Lessons from my first research conference

I’ve just got back from the final day of the NWCDTP postgraduate conference, ‘Creative Humanities: Thinking, Making and Meaning’ at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.

I’ve attended many conferences in my time, but up to now, only ever as a journalist, and never a truly academic conference such as this – so it has very much been a new experience for me, and one which given me a great deal to ponder.

Highlights

Of all the sessions I attended across the two-day event, the best was certainly Dr Margarida Dolan’s two hour workshop on public speaking. In what was an ‘Involving, Inspiring and Impacting’ session Margarida’s gave a very energetic (and often humorous) view on what it means to speak publicly, and the mistakes many people, even the professionals, often make. While I think many of us knew at least some of the theory Margarida covered, it was the ‘little insights’ that really made the talk stand out. Plus it goes without saying that Margarida is a really good speaker, and has a great way of keeping the audience engaged and smiling all the way through.

Lessons learnt

Taking the lessons from Margarida on board, and combining them with my own background in marketing and digital humanities, I spent much of my first research conference paying close attention not just to what speakers were saying, but how they were saying it, and importantly, why they were saying it (or weren’t saying it). All of which I hope to feed into my own academic endeavours in the future. These lessons include:

  • Make yourself known. Not many people spent much time actually introducing themselves, their background and what they are studying. Very few shared their contact details or university, and these things are absolutely crucial if you want to get noticed by other academics and researchers.
  • Consider your audience. The best talk from the conference were those that made an effort to engage the audience and make the subject matter accessible to those from other disciplines. The best presenters were those who made an effort to take their audience into consideration and ask themselves why they are presenting and what the actual purpose is in presenting to a non-specialist audience. i.e. ‘What is my research?’, ‘What have I found out?’ and ‘Why is it important?’
  • Be engaging. Speaking in public can be a daunting challenge, but it isn’t one you should shy away from – indeed, you should embrace it! Where possible, avoid reading directly from a sheet, and make sure your slideshow presentation fits with your message. Avoid long paragraphs of text and remember that anything you include on your slides will distract the audience from listening to you!

Networking

Aside from attending some really interesting lectures the other big ‘thing’ to take from the NWCDTP conference was the networking on offer. Having moved to Lancaster with no friends in the area, and certainly no academic colleagues, I left today feeling I had met a number of very interesting people who all share in a common passion for research in the arts and humanities. Not only are these people all taking a similar journey to my own, but they all have similar aspirations for the end. Meeting these people and finding out about their research made me feel only more passionate for my own, and keen to share my own interests with others.

I certainly look forward to attending – and hopefully presenting at – the next event.

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