The Five Presentations at Every Conference Session

Can ratpag go off-topic for a minute? We just returned from the Intelligent Transport Systems World Congress in Detroit. You might have heard about it from the various press releases from GM and Ford about automated driving or the impossibility thereof. Or maybe you just love classic Motown and have a weird obsession with automated people movers.

Detroit’s lovely people mover is a subject for another day. Today, ratpag will talk about the five types of presentations – with interspersed tips – you see at every session at every international conference you will ever attend in your entire life.

1.  The good one. This talk is by an actual researcher with either a somewhat innovative or at least well-executed project. It’s either incremental and sound, or original with some shortcomings, but never neither. If this person goes first, feel free to leave early because there will never be two of these in the same session.

You have to command your audience.

You have to captivate your audience.

2.  The non-English speaker. ratpag can’t imagine how hard it must be to grow up in a land where everyone understood you perfectly, yet in order to achieve any real recognition for your work, you must travel across an ocean and speak and write in a language that shares neither your grammar, syntax, nor alphabet. That aside, it is really hard to sit through a talk when the speaker seems to have learned the language on the plane ride over. Just try to get what you can from the slides—which you’d think would be helpful but are mostly just pictures—then prepare yourself for the Q and A, where the original question must be revised over and over again until it is understood by both parties, and of course by this point becomes a yes/no question that benefits no one.

3.  The first year grad student. Hoo boy, ratpag remembers these days.  This one is in way over his head. He’s visibly nervous, has dry mouth, and really has to pee (one of those shouldn’t be possible).  He prepared a presentation to go along with his slides but, instead, reads each slide word-for-word.  Then he realizes he shouldn’t just read each slide word-for-word but that makes him even more nervous because he thinks everyone is listening and judging.  Only half are judging.  The other half have long-since tuned out.  He then speeds up his already double-speed presentation by reading some of the words on the slide and then skipping the rest.  He finishes, asks if there are any questions (there are not), and sits down.


Don’t be afraid to pretend that you’re playing a part.

4.  The shameless self-promoter.  ratpag feels this title is self-explanatory and ratpag wants it known that ratpag is disgusted by these types of presenters.  Look – ratpag didn’t pay it’s hard-earned money to fly take the train to wherever this two-days-too-long conference is to hear you, the shameless self-promoter, talk about whatever it is that you’re trying to patent.  The shameless self-promoter will spend much of his time discussing how his past research may have been considered by some real company or talk about all his big-time publications but, come on, stick to the topic at hand so ratpag can get the hell out of here and use our free Uber credits to get drunk at Wayne State.

Do whatever it takes to captivate your audience.

Do whatever it takes make your presentation memorable.

5.  The total disaster.  Oh boy, ratpag’s been here, too.  Ever been asked to do something like 8 months in advance and think “I’ve got time.”  Ever get drunk the night before a big presentation and sleep on the floor in your suit, which you spilled lo mein on?  Combine those and throw in a no-cover-charge (bad sign) strip club and you have ratpag’s presentation preparation technique.  The total disaster is fun to witness and one could probably make some kind of drinking game out of his misery to prolong the fun.


  • For each missing slide, take a sip from you drink
  • For each equipment malfunction (broken laser pointer, projector screen bulb out), take one shot
  • For every 30 seconds that he searches for his presentation file, take a sip
  • For each audible profanity during set-up or presentation, take 3 sips
  • For every minute he goes over the set time limit, take 2 sips
  • For every minute he’s under set time limit, take 3 sips
  • For each question he’s asked following presentation, chug beer

This is making ratpag excited for the next conference.  See you at TRB in January!

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