Conferences Step By Step

1. You have written a paper that has a good idea in it that could be presented in a 10-page 15-minute format. You likely know it is good if a professor has said so.

2. You read enough in your field(s) to situate your work in ongoing ideas about your topic. You write up that idea in an abstract of 100-500 words depending on what is called for.

3. After carefully proofing your abstract. You save it in a Word file.

4. You seek out the conferences Calls for Papers that best fit with your idea. You select one. You determine how far you are willing to travel and how much you are willing to spend to advance your career. Think of it as a long-term investment.

5. Reading the particular Call for Papers carefully, you determine whether graduate students are allowed to present;  you determine whether it is a graduate student conference (sponsored and run by them) or a professional conference (sponsored and run by college or university faculty or other professional writing and research groups); you determine whether you have to join some other organization that sponsors the conference before you can present at it; you determine whether they offer any travel funding or other scholarship money to help graduate students attend.

6. You see whether NCSU has any money available to help you travel to and attend the conference.

7. You send a suitably formal email to the conference organizer(s) or chair/moderator of the session, depending on what contact they provide you. You attach the file copy of your abstract to it and send it off. Sometimes conferences will have a web form and you can upload or cut and paste your abstract into a web-form box and not have to attach a file as separate data.

8. You wait anxiously.

9. You receive an email back. If rejected, you consider other venues or seek help to revise the abstract.

10. If accepted, you arrange your travel and your accommodations. Most conference book one large or a group of smaller hotels, and those rooms go fast so book early whatever you can afford. If you can stay at the conference hotel, do, because it is where the action is and you feel part of the community of scholars.

11. You pay any conference registration fees demanded up front.

12. You expand the abstract into a 9-12 page (double-spaced) paper that presents your ideas as clearly and cogently as possible.

13. You rewrite the paper paying particular attention to what makes it readable aloud, and understandable by listeners. You may have to shorten sentences and clauses, and use more repetition and emphasis than in work designed for silent reading. Consider the most comfortable font size for your eyes, and using highlighters to mark any direct quotations and other textual evidence that may, in a pinch, be skipped while maintaining your argument intact.

14. You practice reading the paper aloud, timing it and cutting or expanding to fit the allotted 10-to-20 minute span for each paper in your session.

15. You save multiple file copies of the paper and the abstract (if you haven’t done so already). You might be asked by the conference to bring supporing materials like powerpoint or other media files to be projected, or handouts. Even if not asked, you might want to use these if they are beneficial to presenting your ideas. You might be asked to submit the paper to the moderator before the conference happens.

16. You pack a good range of clothes from more formal to business casual and casual (for when the work is done). A range will let you gauge what people are wearing and let you fit in best with any academic styles of the moment.

17. You travel to the conference city, then the venue, and register for the conference.

18. You get a swell folder with the schedule of panels, presenters, and other sessions, and some swag of indeterminate quality and quantity.

19. You find your name in the program. Then you go to where you will read your paper to see it and know what is coming before you have to read there. It might be a small classroom, it might be a large auditorium.

20. You wear your best combination of comfort and style on the day of your paper.

21. You go to your session early enough to not be late. You meet your moderator and fellow panelists.

22. You read your paper, watching for any time cues from the moderator, and making some good eye contact with your audience. You read slowly and clearly enough, and you project.

23. You receive questions anywhere from fascinating and helpful to utterly mystifying and maddening.

24. You answer them honestly, not lying about what you don’t know.

25. You smile, you are done. You receive thunderous applause.

26. You meet others who share your interests. You talk with them at lunch, coffee, or other events. You hang out and network with your new peers.

27. You may meet people who work for journals and presses and they ask you, “I liked your paper, what are you going to do with it now?”

28. You may be asked to expand it into an article manuscript and submit it for a journal to consider for publication.

29. You may not, but you will make valuable contacts.

30. You return to NCSU and regale others with your valuable conference experiences.

A Typical Email Invitaton to Submit Work to a Conference

A Typical Conference Website

An Actual Conference Paper

-- John Morillo