By James Steur, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The 80th MPSA Conference is just around the corner, and if you’re like me I’m excited to explore new restaurants in downtown Chicago, present my research, and blog about exciting panels. Over the years, I’ve written blog posts that highlight how to get the most out of conferences at a large-scale that include networking strategies, an interview with an MPSA veteran, and strategies to maximize your conference experience. In this article, I narrow my focus to provide specific strategies you can use before, during, and after your MPSA presentation to maximize constructive feedback about your research. The strategies I outline are applicable to a wide variety of different session formats and will help you achieve your goal of turning a conference presentation into a publishable project later down the line.

Before The Presentation

1: Organize Notes by Type of Feedback
When participants speak about your work, the conversation can go in a variety of different directions. In one conference presentation, I received comments about measurement, theory, and survey-design back-to-back and scribbled down a flurry of disorganized notes that were challenging to decipher. Since then, I’ve started dividing my notes into different sections to organize the type of feedback I receive during the session. For example, I include sections like “Framing,” “Theory, “Measurement,” and others. When participants provide specific feedback, I write down their comments in the appropriate section to keep my notes organized, think about how I want to respond to the comment during the presentation, and implement the feedback after the presentation is over.

2: Identify Areas You Want Feedback On
Many presenters do not explicitly state what they would like to discuss about the project or what phase the project is in at that moment. While you should indicate you are receptive to feedback about all aspects of your work, clearly explain with a slide or verbally what areas you want additional feedback on at the end of your presentation. By doing this, you can help guide the conversation to focus on areas you think will be the most beneficial for the project. For example, if you are presenting pilot data and plan to conduct the study again, indicate this in your presentation. This allows participants to focus on modifying aspects of your design and address your concerns.

During The Presentation

1: Be Receptive & Not Overly Defensive
Be respectful to others when they provide feedback on your work. If somebody makes a comment about your framing or measurement that you don’t agree with, it isn’t appropriate to be condescending or talk down to someone. Instead, identify what you agree with, and acknowledge that you have a different perspective about your framing. This isn’t to say you can’t disagree: you should feel comfortable clarifying a point and discussing it further. But there’s a large difference between being overly defensive or snide about your work and acknowledging the value of a comment an audience member makes even if your opinions differ. If nothing else, thank the individual for making the comment and be respectful.

After The Presentation

1: Be Free for 20 Minutes After Your Session
Build in 20 minutes after your session to stick around, get additional feedback, and provide any comments you had to others. It is incredibly challenging to receive all comments on your presentation due to limited time. Generally, other presenters and audience members want to speak with you after the session is over to provide comments they couldn’t provide during the session. You don’t want to be in a situation where you have a coffee meeting or panel presentation to attend while someone is trying to give you comments about your work. It’s better to stick around if you can and show you’re a collaborative member of the community.

2: Follow-up After the Conference
Finally, if someone offers to follow-up on a design or provide feedback, feel free to communicate with them over email or their preferred form of communication. It sounds simple, but don’t be shy about networking and following-up if an offer is extended.

In the end, sessions at MPSA and other conferences continue to be one of the best ways to improve research projects. At this year’s MPSA, take intentional efforts to maximize feedback about your research. And, most importantly, pay it forward by providing feedback to other research projects at the conference to promote a collaborative culture in the discipline.


About the Author

James Steur is a PhD Candidate in political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  His research interests include  political psychology, political behavior, and the role of emotions in citizen  decision-making.  He is a first-generation student, passionate coffee drinker, and excited to be blogging (for a fourth time!) at MPSA. You can find James on Twitter at  @JamesSteur