Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Questions about the Conference Paper

So, I'm at a coffee shop, working on my conference paper. And I'm not sure about tone. My supervisor has, several times, advised me against colloquial language in my dissertation work. And despite being an English teacher, I'm not sure I can even recognize my own colloquialisms, which is a problem in and of itself. I mean it's not like I'm bustin' out with lines like, "I'm stoked, y'all!" But all that aside, right now, I'm wondering about how far such advice goes for a conference paper that will be presented to live humans.

It's been a long time since I've given a conference paper, and back then, I was just an M.A. student, so, really, I don't think anyone expected much.

But this time, I'm going to a real conference, and my work needs to good enough. I'm already paranoid that my argument and my scholarship will be third rate, but now I'm also thinking about tone. It seems that a conference paper might allow for a bit more of a personal voice than a dissertation. I mean I am actually talking to real people who are right there in the room. So. I'm not sure what "tone" to strike. I mean, how formal should I be? If I can be somewhat informal, how far does that go? I probably can't really mention The Princess Bride even though I currently have it in my draft since, when thinking about hermits in literature and the lovesick, how can one not think of Billy Crystal's character in PB?.

So let's say I leave out the pop culture references, still, what tone is best?

And on another note, at one point in the paper, I challenge the claim of another scholar (because, really, I can't believe he makes said claim). This is easy enough in a written text. But at a conference, what if he's actually there or something? I doubt he will be, since I think he might live in Spain, but still. What's the protocol here?

Also, any other conference tips would be great. Like, if there is something you really hate for presenters to do, maybe I should know . . .

Oh, and what if someone asks me a question about something I haven't read?

Oh, this could be rough.


Ink said...

But wait! Princess Bride is a metafictional revisionist text, no? It seems perfectly suitable for a mention in a conference paper to me! (The book...ah, the book. One of the best books ever. The film was ok but the book, ah!)

If you're worried that said scholar might be in the audience, then just temper your language. For example, rather than saying "X made the ridiculousl claim that" do "X's claim that ... is interesting; however, from another perspective we can see that...." Who could be upset by that? Raise and dismiss, as my favorite prof used to say. ;)

As far as tone, the papers I usually enjoy most hearing are NOT plowed under in theoretical jargon AND have a few amusing lines therein. So: formal but in a real voice! I think many people forget that it's pretty hard to follow a HEARD paper versus a READ paper. There need to be more organizational cues and transitional indicators for a "heard" paper.

Am sure you'll be great! Hope this wasn't too much blathering on in response.

Ink said...

ps: If someone asks you something that you can't answer, just say "Wow, that's a great question. I'll have to ponder it. In the meantime, what do you think?" ;)

Contemporary Troubadour said...

I have never delivered a paper at a conference, but I have read my work aloud in other academic settings. And every writer who has talked to me about reading aloud emphasizes the need to edit the paper for listeners, not readers (as Ink has already mentioned). It makes an enormous difference in how much attention people pay to the content!

Wish I could provide more insight, but this little MFA student hasn't got enough experience to say anything else :)

The Thirty-Something Bride said...

I think I'm supposed to know what a colloquialism is. Pardon me whilst I find my dictionary.

And I was just wondering about this:
"But this time, I'm going to a real conference, and my work needs to good enough."

Good enough? Was that an intentional blog reference? Are you giving yourself your own good (enough) advice?

Gaga said...

From a listener's point of view, I believe the audience reception will also depend, in large part, on the tone you strike as you read your paper. I am certain that you will prepare, and I know you think well on your feet. I suspect you will feel what is right. Of course that is later - writing it is now:(

I like the "raise and dismiss" comment.

TKW said...

Raising my hand in the air in TOTAL agreement with Ink! Keep the PB reference! She is also correct in the fact that listeners at a conference appreciate a little well-timed levity. Those presentations can be duller than dogmeat.

You will do amazingly well. I know it.

Amstr said...

Good advice from all.

Another option for the PB reference: try to gauge your audience when you get there, and then add it in as an aside, if appropriate. Since everyone really thinks reading papers out loud at a conference is incredibly dull (but no one will change it), a few times of looking up at the audience to connect with them in a less formal way than reading a paper can do wonders for the presentation. (and can also separate the pop culture reference from your paper as such.)

Two other delivery things: practice aloud before you go on, and don't edit in the hallway before your presentation. You're doing the work now; go in with confidence then.

YES to adding more transitional markers to guide your audience.

For the other scholar's claim: do remember that you only have 20 min. (preferably a couple less) to present. Decide if the view is so insidious you need to handle it, or if it's a marginal view that is better ignored. Be sure the raise and dismiss really helps your argument before you commit presentation time to it.

A prof. of mine, in discussing the form of a dissertation, said that a diss. should have one chapter with a complex argument that can serve as a writing sample and one chapter that's insightful but straightforward that can be used as a job talk. The distinction has helped me think more about what a conference paper is supposed to accomplish. If part of what it is supposed to accomplish is a conversation among scholars around your idea(s), a tone that engages the audience is key.

As far as what you haven't read: think of this as a testing time for ideas and a time to converse with other scholars to get their insights. So often questions are really comments about what the asker would add to the paper. Then you can take notes, ask for more clarification about the argument of said text, etc. In the best of all possible worlds, they're not there to test you and grill you, but to converse with you about the things that interest you.

(I've been a bit worried, too, that my first conference on my dissertation topic and my first conference in 4 years is a national/international one. What was I thinking?!?!?)

AND--your scholarly work has always been good enough. If I remember correctly, your MA conference paper blew people away and got published.

--ginger. said...

I second everybody. You're smart enough--and the best part about your smarts is your ability--and even more than that your DESIRE--to make your thoughts reachable. To be really heard and not to just puff big at regular intervals like an academic Old Faithful. You can probably guess what I'm going to say: give it like You are meant to give it.

So if you get up there and include references to genius movied like PB from a sincere place of reference--and not because you're trying to get some lame laugh--and some blow hole thinks they're smarter than you, the truth is--they were always going to think that. Because blow holes always think of themselves as the best and biggest blow holes around.

Don't be like the other kids. They're just insecure anyways.

Good Enough Woman said...

Thanks for all of the great advice! Very helpful stuff, my dear blog peeps.

Wish you could all be there will pom-poms in the back of the room. Or at least to go out for drinks afterwards.

--ginger. said...

Oh my--we ARE there with pom poms. Don't you see us? That's all of us in the back row with matching GOOD ENOUGH WOMAN TSHIRTS. Amstr is yelling particularly loudly. I have smuggled a beer into the room. Everybody else keeps high fiving every time you say something and all the academics are giving us dirty looks.

Check the back row. That's us making all the noise.

Amstr said...


Good Enough Woman said...

Awwww, you guys are awesome.