On the day of the Beacon Conference, Panel Presenters compete for Panel Awards. Each of the fifteen to eighteen panels features three students, and a Panel Judge decides which paper and presentation are most outstanding.
This page is provided to help you form your expectations and to help you prepare for the conference.
What to Expect
After a brief welcome from the host institution, the competition begins. Panel Presenters proceed to the rooms in which panelists give their presentations. If Panel Presenters have digital slide decks (such as PowerPoint presentations), a Moderator helps Panel Presenters load them for projection onto a screen, and then introduces to the audience the participants: the Moderator, the Panel Presenters, and the Panel Judge. The host institution will provide wireless slide-advancing devices; students may bring their own device or use a mouse or keyboard to advance slides if they prefer.
Each student has twenty minutes to present. When five minutes remain, the Moderator will display a card with a "5" on it. When one minute remains, the Moderator will display a card with a "1" on it. When time runs out, the Moderator will ensure that the presenter's talk concludes.
After all three Panel Presenters give their presentations, the Panel Judge will ask each presenter at least one question about their talk. Each student will have five minutes to respond to the Panel Judge's questions.
Panel Judges often invite the audience to ask questions, too.
How to Prepare
1. Prepare a Professional Presentation
Beacon presentations vary tremendously. Some Panel Award Winners have given traditional academic talks, essentially reading their papers to the audience. Most Panel Award Winners have augmented their presentations with visual aids: PowerPoint presentations, video clips, hard copies of short texts or quotations, posters, etc.
Regardless of the presentation method used, the best presentations have the following characteristics:
- They are formed and rehearsed in consultation with a Faculty Mentor.
- They are given in a professional manner.
- They are well organized so that an attentive audience can follow them.
- They make clear whatever is original in your paper or project.
- If a PowerPoint presentation is used, the slides augment the talk instead of driving it. In other words, the talk advances the slides instead of the slides advancing the talk.
- They respect the conference's time limits.
Finally, be sure to use more than one method to bring your paper and your presentation to the conference. Here are some options:
- Save a copy of each on a USB flash drive.
- Save a copy of each in your personal Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, or Dropbox account.
- Attach a copy of each to an email and send it to yourself or your mentor.
2. Anticipate Likely Questions
While it is impossible to predict exactly what questions Panel Judges will ask, it is possible to anticipate the general kinds of questions your paper and presentation are likely to raise. Your Faculty Mentor can help you anticipate likely questions and prepare to answer them.
Panel Judges often ask questions about the following subjects:
- research methodology
- how to improve one's approach to an issue or problem
- how to move beyond the limitations of the project presented in the paper
- how to take the next step or apply to a future research endeavor what was learned or discovered in this project
- how the ideas presented in the paper or presentation relate to current events or recent scholarship
Panel Judges and audience members alike sometimes ask their questions from opposing viewpoints, or ask you to explain how you might respond to opposing arguments or evidence, real or hypothetical, that would appear to counter your conclusions. Sometimes they do so because of sincere commitments to those opposing viewpoints, and sometimes they do so simply to see how you will respond. It is helpful to remember that, generally speaking, your audience is a supportive audience interested in your success.
3. Pay Attention to Fellow Panel Presenters
While your fellow Panel Presenters are your competition, they are also your peers, and you are part of their audience when they are speaking. Panel Judges and audience members will assume that you have paid attention to the panelists who present before and/or after you.
As your fellow Panel Presenters give their presentations, be sure to follow their arguments, to think about how your project and talk relate to theirs, and to jot down a few notes. Doing so can help you prepare to respond should the Panel Judge or an audience member ask you to discuss connections between your talk and your peers' talks.
4. Take Time to Think
Most people giving a talk in a competitive setting are at least a little nervous, especially when being asked questions about their work. That nervousness sometimes leads Panel Presenters to rush to respond to questions during the Question and Answer portion of your panel.
It is appropriate to take a few moments to think about how to respond before responding. You are not expected to launch immediately into a five-minute mini-lecture in response to a question; instead, it makes sense to pause a moment or two, to think through at least part of your response, and then to begin responding to the question. You won't lose your audience's respect by thinking.
Last updated April 26, 2019.