New challenges for conference presenting: global pandemics and multiple languages

Andrea Aparicio-Castro, Social Statistics, University of Manchester, 2018 Cohort

Many PhD students have been presenting online at international conferences due to the current pandemic. I was one of them last December when I had the opportunity to participate as a speaker in the International Conference of the Latin American Population Association (ALAP, by its Spanish acronym). My presentation was about translating from five-year to one-year migrant data. More than the topic of my presentation, I would like to share how this conference was a different experience for me. The ALAP conference not only encapsulated the effects of presenting a subject in the middle of a pandemic but also raised new considerations for conference presenting.

Amongst the effects of the pandemic on presenting at a conference, I want to highlight two aspects. First, participating in an online conference may require doing the presentation at a non-usual time due to differences in time zones. In my case, my session started at 20:30 GTM and ended at 00:00 GTM the following day. Usually, I am fresh when presenting and my day focuses on preparing myself to perform well. This time, I had had a day of usual PhD work (meetings, teaching, etc.), which meant that I was already tired by evening. However, I had still to wait for my presentation session. One of my supervisors said that it sounded like having jetlag. Honestly, I felt like that. Despite my fatigue, I enjoyed showing my results to the audience and receiving their feedback, which always helps to advance in research.

As we have learned from teaching and online meetings this year, technical complications run rife in any online event. A colleague who was in Spain and I had difficulties to enter our room, which delayed around 15 minutes the entire session. Fortunately, the IT support of the event helped us. However, I cannot deny that this whole situation contributed to increasing my usual nerves before presenting.

Likewise, the current pandemic has made moving most of our academic work online, which means that conferences are more accessible now. Nonetheless, this also means that conferences become more international which brings additional challenges: presenting at a multilanguage conference and thinking about the audience more thoroughly. The ALAP conference has three official languages (English, Spanish and Portuguese). This aspect mainly affected the preparation of my slides, for which I had to consult my supervisors to make some decisions on the presentation. The main doubt was which language I should use. My supervisors recommended that I ask the organiser of my session about this to play on the safe side. Following my supervisors’ advice, I directed my query to the organiser and he asked me to speak in Spanish. He said it was highly likely that the audience of my session was going to be composed, mainly, of Spanish speakers. Considering this information, I decided on including an English translation in each slide for those who struggled with Spanish and due to the lack of knowing Portuguese. This last aspect, in turn, meant that I had less space to include content that I would have liked to incorporate.

Having a multilanguage audience also causes challenges in the session. Unexpectedly, there was a big share of Portuguese speakers. So, I had to slow down the pace of my speech. This caused me to have less time to extend my explanations. In the end, my presentation was positively appraised and I received good feedback. I am glad to have done this presentation, given that this conference was a vivid experience of how speakers should think about the audience more thoroughly in a pandemic context and I could assess my method to present.

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