Saturday, 19 September 2009

Conferences and Presentations - autumn 2009

My life seems to be revolving around conferences and presentations at the moment, so I thought I’d share some ideas from the conference I’ve just attended, as well as look ahead to some events coming up soon.

Last weekend we had our IATEFL Poland conference, which I try to attend every year. It was a great event as usual, with some fantastic entertainment, great networking and inspiring presentations. My own presentation was a very simple affair – My Top Ten Grammar Structures. No methodology, no theory, no ESP, no course design, just me talking about my favourite bits of grammar. I was a bit apologetic about the title before the conference, especially when I saw all the sophisticated things that everyone else was going to be talking about. But I got a huge audience (the 200-seater lecture hall was full!) and they really seemed to appreciate the talk. And I got a huge ego boost!

So now I feel like a proper presenter, I’ll share my top 5 tips for presentations.

1. Get a clicker. In case you don’t know, a clicker is like a little remote control that enables you to control your PowerPoint presentation without having to keep dashing back to the computer. I did a series of presentations back in May, and for two of them I managed to borrow a clicker, but for the third I didn’t. It was like the difference between walking and flying. So I went to my local computer store last week and bought my own … well worth every penny. I’ll never present without it again.

2. Don’t rely on YouTube. I watched one presentation fall flat because the computers at the conference centre had the wrong version of Adobe FlashPlayer installed, which meant that the presenter’s chosen clip wouldn’t play. (She then spent the next 10 minutes trying to download Adobe Reader while the audience groaned, “it’s the wrong program! And you’re not allowed to download onto these computers anyway! And we don’t really care about the clip!”) Apparently, it happened in other presentations at the conference too. So if you’re planning to present at this year’s BESIG conference, which is in the same location, don’t say I didn’t warn you!

3. Don’t despair if there’s only one person in the audience. OK, it’s easy for me to say, with my audience of 200 (sorry for going on about it!), but I was really impressed by a presentation on English for Biotechnology by Tomasz Rączka from Warsaw University of Technology, where I was the only person (apart from three conference organisers) in the audience. Everyone else was at Raymond Murphy’s presentation in the main hall. If I’d had an audience of 1, I would have seriously considered giving up, but Mr Rączka just got on with it and did a great job. Very impressive. I learnt a lot about this interesting topic. The point is this: if you get a very small audience, it’s still worth giving your presentation.

4. If you want a big audience, keep it really practical. One of the keynote speakers (and I’m sorry for forgetting which one) said that some people attended conferences because they wanted WISDOM, but most attended because they wanted WICDOM, or “what I can do on Monday”. So theory is fine, long words will make you sound clever, but tips and tricks will fill the room with eager attendees.

5. Remember – presenting is a performing art. If you’re passionate about your topic, let it show. If you’re not, pretend you are. Also, practise, practise, practise – with an audience. The more times you do your presentation, the better it’ll be. You’ll also learn what gets a laugh and what falls flat. The most memorable presentation I saw at last weekend’s conference was Bethany Cagnol’s session on English for the Performing Arts. It was a great performance and a fascinating topic. The thing that had never occurred to me was that we perform all the time, and the techniques used by actors, opera singers and comedians are also incredibly useful in everyday situations.

Anyway, the next event on my conference calendar is the ESP conference on 26th September in Ulm. I’m disappointed not to be attending myself – it looks like an excellent event, with some really interesting sessions on a very wide range of topics. According to the website the conference is full, so I won’t say too much about it. But don’t forget there’s my interview with Paul East, one of the conference organisers, here on this blog. I’ll really have to try to go next year … but Ulm’s such a difficult place to get to!

Much easier to get to, at least for me in Warsaw, is this year’s BESIG conference, which this year for the first is being held in Poland, between the 20th and 22nd November. As I mentioned above, it’s in Poznań, in the same venue as last weekend’s IATEFL Poland conference. It’s a very nice venue, with great facilities, in a lovely city. The list of presentations also looks very impressive.

My own presentation will be a new one, Results-Focused ESP, which will use the context of English for Nursing to show how to help non-natives cope in high-stress professional situations even without an especially high level of English language skills. I haven’t written the presentation yet, but I’ve asked Virginia Allum to help me, so hopefully it’ll be OK! Virginia is one of the authors of Cambridge English for Nursing,  and she’s also a very experienced Registered Nurse, Lecturer, Nurse Facilitator and teacher of English for Nursing. So if anyone can help me, Virginia should be able to.

Also in November, I’m presenting the new legal English course, Introduction to International Legal English, at the 3rd International Legal English Conference in Warsaw on 14th November.  Matt Firth, one of the authors of that course book (and a founder of EULETA, the European Legal English Teachers’ Association) will also be presenting at that conference.

This week I also registered for next April's IATEFL conference in Harrogate.  I hope to do a similar talk to the one at BESIG, but this time with the support of Virginia Allum as my co-presenter. I've never co-presented at a conference before, but I'm looking forward to it. I'll be a lot happier talking about English for Nursing with a real nurse there to support me. Fingers crossed that my talk is accepted.

But before all that, in October I’m off to the Czech Republic and Slovakia for a 4-city tour to promote my ESP series, Cambridge English for … (Surely I don't need to remind you that the series is on proud display down the side of this blog?) I’m very much looking forward to that. I’ll take my clicker and hopefully, by the fourth presentation I’ll have got the timing right with my jokes.

Anyway, if you’re off to the Ulm conference this month, enjoy it. And I hope to see some of you in Poznań in November.


  1. Wicdom - Ha! New word for me. Love it!

  2. Yes, it's cool, isn't it. I think it came from George Pickering - most of the best jokes from conferences tend to come from him.
    Looking ahead to your presentation in Poznan, Vicki, I have a nasty feeling you'll get people wandering in halfway through. The earliest train from Warsaw gets in at 9.20, and the first flight arrives at 8.35. So with your plenary starting at 9, don't be surprised if the hall's a bit empty at the beginning!
    (I promise I'll be very quiet when I sneak in!)

  3. Good tip on Vicki's presentation - I will make sure to get there the day before, glad I hadn't made arrangements yet! Crap, time a ticking...

    Can't wait to meet - there'll be quite a few of us from BELTfree, we'll have to organize something like a bloggers and tweeters tea party!!

    You know, one of my now closest friends and fellow blogger had the situation you described above - re me being the one and only person attending - it was an excellent presentation and I never forgot it. And now we're friends, so... life sometimes throws you what it throws you ;-)

    Take care,

  4. Let me know if you need any help before or during your visit to Poland, Karenne (and any others planning to come to BESIG).

    A bloggers' party sounds good, although there's a danger we'll all end up interviewing each other for our blogs ...

    I really take my hat off to anyone who delivers a presentation to a tiny audience. I think I'd be a complete bag of nerves - much more scary than a hall full of teachers.

    What about you, Karenne? When are we going to see you up at the lectern with your clicker?

  5. Whoo, I know it's waaaay late :) However, I'm just now going through some of the old posts on your blog, and as I was one of those 200 people attending your presentation, I feel I need to comment. I really enjoyed it (well, I like grammar anyway). It was clear, straight to the point and with a lot of humour - and that last part is equally important as the content. IMHO even a very good presentation (in content) without any humour loses its charm and can't really keep attention of short-attention-span listeners (like me). So thanks a lot :) We actually met and talked at the hotel the day after :)
    I think the speaker who used WICDOM was George Pickering (with the Gorilla :) if you saw it :)
    All the best :)