How to Be a Good Conference Presentation Attendee

Rachel Fishman – ENG-PWR ’15

After attending the Association for Business Communication conference in Philadelphia last week, I learned a bit more about the ins-and-outs of conference etiquette, especially in attending presentations. Not unlike in the classroom, the speaker has a message that they’re trying to get across, and they rely on you to engage with that message. One of my favorite things about Elon is that classes are small and allow for students to have a high level of interactivity in the classroom. In the conference presentations that I went to, the number of attendees was around the same size as a typical Elon-sized class. So what’s different?

Depending on the presentation, the attendees can either be encouraged to (and expected to) ask questions, challenge claims, and draw additional conclusions, OR they can merely be listeners, there to merely absorb and retain. The former is definitely more of what I am used to and enjoy, and I think it makes the experience more fun, more meaningful, and more of a learning opportunity for both the presenters and the attendees.

Many presenters at the conference discussed issues and ideas from a pedagogical perspective, as the conference’s attendees were primarily business communication professors. Some talked about the integration of emerging technologies, while others discussed diversity in the classrooms. Topics in conferences, even when situated under the same umbrella, can vary greatly. Therefore, the first step in being a good conference attendees lies in picking the right presentation among the options at a particular time.

What is the “right” presentation? Well, it can be about a topic you have a distinct personal interest in (for me, I was sure to not miss the rhetoric of non-profit organizations panel). Or, it can be something you know nothing about, like online essay grading software. Regardless, it will be a better experience if you intentionally choose something that you have, or could have, interest in.

Okay, so now I’m sitting in the room among a bunch of probably really knowledgeable professionals. What do I do now? You listen. You have eye contact. You take notes. Working to seem engaged makes you engaged by default, so do whatever you need.

In the case of most presentations we attended, there was not room for questions until the end of a panel, which could be around 30 minutes into the session. Write down your questions! If you’re like me, in the classroom it’s easier to interject when you have something to say. But in a conference presentation, you might not know the question-asking protocol. If you record your question, you can ask it at the end if they have time set aside, or you can approach presenters afterwards.

Try to come up with questions if ones don’t immediately flood your mind. From the presenter’s motivation to engage in this topic to an inquiry about a point they made that you didn’t understand, any question is a way for you to learn more and a compliment to the presenter that you’re interested enough to ask. I was hesitant to go up to presenters afterwards to clarify points, or even just to express my appreciation. But that is what really counts! Make a point to introduce yourself, even if you just feel like the student in the room and assume you aren’t as relevant. You are.

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One Comment

  1. Posted November 1, 2014 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    These seem like such basic tips, and yet I get the feeling that there are plenty of people who do not take heed. Which I do not understand. Either way, as a person who will be attending conferences in the spring, I definitely appreciate these. Particularly since I have not attended a conference before, and the classroom connection you drew is reassuring to me.