There are lots of pro tips available around the internet for having a successful, enjoyable academic conference. My advisor suggests presenting at no more than two per year (since they can be a huge time and money sink between preparation and travel). He is also an advocate of the belt and suspenders approach for presentations. (He usually has full presentation notes written down so he can present even if he forgets how to speak English, and brings his computer and a jump drive and a paper copy of his Power Point.)
Once upon a time, when I went to an asphalt pavement conference with my dad at some point during the 1990s, there was a presenter whose Power Point presentation didn’t work, so he pulled out his overhead copy (as in, slides printed on clear plastic sheets of paper – then you shine a light bulb through them and voila! presentation). He was totally unphased by his now un-animated bingo slide, and his talk proceeded without a hitch. I was very impressed that he knew how to make transparencies (it’s a dying art, I tell you), but more so that he had over-prepared, so it’s something I do for all of my presentations.
Being over-prepared pays off more often than it doesn’t. For example, reading the conference booklet before you go (even if it’s on the flight out) will allow you to form an action plan. As I flipped through the 500-page Pop Culture Association conference booklet in San Antonio, I noticed a presentation on the Canadian Whites (comic books from WWII). I went to that presentation and now have lots of great things to show for it, including a full copy of Nelvana of the Northern Lights, a new research buddy, and an industry contact (rolled into one awesome person!). We became Facebook friends and now we’re planning on writing an article together. Good things abound!
If you’re over-prepared, you will also feel more comfortable with your talk, be able to make (or plan elaborate) jokes, anticipate questions, garner better audience participation (if that’s your bag), and generally have a happier, more pleasant conference. This applies for non-academic conferences, informal presentations, and teaching.
And this post is ready only four minutes past my self-imposed deadline.