Adapting a Paper for a Talk

There are two basic models for a conference presentation. The first has you read the paper you’ve submitted. On the second model, you will give your talk using a powerpoint presentation or a handout. Most disciplines use just one of these formats, but for some disciplines the format will vary across subfields or even conference venues, so you’ll want to determine well ahead of time which format is customary at the conference you’re attending. You should ask your professors or advisor as well as peers in your program for guidance about this. In either case you’ll want to practice giving your presentation so that it is polished and professional.

Reading a Paper

If the usual format for presentations at this conference is to deliver the paper by reading it aloud you will want to:


  • Write or finish the paper before attending the conference
  • Time yourself in a practice session (it should be slightly shorter than the given time limit)
  • The average reader takes 2 minutes to read aloud a double-spaced page in 12pt Times New Roman; so if you have 20 minutes to read, don’t write a  ten-page paper! Aim for 7 pages!
  • Annotate your paper, allowing for pauses, breaths, and stresses
  • Read your paper aloud again to evaluate how your annotations sound; adjust as needed
  • Practice with adjusted annotations at least once more
  • Be aware of page-breaks so you’re not mid-sentence when turning the page
  • Make sure your pages are numbered
  • Make sure your pages are in order
  • Print one-sided
  • Use larger, readable font double-spaced for your final printout
  • Look up! Make eye contact and connect with your audience while you’re reading
  • Speak in a clear, audible voice
  • Pay attention to the work of other members of your panel and try to acknowledge connection to their work in your talk
  • Speak more slowly than you think you need to!
  • Vary your tone; try not to put your audience to sleep
  • Project enthusiasm and interest in your paper


  • Use many block quotes!  If they’re absolutely essential to the structure of your paper, project them on a power point so your audience can follow along
  • Merely excise material from a longer work without reorienting it in the relevant and complete argument for the conference purpose
  • Just read!
  • Count on your session chair to time you–use a watch!
  • Read off of your computer! You are likely to lose your place and the laptop is a barrier between you and your audience. Print your paper, always.
  • Forget to breathe!

Other tips:

  • Have a backup plan for technology
  • Arrive at the room ahead of time and test your tech
  • Dress professionally but comfortably–try to wear something you have worn
  • If you plan to use visuals, indicate where you do so in your paper to cue yourself
  • You might want to highlight some passages you can leave out in case of time problems
  • try to be aware of any nervous habits such as touching hair, swaying from side to side, pacing too quickly, etc.



tips from UNC’s Writing Center