Preparing Your Conference Abstract
Read the Guidance
- Remember to submit in good time – you may need to wait until the last few days, but not an hour before the deadline! The best websites can crash at busy times.
- A structured abstract with the headings Purpose / Methods / Results / Conclusions helps both you and the Scientific Committee
- Stick to the word/ character limit – if it is longer, websites can delete any extra words or will not let you submit until it is shorter.
- You may have to submit the abstract while final data collection or analysis are still incomplete, but some actual results must be presented; it is not acceptable to say “results will be presented”. If final data collection is still in progress, you must produce sufficiently robust results in the abstract to stand alone and justify acceptance. It is risky to submit very early data. What if your final results and conclusions are different and you have already submitted the abstract?
- Conference presentations usually precede a journal submission, so data in a conference abstract may be slightly different from a final accepted paper, but the abstracts are often available online and published conference proceedings are a publication. In the case of the IOC, your paper can be submitted to a special edition of Strabismus (see Strabismus submission guidance link to the Strabismus document
Indicate in your covering letter to the journal that it was an IOC submission
- The Scientific Committee will judge the abstracts on the quality, validity, novelty and importance of the science you want to present, as well as the presentation of the abstract itself.
- Short, precise and attention-grabbing. Why should they read or listen to your work?
- All listed authors must agree and take joint responsibility for what is submitted. Usually the presenting person is first author, and except in exceptional circumstances, if you submit and get accepted, you will be expected to attend. Abstracts will be anonymised before judging for acceptance.
- Many online literature searches use words from titles and key words, so make sure you choose words that will help people find your work.
(all the above does not figure in the total word count)
Purpose /Introduction /Rationale
- What is the topic / problem / reason for the study? Why is it novel?
- Methodology e.g. audit; survey; RCT; qualitative; prospective/retrospective; sampling method
- Selection criteria. Participants defined. Equipment. Intervention / treatment.
- How were the data analysed? More detailed description of any novel analysis method.
- Numbers tested (and excluded if appropriate). Main results and findings.
- Statistical significance (p-values must be stated, although t, χ2 and F values and degrees of freedom can be left out here if lengthy). Remember to say the direction of significance (i.e. significantly more/less rather than just “significantly different”).
- Notable complications, unexpected findings
Conclusions / significance/ impact of the findings.
- The “take home message” – but it must be backed up by the data, not just your opinion. If your work has just shown more work needs to be done, say briefly what it should be.
- References are not required in an abstract
Preparing for your First Presentation at a Conference
This document some general advice if you are new or novice at presenting a paper at a big conference or meeting. It applies to most big conferences, and is not specific to the Liverpool Conference
You may have had experience of presenting work to peers and tutors at university, or you may have presented audits and case studies to colleagues, but a conference session can be a bit different and a lot more daunting. So here is a step-by-step guide:-
How Conferences Work
- Congratulations! Your abstract has been accepted, and someone has offered you an oral presentation in a session.
- At some point before the conference, you will get an email or directions to the website which will tell you the time of your presentation, the Powerpoint format you need to use, the length it must be, and give you the name of your moderator(s). STICK TO ANY INSTRUCTIONS EXACTLY.
- Many (usually the best) conferences will ask you to send your presentation a few days in advance so that the technicians can load them so they move on seamlessly during the session. But if you forget something after you have sent it, there is usually a way you can update it with any last minute changes before the actual presentation. You may have to report to a Speaker Ready Room to load or check it at a specific time. Small conferences may ask you to load your presentation on the PC Desktop for the session. Avoid using a memory sticks plugged into a new computer for the first time two minutes before your presentation – files may not open, or can look different on different machines.
- Use the Speaker Ready Room at a conference to check that everything has been loaded correctly. Do this well before your presentation. They usually have a technician on duty who can help you.
- It is vital to check that your presentation looks the same on the screens they want you to use. Fonts /graphics etc can shift around between versions of Powerpoint /Windows if things do not “embed” correctly. Don’t find out during your presentation!
- Always take a memory stick with a backup copy. In case of emergencies away from your base, and especially abroad, it is useful to email yourself a copy too, or instead.
- Turn up for your session a few minutes before it starts so you can meet the moderator and familiarise yourself with the podium, slide advance system, tricky steps, pointers etc.
- Make sure you know how to move slides forwards (and particularly backwards, if you move on too quickly, which can happen very easily). And make sure that you can get in and out of the slideshow mode if you need to. Sometimes you will have to rely on technicians to do this if anything goes wrong.
- The moderators’ job is to introduce the speakers, keep them to time and to direct the questions session. Two moderators usually share introductions and running the questions, and will often help each other spotting questions from the audience against bright stage lights. If there are no questions from the floor they will usually ask one themselves.
- The session may be a mixed one, with different topics, or a more targeted specialist one, where you are all speaking about the same field. If so, the moderators may be the real experts in that field.
- See how the microphone picks up other speakers’ speech before your talk. Some need you to stay close, so you will need to adjust them for your height and avoid moving away too far from it, for example if you turn to refer to the slide. Mobile microphones clipped to your clothes are easier to use.
- Some conferences have a very strict policy of what happens if you run over, and your moderator will help you stick to the rules. Some moderators pride themselves of sticking to time, while others will let you run over a little. Often there will be a countdown timer or “traffic light” system on the lectern, with amber when you are a couple of minutes from the end and a red when you reach it – with increasingly manic flashing as you go further over time. Some only have a red light at the end. In less formal meetings, the moderator might signal you need to stop. Occasionally, it has been known for the microphone to be switched off for a speaker who does not get the hint!
- If you run over time they may not allow any questions from your talk – but that is a bad thing and not to be aimed for.
