How to conference

If you're attending a palaeontological conference and are wondering how to get the most out of it, here are some of my top tips.  (I have covered this topic before, but there's no harm in a bit of repetition.)

Conference venue managers

Before any of the talks begin, please make sure the clocks in the lecture theatres all tell different times, and are all wrong. This makes life more exciting for both the speakers, who are supposed to keep to time, and the session chairs, who have to keep people to time.


Firstly, remember that if there are fixed microphones in the auditorium, you don't need to worry about where they are. Those who need to hear you will be sitting at the front anyway.

Then, don't get carried away with enthusiasm for your subject. Instead, keep the pitch and tone of your voice at a monotonous level. Audience members will be excited enough simply to be in attendance. They will not need any further stimulation.


For your key images, make them either small or far away. People with poor eyesight shouldn't be attending such meetings, and need to be selected out.

Don't worry about numbers. Include numbers in your talk, preferably lots of them and ideally in multidimensional diagrams, but don't worry about them. Remind people of this by telling your audience, "Don't worry about the numbers," whenever one of your graphs appears.

Everyone likes numbers. The more the merrier.

When using complex terminology, assume everyone understands it. This saves considerable time in explaining things. People also prefer to go away and look words up in a dictionary later, as it helps them learn new things effectively*.

If including a phylogenetic tree in your talk, fit as many species as possible into it. This shows you are treating the subject properly.  Around three hundred different Latin names on a single slide should do it.

When concluding your talk, don't worry about including the broader context or implications, particularly if you're working on an obscure group of fossils. The audience should already be familiar with the topic and be able to figure out the importance of your findings for themselves.

Public lecturers

If you are an Ivy League professor giving a lecture that is open to everyone, they (the public) will be MOST upset if you dumb your content down. As such, stick in as many complicated terms and impenetrable diagrams as you possibly can to appease them. One of the best ways to get your message across is to cram hundreds of long words onto a single slide in black Times New Roman text on a white background. If, within five minutes, the aforementioned audience appear to have fallen asleep, don't fret, they are just in a dreamy reverie at the majesty of your talk.

And last, but not least...

Audience members

When taking your seat in an auditorium, wherever possible make sure you sit in the very last seat at the end of a row, closest to the aisle. Your fellow delegates coming in after you get a more up-close-and-personal perspective when they have to perch on the stairs.

When leaving urgently to go to a parallel session, show your appreciation for the talk you've just seen by leaving as noisily as possible.

Conference attendees leaving a talk in an orderly fashion.

If, during a talk, you have an important thought you need to share with one of your neighbours, don't faff about with whispering. Speak audibly and for as long as possible, particularly if the speaker is quietly spoken. That way, your fellow audience members know that your thoughts are important.

When, in the middle of someone's talk, you have to reply to that really critical email, make sure you switch your computer on loudly, and then hammer away on the keypad. How better to reassure the speaker that they are at a conference with busy, high-profile scientists?


If, after all that, you still don't enjoy the conference, well I'm afraid you really aren't trying.