Conferences 101: What Happens, What to Do, and How to Do it Well

What Happens

Conferences are almost always made up of a series of "sessions." Sessions are either "plenary" (everyone meets together) or "breakout" (small groups meet to focus on topics).  

The "Typical Conference Schedule" below shows a typical day:

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What to Do

Conferences rely on three groups of people: The presenters, the volunteers, and the all-important audience. What you do is take on one of those roles, or maybe more than one.


How to Do It Well

To  become a presenter, you submit an "abstract" of your research. (Writing an abstract is a valuable skill; Honors English Composition and Humanities courses cover it, and many Saddleback courses with research components cover it too, but if you haven't encountered the term before -- or want to be sure what writing one entails in this context -- read Abstracts 101.)

Not all conferences are the same, but the flowchart below shows a typical application process:

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Some students will be giving oral presentations, and others will be presenting via a poster in a poster session. The three brief videos below (each under three minutes) will give you an idea of how best to do this. Presenters will also have a chance to rehearse their presentations with Saddleback faculty.

This first video covers all possible cases: oral and poster presentations, individual and group presentations, and presentation of research at various states of completion. It was created for the IVC/SC Student Research Symposium, but the information will be helpful to all of them:


The video below at left shows a portion of an oral presentation at the 2013 HTCC Building Bridges Conference. At right is a portion of a poster presentation at the same conference. (Thanks to Prof. Joseph Holliday at El Camino College for filming these and narrating the introductions.)


Volunteers: Two of our conferences -- the IVC/SC Student Research Symposium and the HTCC Building Bridges Conference -- accept student volunteers. Most volunteers are involved in what is the best experience-building job: "moderating" a breakout session.

"Moderating" doesn't mean you have to keep the peace between competing researchers. It means, at bottom, that you have to "herd the cats": Introduce the presenters, watch the time for them, call on people at Q&A time, and signal other volunteers for help if needed (non-working computer, locked room, etc.) and -- probably most important -- smile reassuringly at nervous presenters.

The brief video below (1:45) shows you the process. The last slide shows you where you can find hardcopy directions. The Saddleback URL provides signup directions to November's IVC-SC Student Research Symposium; the HTCCA URL, is for the Building Bridges conference in March. The duties are almost the same, but the conferences do start and end at different times!  



Audience: You get the easiest job, and it's a very enjoyable one. You'll also find it rewarding, although in different ways than volunteering and presenting are.

You get to find out what people at other schools and in other classrooms are doing in subjects you find interesting. You get to learn what to do in your own future presentations. (Sometimes you get to learn what to avoid doing in a presentation.) You get to let the presenters know that what they did was worth doing and worth sharing.

How do you do this job well? Be on time. Don't leave between presentations once a breakout has started. Smile. Ask questions. Applaud. Be the person you would want to see in your audience . . . maybe next year.