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For many grad students, presenting at a convention triggers immediate anxiety. Some find putting together a poster or session proposal daunting while others think the public speaking is nerve-wracking.

But there's hope-following some simple tips can lead to a good program, from the seeds of a proposal to the applause at the end of a finished presentation.


Stu Tentoni, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, says more psychology graduate students should submit proposals for APA's Annual Convention and other conferences and has tried to dispel myths about preparing program proposals through his own recent convention presentations.

Tentoni says the first step to developing a viable presentation is to look at previous years' convention programs. "See what kinds of programs are not being done," he notes.

Moreover, would-be presenters can find topics "just about anywhere-on television talk shows, in news magazines, professional journals or in discussions between you and your colleagues," he says.

"Almost anything that has ever been questioned or has raised personal concern during your graduate studies would be fair game," he adds.

Tentoni advises students to come up with six relevant ideas. When writing a proposal based on an idea, he says, stick to one or two primary themes. Then, he adds, give the proposal a good title that will convey the proposal's content and, hopefully, catch a reviewer's eye.

"The biggest error made in program proposals is having a title and content that reviewers feel do not match," he says. Also key for APA's Annual Convention, Tentoni says, is submitting your proposal to the APA division-or the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students (APAGS)-that fits your subject matter best. Note on your proposal if the presentation warrants co-sponsorship by more than one division, Tentoni adds.



Once your presentation is accepted and written, most of the hard work is done-except, of course, for actually presenting the talk.

"People sometimes get themselves worked up into a lather when it comes to public speaking," says Cindy De Vaney Olvey, a clinical psychology doctoral student at Argosy University/Phoenix and a member of the 2004 APAGS Convention Committee.

Even for super-confident speakers, presenting research in front of seasoned members of the field can be cause for jitters. But there are some surefire ways to calm a case of nerves, as well as ensure a good presentation:

  • Know your audience. One of the most common mistakes presenters make, says Olvey, is not understanding who the audience is and what they expect to gain from the presentation. "People are investing their time and hope to get a return on that investment," she says.

In general, attendees want an engaging presentation that gives practical information or an interesting new perspective. With APAGS programming, she notes, the primary attendees will be graduate students and new professionals. At other sessions, the audience can vary from new professionals to seasoned psychologists.

  • Talk to your audience. Don't read your notes word-for-word-sound natural and try to give your presentation a little spice, says Olvey, such as by tying your comments to a current event or using an interesting quote.

  • Practice. Even experienced presenters need to be prepared-and that means not only having a script or logical notes, but actually rehearsing the presentation alone and in front of an audience. Fellow graduate students or even friends and family can be helpful critics. Olvey, a former speechwriter, says that professional speechwriters use this rule of thumb: every minute of a speech requires an hour of preparation.

  • Use handouts and visual aids. But make sure they are clear and simple. And, Olvey notes, don't rely on the visuals too much-just reading from a PowerPoint screen, for example, may not keep attendees engaged.

  • Reframe your fear of public speaking. Olvey recommends to nervous presenters: "Think of it as a feeling of excitement and opportunity to share your message with others. Enjoy the experience!"

The deadline for program proposals for the 2005 APA Annual Convention in Washington, DC, is December 3, 2004. 

Preparation and practice are two key ingredients for a good presentation—at APA's 2005 Annual Convention in Washington, D.C., or any other conference.