How to stand out from the crowd at conferences?

How do you get your work noticed? The fastest way is to present it at a relevant international conference. Academic success is based on good opinions of your peers.  The ranking system in the UK is based on the peer review process. The opinions of the your colleagues in the same field are important.

People will cite you in their publications if they know you and remember your research contribution. If they like you and your work they will cite you. You have to stand out from the crowd. Your work must be of high quality. Remember it takes years to build a reputation but only minutes to see it go up in flames. Make a big mistake in public everyone will know about it.

Why should you stand out at conferences?

  1. To build reputation and respect. If people respect you they will accept in their circles. It takes time to build a reputation.
  2. To get people to read your papers and cite them in their publications. This will raise your citations which is also a measure of academic quality.
  3. To get conference organisers to invite you to present at their next conference. Invited speakers don’t normally pay conference fees.
  4. To get people at the conference who may be oragnising conferences of their own to invite you. Getting invitations to present your work at international conferences is another measure of academic success and reputation.
  5. You want to stand out for the right reasons. Your high quality research work, new invention or ideas. You don’t want to stand out for any negative reasons. You don’t want to just show off.
  6. You increase your chances of getting a job offer increase if you stand out from the rest of your peers.

My friend and colleague Mark Jackson told me this story. I asked him “Mark how did you get a job in USA when most people struggle in moving to another country?” Mark replied, “I was invited to a conference in the USA and decided to go. Most of the delegates did not fly because it was just after 11th September and there was great fear of flying. There was hardly anyone form Europe at the conference. I stood out simply because I went. The American’s at the conference were so impressed at my commitment and offered me a job”

Mark due to his commitment stood out of the crowd and was offered a great job at Tennessee Technical University and then moved to Purdue Universities one of the power universities in the USA.

How to raise your profile?

  • Don’t just attend a conference. Make sure you present your paper. There are two modes of presentation. Posters or oral presentations. Always try to get an oral presentation. Ask the organisers if you can be first or second presenters in the morning or afternoon. You don’t want to be sandwiches in the middle if you can help it. However, it is not easy to get them to switch because they have organised the programme. But there is not hard in trying.
  • Make sure you have a central message for the audience.

“You can speak well if your tongue can deliver the message of your heart.” John Ford

  • Make sure the work you present is of high quality.
  • Make sure that your presentation is slick, organised and tells a compelling story. Make the powerpoint slides awesome. Follow the rules given in my previous post on giving excellent presentations.
  • Know your audience and present at a level that everyone can understand.
  • Have a strong opening and close with a bang. People remember the opening and close and forget the bits in the middle. This doesn’t mean you should neglect the middle part of the presentation. People will remember the middle if you make a big mistake.

“Let thy speech be better than silence, or be silent.” – Dionysius of Halicarnessus

  • You will also be listening to other speakers. Make sure you sit in a prominent position. Sit in the front row close to the speakers. Ask probing and intelligent questions in a friendly and encouraging manner. Never try to put people down. Always encourage, support and complement the good points.
  • Smile a lot and be friendly towards everyone regardless of the position or title.

“If you can, help others; if you cannot do that, at least do not harm them” – Dalal Lama

  • Get to know the session chairs and conference chairs. Offer to help in any way you can.
  • Volunteer to organise a session or a workshop next year.

However, if you don’t have something great to present at conference it is best to wait until you have a clear message about your research than to present poor work.

“It’s better to keep your mouth shut and give the impression that you’re stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.” – Rami Belson


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