Presenting at conferences: a few guidelines

ADI Breakfast mtg group_ADI2012The theme of this blog has developed after a request on Facebook about how to become a speaker at conferences such as the joint Alzheimer’s Australia and  Alzheimer’s Disease International conference 2015. The image is of a group of us at ADI2012 in London.

The process is moderately complicated, although we are actively working each year with them to make it more dementia friendly, and for this years conference, people with dementia were able to send a word document of their abstract, rather than having to navigate the very complicated online abstract process. Curiously, this year, I was one of the reviewers of the abstracts, and found that process far easier than sending my abstracts via their system, which of course I will feed back to them!

So, you might ask… what is an Abstract for a conference?

What is an abstract?

An abstract is a brief overview, not an evaluative summary of a longer piece of writing or presentation. Different kinds of abstracts contain different information. Social science and scientific abstracts contain a statement of the research problem or purpose, a statement about current approaches and a gap in the literature (for theses, but not always journal articles), a statement of the method and methodology and a summary of the findings and the conclusions. Humanities abstracts contain a description of the problem, a statement of current approaches and the gap in the literature (for theses and exegeses, but not always journal articles), the main position or ‘argument’ and an overview of the contents.

The abstract style for conferences that attract people with dementia  is a summary of about 300 words, of what the oral presentation will offer to the audience. It is not a scientific abstract, requiring methodology or research of any kind, but a precise of the topic we want to present on, in line with the conference themes, which you can see here for this years ADI conference.

How to write an abstract

  • Abstracts are usually written after the longer paper is completed, but it is often useful to start putting the elements together earlier on. This is because the abstract can help you to ‘map’ the overall presentation and check that the key steps in the story line hold together.
  • The first step in abstract writing is to re-read the longer presentation, perhaps highlighting the relevant information.
  • Next write a sentence or two, or a short paragraph  for each of the key ideas you want to discuss in your presentation.
  • Check that each sentence or short paragraph summarises the key points and does not leave anything important out.
  • Then put the sentences together and work towards a unified abstract in which the elements flow naturally from one to the other. Pay particular attention to key words and transitions to ensure the ideas flow from sentence to sentence.
  • The last step is to edit the abstract and to check that it fits within the word limit.

Cut off date for abstract submissions

There is always a cut off date for the acceptance of abstracts, so be sure to find out what that is, and mark it on your calendar. It takes me much longer than it used to to write anything, so ensure you allow enough time too be able to submit on time.

The waiting game

So, once you have submitted an abstract, either via their online submission process or by email you then have to indulge in the waiting game to see if it is accepted. That means you cannot make any plans to travel or register, unless you want to go to the conference regardless of if you present.

Personally, I find attending conferences is helpful to increase my knowledge, too network with others, l and to make friends. They also, often, frustrate me as I come away thinking that researchers and service providers still have so far to go!!!!!

Next steps

If you abstract is accepted, you will be advised by the conference organisers by email, and can then make your plans too attend. This involves registering for the event, which is best done at the Early Bird Registration Rate, so keep an eye on that date which can be found on the conference registration page.

Many event organisers also have a special reduced rate for a person with dementia, and their support person.

Writing your presentation

Personally, I find writing my presentations is helped enormously by choosing the topic I want to present on conforms with the themes on one of the headings of the event. A lived experience talk is easier as it is just that, a discussion of your lived experience. A presentation I had accepted for ADI2015 is on stigma and language, based on some work I did at university last year, which means it must have the key elements of that research paper in it.

I usually make some initial decisions about how many points to cover, based on the amount of time a presentation will be. Advice I have often been given, is 100 words maximum for each minute of a presentation, and one power point slide per minute. I usually follow this, and so far, it has worked well.

At the University of SA, I learnt from an Indigenous lecturer about the mud map way of writing, and once I have written out my full presentation, I select the key sentence from each paragraph, which is often the first or last line, or key theme, put them together, than work with editing it and ensuring it flows well from there.

Sometimes, I start with power point slides, add the key points I want to cover, and then start writing to each slide. Everyone has their own way of working.

Glenn Rees, the previous CEO of Alzheimer’s Australia, who is now Chair-elect of ADI’s advice to me was if I have more than THREE KEY MESSAGES my audience will be less likely to remember any of them, and so I try and stick to discussing three main topics or issues with each presentation.

Funding your attendance at conferences

Most people with dementia and their families are financially challenged, due to the financial impact of the disease, the numerous invasive tests needed for diagnosis, and regular follow up, and for younger people, due to not being able to remain employed. This means funding a trip to a conference can be prohibitive, especially when you also have to find registration to attend, meals, air fares, travel insurance, passports and other costs of travel.

Dementia Alliance International (DAI) raised funds through members efforts for a number of members to attend ADI Puerto Rico in 2014. This year,  DAI has received a small amount of funding from ADI to support a small number of people to attend.

We do have a formal process for applying for a Bursary, which we will promote for the ADI2016 conference, IF we have funds available for that again next year.

In the mean time, I personally can highly recommend that speaking at conferences is a positive intervention for dementia, and suggest if you are interested, then start to make your self know to local service providers in your local area that you are available to speak to their staff, and start practicing.  This is a cost efficient way to become good at it as well! In my home town, because I do not drive anymore, most organisations provide me with taxi vouchers, as I am educating their staff for free, so it works for us both.

We, the people living with dementia, are the experts through the lived experience, and if we don’t tell people without dementia what it is really like, how will they ever be informed enough to improve our care.

Editor: Kate Swaffer Copyright 2015