- Some moderators or conferences do questions at the end of a session, so you may be invited back to the stage at the end with everyone else. However, this takes a bit of time for speakers to get organised, and there may not be time for every speaker to get a question. More usually, a couple of questions are allowed for each paper immediately after you have finished – so don’t run away too soon.
- If there are multiple questioners, usually the moderator decides who asks the question. The moderator will usually ask well-known questioners by name, so you may find yourself being questioned by a “big name” you might not have recognised before.
- When they say you have 4, 7 or 10 minutes to do the talk plus 2 minutes questions – THEY MEAN IT. You must keep to time, because every conference organiser tries to cram in as many papers into a session as possible and some of the audience may need to go to other things on time (go to parallel sessions / meetings).
- The shorter the slot you have, the more you need to practice.
- Rehearse out loud using the “rehearse timings” feature of the Slide Show menu of Powerpoint. Do it many times to make sure you are well within time and have a bit of spare time left for the odd ad lib or technology glitch.
- After rehearsing, don’t forget to make sure the little “use timings” box is unchecked when you exit the “Slide Show” tab – otherwise your presentation may automatically move onto the next slide before you want it to on the big day.
- You may have to make an effort to speak more slowly than seems comfortable – especially if many of the audience do not have English as a first language, so leave time.
- If you think you might run over time, preferably take out some slides, or know where you could skip quickly over some if necessary. Your conclusion is important, so don’t risk missing making the most of it because you wasted time on the introduction. This might happen if you try to ad lib with things you didn’t originally plan to say – so make sure you practice to others first.
- Finally, prepare for difficult questions. Ask a sceptic, or someone who doesn’t know the work well to think of some for you beforehand.
- If you go blank, or don’t know the answer to a question, say so, and say you will get back to them, or find them afterwards. “That’s a very interesting question – I’ll need to think about it/ talk to my colleagues/ or look back at the data” is a common delaying tactic. It’s also OK to refer to a more senior colleague in the audience if they will know the answer. Usually experts will know you are less experienced. They are not deliberately being nasty, but they may be the one person in the world able to ask that question and they may really want to know the answer.
Making your presentation look good
- Nearly all presentations are in Powerpoint. They will specify (or you need to ask) whether they want widescreen or standard page format.
- You may be able to use a branded template from your hospital or workplace. These can help, because they are usually professionally designed and so look good. Most are copyright, so you may not be able to change some things like colour or background. Check that they have not embedded auto-advance or point-by-point animations you don’t want.
- If they use a branded font, check that it embeds while saving (so it can be used on any computer).
- Think what makes a slide difficult to understand – then don’t do it. Make sure your words and the slide complement each other and don’t compete for the audience’s attention.
- It is better to put a few points per slide and move on, than a slide crammed full of text.
- We can all read, so don’t just read from your slides. This is a very tempting security blanket if you are new to presenting, but try to avoid it. Make the screen points short and sweet and make your spoken words more detailed.
- The audience will try to read or work out slides rather than look at you. So make it simple for them. Some expert speakers even put in blank slides when they want the audience to really pay attention to what they are saying because it make people look at the speaker, not the screen.
- Powerpoint can do lots of very clever things, but be selective. Easy to read fonts, simple layouts and non-busy slides are easiest to read. But don’t be boring either – Arial on a white background is rather dull.
- Animations for new points on a list (fading in or out, highlighting, appearing, flying in, dropping down etc) can look good – but can also be very distracting. If you want your audience to really think about points one-by-one in a specific order then introducing them one by one may be fine, but if you are just presenting a list such as generic exclusion criteria, then present the whole list, then perhaps summarise with your words e.g. “these were all the exclusion criteria, but essentially …..”.
- Remember to use high contrast background vs. text, in as large a font as possible. Some colours project completely differently than how they look on a screen, so make sure that even if the projector is poor, or the room dimming inadequate, your writing will still be visible. Red font can be tricky against some backgrounds.
- Try to avoid using the very bottom of the slides. Some projectors cut off the bottom a bit, but anyway, some of the audience will have a tall person in front of them and may not be able to see the bottom of any slide.
- If you use charts, remember to explain what the axes mean, and what the audience should be taking from the chart.
- Many people present very “busy” charts with lots of data. This is only acceptable if you are saying “this just shows the complexity of the data – don’t try to read it”, and is best avoided.
- If you do have to present a complex chart, highlight the bits you want people to concentrate on one-by-one using animated boxes, ovals or shading. Get someone to help with animations if you need to, because they can be tricky.
- Video clips /movie clips can be a nightmare, so probably avoid them if you are a novice – or really make sure they work before you do your talk. People who use Macs also sometimes get into trouble when the rest of the conference is using PCs. Good technicians should make everything work, but fellow professionals running a smaller session may not have the IT skills to sort out problems.
- You may be asked to use a mouse click, the keypad arrow keys or a dedicated clicker (often just with an advance button, a back button and a laser pointer). Make sure you know whether all or any will work.
- If you do plan to use a laser pointer – don’t count on it. The screen may be right above your head and pointing can be awkward or impossible – and you might be shaking! A better method of highlighting an item is to use the mouse pointer if there is one, or animated pointers/highlights within the presentation, activated by the normal “advance click”.
- Some “advance” buttons are very sensitive, or sticky, and there may be a slight delay between your click and the slide appearing – so check the slide you think you are talking about is really up there! Make sure you know how to go backwards through the presentation quickly if things go wrong.
- You may have a “Conclusion” slide, which will signal the end of the talk. If not, include a “thank you” slide so they know when to clap!
- Don’t forget to thank any collaborators, funders or supporters either up front, or on this slide. Most funders, hospitals and universities will have a logo which you can ask for and use. Most conferences ask for a mandatory Declaration of Interest slide at the beginning.