Common Formats for Conference Presentations

The two most common formats for the presentation of research findings at conferences are:

Oral Presentations

Depending on to whom you speak some individuals will tell you that oral presentations are preferable compared to poster presentations. Some people feel that oral presentations are more prestigious and offer more cache than do poster presentations.

Oral presentations are generally short talks or panel discussions delivered by one or more individuals to a room of interested meeting attendees. Depending on the meeting, the speaker(s) may read a prepared speech or the speaker may more informally discuss his/her work using visual aids such as a PowerPoint presentation using a laptop computer. A very brief time is allotted for individual oral presentations. An oral presentation is typically between 15 and 30-minutes in duration. Consequently, the presentation must be clearly and succinctly presented and there will be little if any time for questions from the audience.

There are two types of oral presentations:

At some meetings oral presentations may be taped and available for purchase by meeting attendees. At many meetings, taping and/or photographs at oral presentations may be forbidden.

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Individual Oral Presentations

Contributed Anyone who submits a proposal or meeting abstract is potentially eligible to deliver a contributed talk. "Contributed" simply means that you as a conferee submitted your paper for consideration of presentation as versus "invited" which means the meeting organizers or symposium organizer invited you to speak. At some conferences, contributed talks are of shorter duration than invited talks but generally there are no substantive differences otherwise.

Invited In some sessions often referred to as symposia, organizers invite experts in a specific area to share their recent work. These presentations are called invited talks. Invited talks may be given slightly longer time periods than contributed talks. Invited speakers must also submit proposals or meeting abstracts.

Depending on the specific meeting, the organizers may or may not offer invited speakers benefits that contributed speakers may not receive. At some conferences, invited speakers may be offered free or reduced registration, lodging, travel, and even a small honorarium. However, an invited to be an invited speaker may come with none of these perks. If you are "invited" don't make assumptions - ask the organizer what, if any, services the conference is providing to invited speakers. At some conferences simply being invited is considered to be a significant honor.

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Panel Discussion

Presentations may be made by individuals or by panels. In panel discussions, two or speakers presenting different perspectives or different aspects of the presentation topic will sequentially summarize their work and relate it to that of the other panelists. Once all of the speakers have made their presentations there is generally an open discussion of the papers.

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Poster Presentations

Poster sessions offer meeting organizers the opportunity to offer large numbers of meeting attendees the opportunity to present their work. Poster presenters are usually provided a significant amount of space (3' x 4' or more) on which to display a visually attractive poster summarizing their research project. Generally, poster presenters have the opportunity to share their work over an extended period of time often an hour or more. At some meetings, the poster may be displayed for an entire day! This allows the poster presenter to describe and discuss their research in greater detail than would be possible in an oral presentation to significantly more people. In my opinion, posters are in no way inferior to oral presentations and may in fact be far more useful.

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