ECPN Webinar Follow-up: Presenting Talks and Posters

posted on behalf of Ariel O’Connor
Since I started graduate school in 2006, I’ve given 24 conservation-related PowerPoint presentations at conferences. Each time I give a talk, there are many things that go well, and many things I wish I had done differently. I’ve never walked away from a podium and thought “that was perfect!” but I’ve been proud of many presentations, and that’s usually because I had plenty of time to practice and make changes suggested by friends and colleagues who saw an early version of the talk. When things haven’t gone according to plan – which happens often – I usually know why. I didn’t do a full run-through of the script before the talk, so I went over time. I forgot to check the video link, so it didn’t work during the talk. I’ve lost my place reading a script. I’ve answered, “I don’t know,” to questions in the Q & A session. I stayed up all night finishing the talk and had too much coffee the day of. We’ve all been there, and it’s okay.
As my career progresses, I’ve noticed a shift. I don’t have the time I did in grad school to focus on one PowerPoint at a time, often now I have several to prepare at once. So they’re less elaborate than they were, but I’m getting more comfortable in front of an audience. I look up to the conservators who can comfortably and clearly speak about their work in public, and I constantly try to get better at it. But things still go wrong all the time! To me, the most important thing to take away from those experiences is to understand why they happened, so you can try and improve for the next time. For example, I’m a habitually last-minute PowerPointer, so I try to give myself an earlier deadline by arranging a run-through with colleagues in advance. Sometimes I can, sometimes I can’t. I also want to use more scripts that have simple bullet points instead of sentences, so I can speak without a full script and still stick to time. That’s a future goal of mine, but it’s going to take practice.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about preparing and delivering a good PowerPoint talk, and I keep trying to meet those goals. In the feedback from this ECPN Webinar, many students and conservators told me they enjoyed the tips for fancy effects and tricks, but really needed guidance for the basics. In response to this feedback, I put together a 3-page checklist for basic PowerPoint guidelines and stats. It’s compiled from the notes given to me by my former professor and digital guru from SUNY Buffalo, Dan Kushel, and Buffalo’s current Imaging and Technical Examination professor, Jiuan Jiuan Chen, along with a sprinkling of my own notes. With their assistance and permission, we’d like it to be available for anyone to download from the AIC Wiki. Follow this link to access and download the checklist: The first two pages of the handout are designed as a checklist for making the talk, so each step can be checked off as the presentation is created. The last page can be brought to the venue and used as a checklist for giving the talk.
Conservators are incredibly generous with their research and knowledge, and being comfortable presenting your work is an important part of our profession. I hope this checklist will help increase your comfort with presentations. Please share any comments and tips you use as well. Happy PowerPointing!
About the Author
Ariel O’Connor is currently an Objects Conservator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Prior to Air and Space, Ms. O’Connor was an Assistant Objects Conservator at the Walters Art Museum, Assistant Objects Conservator and Samuel H. Kress Fellow at the Harvard Art Museums, and Andrew W. Mellon Fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her research focuses on materials and technology in archaeological Asian art. Her archaeological fieldwork includes seasons at the Aphrodisias Excavations, Mugello Valley/Poggio Colla Archaeological Project, and Gordion Excavations Project. She holds an M.A. and C.A.S. in Art Conservation from Buffalo State College.