Everyone has their own presentation horror story, whether they mispronounced a word, dropped their script, or had a projector stop working during a slideshow. My most recent public speaking hiccup was at my college’s literary festival and it was because I had not checked my materials ahead of time. When I flipped to the next page and saw a print-out of an artifact, maybe from a history or an archeology class but definitely not mine, I completely froze. And then I continued. And afterward, everyone still congratulated me and I knew that my paper was better for it. Regardless of its content and how (hopefully) amazing my ideas were, I felt better knowing that despite what felt like an epic mess-up of mega proportions to me, the audience of my friends, peers, and professors still understood what my paper was about and many were impressed that I continued past my mistake.

While public speaking was not my most favorite thing to do in high school, I would like to think I have gotten better with lots of practice and even more advice from others. Attending convention is an amazing opportunity and being able to share your work and discuss it with others is incredibly valuable. I hope that sharing what I have learned will not just help prevent mistakes in your future presentations, but truly help you feel confident and comfortable enough to finish proudly.

1. Prepare your materials and get comfortable using them.

Whether using a laptop, iPad, or a printed paper, make sure to go through your piece a few times. Become familiar with where a page ends and what information comes next. Do not be afraid to write notes to yourself! Only you will see it. If you are using an electronic device, save your documents offline and bring a portable charger. Prevent yourself from becoming even more nervous because your laptop died, so you have to use your phone or your iPad is unable to connect to internet, so you have to rely on a phone’s hotspot. Personally, I will always recommend multiple copies of a printed paper, single sided, without staples. You will have backups in case one gets lost or ruined and you will be able to easily flip through as you speak. It also looks professional. Presenting at conferences is a great way to make connections, both for your career and to have as friends!

2. Make your paper audience ready.

Writing a paper for a class and editing one for a conference are two totally different processes. When submitting an assignment, you know that your professor or classmate is familiar with the topic, the prompt that it follows, and the related terms and concepts in the course. When presenting at a conference, both locally and nationally, your audience members will all have different backgrounds as well as varying amounts of knowledge pertaining to your topic. In order to make your paper as universally comprehensible as possible, you will need to go through and define uncommon terms and explain more complicated ideas. Transitions are key! Make sure your arguments and evidence connect and are easy to follow. This will make a much more enjoyable experience for the audience as well as make you feel more confident in the topic you are sharing. (Reminder: If you are presenting a critical or creative work at the Sigma Tau Delta 2024 Convention, you must present exactly the version of your work that was submitted and accepted, but this is excellent advice for those still fine tuning a Roundtable presentation or a work for a different conference.)

3. Practice!

We have all heard it over and over again, but it works. Read your paper to your friends, professors, roommates, or even your pet. Ask them if there were parts where they were confused. Mark the words where you stumbled and see if you can work to make them feel smoother. Maybe even have your friends ask questions about your topic at the end! Anything that will make you feel more relaxed and prepared to share and discuss your paper in front of an audience.

4. Embrace imperfections.

Making mistakes is normal! No presentation or speech is ever going to be perfect, so be kind to yourself. Know when you are doing too much preparation. You wrote your paper, researched for it, and edited it; trust your work. And always push past any stumbles. Regardless of what might go wrong, you will be proud of yourself for finishing strong.

I know that reading this article and being given even more advice is not going to dissipate all of your nerves, but know that you have an incredibly supportive community around you. College is a time to learn and grow: conferences and literary festivals are simply opportunities for you to practice and improve. Your peers and professors want to see you succeed! If you have been invited to attend the 2024 Convention, know that Sigma Tau Delta is a supportive and encouraging academic community. I hope to see you in St. Louis!

Gabrielle Hardoin
Student Representative, Midwestern Region, 2023-2024
Alpha Delta Tau Chapter
University of Evansville, Evansville, IN