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Conference presentations (it’s all a matter of timing)
  1. G Rooney
  1. Sexual Health Department, Great Western Hospital, Swindon SN3 6BB, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 G Rooney;

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Many chairs at academic meetings remind the speakers to stick to time, and it is now commonplace to hear a warning alarm as the presentation should be nearing its end. Despite this some people run over time. Theoretically, this observation should be evenly distributed among junior and senior speakers, although anecdotally this does not appear to be the case. The objective of this study was to determine the proportion of speakers who overran their allotted time, by grade of speaker.

All individuals giving an oral presentation at the Medical Society for the Study of Venereal Disease (MSSVD) annual spring meeting (2001) were included.

Each speaker was placed into one of three groups:

  1. Juniors (junior doctors, nurses, health advisers, junior scientists)

  2. Consultants

  3. Academic consultants and senior scientists (professors, senior lecturers)

A record was made of each speaker’s allotted time (according to the conference programme) and the actual time spent speaking (using a stopwatch). Time given to questions was not included.

Remarks to the speakers about time keeping were noted.

The results are given in the tables

At the start of each session only juniors were reminded of the importance of sticking to time.


Irrespective of seniority all speakers at academic conferences should limit their presentations to their allotted times. However, both consultants and senior academics were statistically significantly more likely to run over time in their presentations when compared with juniors. There was no evidence of any difference between consultants and senior academics.

Ideally, conferences should promote through presentation and discussion the development of ideas, the ongoing progression of research, and the practical application of such research in the real world. Time is often limited by the amount of material being presented. It is one of the chair’s responsibilities to keep oral presentations to time. If talks are allowed to overrun, time for other valued academic pursuits,1 discussion, and poster observations are consequently shortened.

Wiese et al,2 through a structured instruction programme, improved both the quality and efficiency of oral presentations among a group of medical undergraduates. It is probable that the results in this study are a consequence of similar preparations. Many a speaker will remember as a junior writing and rewriting their talks; and rehearsing their presentation in front of colleagues in an attempt to get it perfect for the conference.

It was also observed at this meeting that chairs reserved their warnings of time keeping and threats of interruption to junior speakers—that is, the group least likely to run over time.

As a result of this study should chairs now concentrate such words on the groups of speakers most likely to run over time?

Juniors19 presented of whom 2 ran over time (11%)
Consultants9 presented of whom 4 ran over time (44%)
Senior academics18 presented of whom 9 ran over time (50%)
Test for trend p = 0.011
Juniors v consultantsdifference 33% (95% CI 1 to 64)
Juniors v senior academicsdifference 39% (95% CI 10 to 62)
Consultants v senior academicsdifference 6% (95% CI −30 to +39)