ICLS 2014 logo11th

International Conference of the Learning Sciences

Boulder, Colorado, USAJune 23-27, 2014

Preparing Your Presentation and Networking at ICLS

Basic Guidelines: Times for Talks

The rule of thumb is to divide the number of presentations with the available time and allow time for discussion.

If you are in a full paper session that lasts 90 minutes, with 3 presentations scheduled, then each presenter has 30 minutes maximum from the time the last presenter steps down until the time the next one takes the floor. In this case, we would suggest that you plan a presentation for 15-20 minutes so that you can allow 10 minutes for discussing your presentation with the audience.

If you are in a reports and reflections session that lasts 90 minutes, with 5 presentations scheduled, then each presenter has 18 minutes maximum from the time the last presenter steps down until the time the next one takes the floor. In this case, we would suggest that you plan a presentation for 12-15 minutes so that you can allow 3-6 minutes for discussing your presentation with the audience.

Basic Guidelines: Poster Dimensions

The posters should be no smaller than A2 (23.4 x 16.5 in) and no larger than 48 x 36 in (this can accommodate A0 or ANSI E size). Materials will be available onsite for mounting posters.

Basic Guidelines: Audio / Visual in Meeting Rooms

Each room will be equipped with an LCD project and screen. Presenters are responsible for bringing any adapters needed to connect their laptops, as well as portable speakers if audio is needed for the presentation.

Preparing Your Talk

As you're organizing your schedule (http://www.isls.org/icls2014/Program.htm) you may also be preparing your talk. Whether this is your first, fifth, or 11th time presenting at ICLS (this one goes to 11!), it can help to review tips for developing academic presentations. Lots of advice on developing an academic talk is available online; here are links to two sites that are particularly detailed and possibly quite useful for many.

We are grateful to Jenna McWilliams of Indiana University for assembling the advice we’ve adapted here for ICLS. Good luck with developing your presentations! We look forward to seeing you in Boulder soon!

Geoff Pullum offers five "golden rules" for giving academic presentations; these rules are elaborated at http://people.ucsc.edu/~pullum/goldenrules.html and are summarized below:

  1. Don't ever begin with an apology. "Everyone has seen speakers beginning a presentation by apologizing for how unworthy they are, how little of their work is really conclusive, how they hope people will forgive them and so on. No one has ever seen a case in which this improved the reception of the paper or the mood of the audience."
  2. Don't ever underestimate the audience's intelligence. "There are many worse things than a difficult and demanding lecture, and a patronizing and superficial lecture is one of them."
  3. Respect the time limits. "It is sad to be cut off when you are just about to make your major point. Or even a minor one. Plan your time, and don't let it happen."
  4. Don't survey the whole damn field. "Assume a reasonable amount of background, and then present something that can be delivered in a reasonable amount of time."
  5. Remember that you're an advocate, not the defendant. "This isn't about you (that's why you shouldn't begin with an apology: that's about how you feel). It's the ideas that are going to get scrutiny. If those ideas don't survive after today, too bad for them. You can't work miracles. But for today, you're there to do as fair a job as you can for them during their twenty minutes in the spotlight. "

Over at getalifephd, the author offers five tips for giving "a fabulous academic presentation." Those tips are accompanied by some helpful and specific strategies; these are included below and can also be viewed at http://getalifephd.blogspot.com/2011/04/how-to-give-fabulous-academic.html.

Tip #1: Use PowerPoint Judiciously
These days, most good presentations make some use of visuals. The extent to which you should use visuals will vary a lot depending on your field. Nevertheless, there are a few basic things you should know if you will be using PowerPoint or another method of showing visuals.

  • Never use less than 24 point font. If you use smaller font, people will not be able to see your information and you will have too much information on the slide.
  • Use bullet points. PowerPoint slides do not need full sentences, and should never have a paragraph full of information.
  • Use images effectively. You should have as little text as possible on the slide. One way to accomplish this is to have images on each slide, accompanied by a small amount of text.
  • Never put your presentation on the slides and read from the slides.
  • Do not have too many slides. Definitely do not have more than one slide per minute of presentation.

Tip #2: There is a formula to academic presentations. Use it.
Once you have become an expert at giving fabulous presentations, you can deviate from the formula. However, if you are a newbie, you need to follow the formula. Again, this will vary by the field. However, I will give an example from my field – sociology – to give you an idea as to what the format should look like.

  • Introduction/Overview/Hook
  • Theoretical Framework/Research Question
  • Methodology/Case Selection
  • Background/Literature Review
  • Discussion of Data/Results
  • Analysis
  • Conclusion

Tip #3: The audience wants to hear about your research. Tell them.
One of the most common mistakes I see in people giving presentations is that they present only information I already know. This usually happens when they spend nearly all of the presentation going over the existing literature and giving background information on their particular case. You need only to discuss the literature with which you are directly engaging and contributing. Your background information should only include what is absolutely necessary. If you are giving a 15-minute presentation, by the 6th minute, you need to be discussing your data or case study.

Tip #4: Practice. Practice. Practice.
You need to practice your presentation in full before you deliver it. You might feel silly delivering your presentation to your cat or your toddler, but you need to do it and do it again. You need to practice to ensure that your presentation fits within the time parameters. Practicing also makes it flow better. You can’t practice too many times.

Tip #5: Keep To Your Time Limit
If you have ten minutes to present, prepare ten minutes of material. No more. Even if you only have seven minutes, you need to finish within the allotted time. If you will be reading, a general rule of thumb is two minutes per typed, double-spaced page. For a fifteen minute talk, you should have no more than 7 double-spaced pages of material.


If you are new to ICLS, it can feel overwhelming in lots of ways. Too many learning scientists in the same place, too many interesting sessions at the same time, and NOW people are telling you that you're supposed to be networking for goodness' sake.

Fortunately, this email contains advice on how to network at academic conferences.

  • The first set of tips comes from the Guardian. Jeannie Holstein, a doctoral researcher at Nottingham Business School, suggests that you treat conferences like military operations and meet people you haven't already gotten to know. See Holstein's five tips here: http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2013/sep/26/academic-conference-five-tips-research.
  • Over at Scientific American, Pete Etchells offers tips for Ph.D. students on how to pick a conference and what to do when you get there. It's worth a read for his advice on "the dark art of the 'Nametag Glance," which comes complete with helpful visual aids. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2012/06/29/the-phds-guide-to-academic-conferences
  • You need an elevator pitch. Do you have your elevator pitch? Imagine you're standing there, minding your own business as you wait for the elevator, and Dr. Famous Academic whose work you've been reading for ALMOST THREE YEARS NOW walks up next to you. Dr. Academic says, out of the blue, "tell me about your work." What do you say? WHAT DO YOU SAY?

For help developing your elevator pitch, go here: https://www.kosmosonline.org/2012/07/19/so-what-do-you-work-on-the-academic-elevator-pitch/
And here: http://protoscholar.com/2007/10/30/the-academic-elevator-pitch/
And here: https://graduateschool.nd.edu/assets/32665/elevator_pitch_presentation.pdf