Conference 101: What Happens, What to Do, 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
(small groups meet to focus on topics).  

The image at right shows a typical day. Your presentation will be in one of the small breakout sessions.



What to Do

Conferences rely on three groups of people:

Stick Figures: Speaker, Moderator, Audience

The presenters,
the moderators, and
the all-important audience.

What you do is take on one of those roles, or maybe more than one, do it well, and enjoy the day.

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 it's quite likely you haven't encountered the term before. If you want to be sure what writing one entails in this context, visit Abstracts 101.)

How to Start . . . and Finish:

  • Think about the work you've done in your classes. What part is research (a new experiment; a new perspective; a new explanation, linkage, or comparison in any subject)?
  • Talk to the professor for that class. This person will be your advisor and can help you put together an "abstract" or summary of your work. In some classes, especially second-year biology and Honors Core, you may have done this already.
  • Go to the conference website or submission form. Adhere to the word limits and citation formats desired. Submit by the deadline. Ask your mentor or the Honors Program Chair (even if you're not an Honors Program student) if you have questions about the process.
  • Check your email often.
    • If you're accepted, congratulations! Tell your mentor and the Honors Program Office. We'll help you get ready for your presentation. RSVP to the conference by the required deadline. Copy your mentor and the Honors Program Office.
    • If you're asked to revise and resubmit, work with your mentor on the revisions. Make sure you adhere to deadlines and format while you address the issues raised by the conference committee.
    • If you're rejected, tell your mentor and the Honors Program Office. We'll help you get ready for next time. Don't be discouraged. Even excellent work is sometimes denied. Every conference has a different focus, different selection criteria, and different capacity. Do strongly consider attending the conference anyway and acting as a moderator or volunteer if that's available. It can give you insights that may prove valuable in future submissions.

You'll be told how much time you will have for your presentation, and the format for any Q&A period to follow. Rehearse your presentation so that you can finish within the allowable time.

On the day of the conference, share your research with enthusiasm. This isn't the place to read your paper; offer the main points. There is no obligation to use a PowerPoint or other presentation software. 


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.



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. What you may not realize is that it's also an important job.

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 . . . next year.