. Share moments with individual audience members.
  • You should be under-time not OVER it. As a rule of thumb, it’s better to leave people wanting more. If you’re given 12 minutes, speak for 10.
  • It’s better to go deep on a few arguments than hit the surface of several. Focus on 2-3 of your coolest, awe-inspiring claims.

Your goal is to use the presentation as a sales pitch. You’ve done your job if people leave the room wanting to read your entire paper.

You’re a hack if you think you must read directly from your paper because you spent so much time on word choice. That’s an absurd, self-important/deluded argument. You aren’t Shakespeare, honey. You’re just a shitty presenter using a weak argument to justify how much you suck at presenting. Who cares about your profound word choice if audience members are checked out and texting throughout your shitty presentation.


Spread the gospel.