How to Get a Speaking Slot | Academic Conference Edition

Whether it’s a keynote presentation, a session talk, or a panel discussion, getting a speaking slot at an academic conference equals hitting the researcher jackpot. Securing a speaker slot at a conference is not as easy as it seems; it requires proving yourself and your credentials.

You must have a compelling and unique message worth listening to and excellent speaking, engagement, and time-management skills. We’ll teach you how to personalize your topic and flow to increase your chances of having your proposal accepted for a speaking slot with five simple steps.

How to Get a Speaking Slot at an Academic Conference in 5 Steps

1. Choose a Conference Topic

First, you must make sense of the conference theme. The theme acts as a connector between the speakers and the main topics. Even if the conference’s theme doesn’t fit what you want to talk about, you can usually find a different angle to approach it in your presentation, so you should still consider submitting your call for papers (proposal paper).

Start jotting down any topics or ideas that come to mind; don’t filter any ideas; write them all down. If you have a hard time organizing your thoughts, ideas, or topics, consider drawing a mind map or using an organizing tool like Workflowy.

To get started thinking about an idea or conference topic, get inspired by some of the following:

  • Tell your researcher journey/experience and how you got to where you are now (recommended especially for newer speakers)
  • Talk about which tools you use or techniques you implement in your work
  • Brainstorm with colleagues over something you do at work
  • Get inspiration from what other people in the industry are talking about
  • Talk about what you learned recently
  • What methodology do you work in, and is it good for you?
  • What are you most frustrated about in the industry?
  • What do the experts discount? Are they right?
  • What failed in your previous experiments, and how did you learn from them?

Don’t be afraid to mix and match ideas and thoughts for a more engaging and creative talk or presentation.

2. Define Your Purpose, Audience, and Context

Next, ask yourself what the purpose of your talk will be. Is the purpose of your presentation to:

  • Teach
  • Inspire
  • Persuade
  • Inform
  • Entertain
  • Educate
  • All of the above?

Remember, your presentation can have multiple purposes, but the more you have, the harder it will be to communicate effectively.

Then, find out the conference audience demographics. Try creating a “persona” and form your presentation around that persona. Is the audience:

  • Experienced in your field or line of work/research?
  • New to your industry?
  • What methodology do they use for their work/research?

You can’t please everyone at a conference, so don’t write for everyone, write for your persona.

Finally, what’s the context of your talk?

  • Are you running a workshop?
  • Are you part of a panel?
  • Are you at a venue with no stage?
  • Are you a keynote speaker on a large stage?

The answer to all of these questions may not come at once but always think about the type of talk, city, audience, time of day, or conference venue you will be a part of, as this will influence your talk/presentation. Do your research to find quotes, references, or data to support your message.

3. Outline the Topic and Flow

Before writing a proposal, outline your entire talk to move ideas around and remove unnecessary parts. Start out by identifying a problem that your talk is solving for someone (your persona). For example, if you want to talk about your research journey, boil your idea down to the essence. Ask a question: is your persona lacking the correct skillset? And offer an answer: how did you overcome this problem?

Once you’ve boiled your idea down to the essence, write key takeaways or calls to action and ensure you answer the following questions:

  • What do you want people to do when they leave your talk?
  • What do you want them to take away from your talk?

Many conferences ask for three to four takeaways, so spend some time diving into the real purpose of your talk. A takeaway can be as simple as - “your persona will feel motivated to take on new challenges.”

4. Create the Proposal and Presentation

You know your talk’s purpose, audience, and context, and you have the outline and some key takeaways written down. You’re now ready to write your proposal. Remember to check the word count on the conference page (you have one!). Edit your proposal until only the main message and essence are left. Avoid fluff and spelling mistakes.

See more tips on how to edit your paper/proposal here. Make sure to wait at least a day before submitting your proposal so you can take a look at it with a pair of “fresh eyes” the following day. Ensure you tell the reader what your paper is about, why they should be interested, and why your paper should be accepted, and include all of the following:

  • Thesis
  • Identify how your paper fills a gap in the existing literature
  • Outline what you do in the paper
  • Point out your original contribution
  • Concluding sentence.

Pro tip: always keep a copy of all of your submissions. Consider making a separate folder for each submission with its respective conference information.

Once a conference accepts your proposal, it’s time to write the presentation. Always come back to the purpose, audience, and context as you write your presentation. Consider the following steps:

  • Create the presentation (start with the problem; offer a solution; give details from research, experience, or quotes; and have key takeaways)
  • Include slides that support and reinforce the presentation, not replace it (use high-quality photos, minimal text, and big font)
  • Practice your talk
  • Present
  • Leave room and time for questions (and come prepared for them). In the end, you have to feel good about your presentation. Write it like you speak, read through it multiple times, explain ideas and concepts well, and tell a relatable story. Remember to keep it Tweetable, as many attendees will most likely be present on Twitter.

5. Practice and Present

Always keep the presentation time limit in your mind, and stick to it! Practice reading your presentation aloud while timing yourself in front of a mirror. Seek out a friend or a few colleagues to practice in front of. As you prepare for your talk, keep in mind that reading from notes is better than reading from your paper.

Pro tip: to build your confidence before jumping on a larger stage, consider going to local meetups or other events at libraries or universities nearby that offer opportunities to present and speak. Practice speaking in front of diverse crowds

On the day of the conference, arrive early to get your bearings and to ensure that any audiovisual equipment you need is working correctly (you must be ready to present without it if it’s not ready).

Follow these steps for a put-together presentation:

  • Always stand when giving your presentation at the conference
  • Begin by stating your name and institution
  • Establish eye contact with your audience, and speak slowly and clearly
  • Explain the structure of your presentation
  • End with your contribution to your field or discipline
  • Finally, be polite (not defensive) when discussing and answering questions about your research.

See additional presentation tips in our presenting a research paper article.

Orvium Gets You Presentation-Ready

Orvium makes it easy for you to focus on your speaking skills and be ready to present on conference day. With our modern web platform, you have access to a community of researchers, publishers, and reviewers who can help you make sense of your publication and presentation needs.

You can even publish your call for papers directly to our network of researchers and increase your chances of getting accepted to speak at a conference! Find out more by checking out our communities. And don’t forget to take a look at our Full Guide to Planning an Academic Conference for more tips and tricks on presenting.

Want to know more? Check out our platform or follow us on Twitter.


Roberto Rabasco

+10 years’ experience working for Deutsche Telekom, Just Eat or Asos. Leading, designing and developing high-availability software solutions, he built his own software house in '16