Sunday, February 21, 2010

Conference Questions

Some of you have already given me tips on the upcoming conference paper, which I much appreciate. I also received some feedback from my PhD supervisor that, I think, has prevented major embarrassment for me. Now I'm revising the paper so that I'll be ready for the conference next weekend.

But a recent post by our favorite Wayward Classicist raised some questions for me. In that post he suggests that classicists are the only ones still actually reading boring papers at conferences (as opposed to presenting ideas in a move lively, natural way). But it was my understanding that those of us in literature are also still reading our boring papers at conferences. Therefore, I've been dutifully preparing a paper that can be read in approximately 17 minutes.

Am I mistaken in this? Should I be preparing a more lively kind of "talk"? What do y'all think?

edit (five hours later):// Although I am still very interested in your thoughts, after spending the better part of my Sunday revising this thing, I doubt I'll be making any seismic changes.


What Now? said...

You're fine -- Lit conferences still include a majority of folks reading their papers. Moreover, I'd say that the people who grumble that reading papers is boring are confusing the message with the medium; that is, reading boring papers is, in fact, boring, but reading fabulous papers that were written with audience in mind and were constructed to work well read aloud is not at all boring!

Ink said...

We lit people are still reading. And I completely agree w/What Now that fabulous papers when read are still fabulous!

FWIS, some of the worst panel presentations I've ever been to were people who *didn't* read and were fumblingly boring. ;)

Ink said...

That should be FWIW. Not FWIS.

Gaga said...

I think I sort of said this before, but, through the years, I have observed that you do/think/speak/read well on your feet. Pretend you are reading a toast at a wedding:reading, but in a totally interesting way. You do it well. Papers are a little different, but, in the end, people are pretty much the same everywhere. I am confident for you.

TKW said...

I agree--a good paper is a good listen. You will do a brilliant job. And 17 minutes is hella better than 45!

Angela Pea said...

I spend some of my time teaching a Professional Practice course to engineering students at a local university. A large part of my curriculum includes *presentation skills*. Engineers are notoriously awful at standing up and talking in front of people. It's just not hard wired into the brain type.

That being said - I often coach my students on successful reading. Technical presentations are usually BOR-ing, unless, of course you have some weird fascination with hydraulic calculations, methane collection, steel bars or whatever. Papers that are read don't have to be a snooze! Practice with voice inflection and speed variation. Grab a children's audio book and listen to it for an example. Vocal inflection grabs attention. KNOW your paper (memorize as much as possible!) so that you can look up from the podium, scan the audience and make eye contact. That draws your audience in, and keeps their attention.

You are passionate about your work, so let it show! You can't be too big or too bold when reading a paper. Let your voice fill the space, let your expression animate the words in front of you. It may feel strange and over the top to you, but it won't feel that way to your audience.

I am confident for you, too - Do Great!!

Good Enough Woman said...

Thanks for the input and encouragment (again). I doubt my paper is fabulous, but it is a topic I enjoy. Of course, as I was writing, I became more and more aware of all of the complications and potential challenges to my argument. And there is just no way to deal with all of those in 20 minutes! But I'm hoping listeners will think that my argument holds some water.

One thing I definitely tried to avoid was too much theory-speak. When I listen to papers, I just get lost when the writer has very long sentences and tons of academese. It's possible my paper will seem amateurish. But, so be it. I'm an amateur.

But this is a conference that has an open bar the first night and c18dancing on the last night, so really, I'm sure no one will care.

heu mihi said...

OK, good, everyone said things that I agree with. I will add just this: I've been to a good number of conferences, and the ONLY person I ever saw NOT read a paper, but rather just talk through it, BOMBED. Awful. Awful awful *awful*. He never even got to his argument.

And it was a high-stakes conference, and he was a junior prof. Sad, sad story.

It's better to be boring than to be that guy.

Amstr said...

I'm glad to hear all the feedback too as I prep for my conference paper.

I second the *practice* advice. A well-read paper can be fabulous.

You're right to limit the theoretical arguments. Tedious.

For my paper, I've had to decide that it's a good thing to have holes in my argument or things I want to explore more. First, if I don't see the holes, it could be helpful to have them pointed out (kindly and gently, of course). Second, in the discussion section I have less to defend and more to explore with the audience. It can help to think of the conference as a place to hash out ideas that may be published (or included in your dissertation). You're starting a conversation about your ideas (assuming that the rest of the people on your panel don't go way over their allotted time).

huzzah for the good enough!

J. Harker said...

Oh, you'll be just fine (I say, having never seen you present a paper). I think the mere fact that you're aware there ought to be a difference between a written paper and spoken delivery means that everything'll be A-OK.

Knock 'em dead!

Good Enough Woman said...

Thanks again for the comments and advice. VERY helpful. And Amstr, you make a great point about those holes. Perhaps having them there will invite the kinds of questions that I'm actually prepared to consider!

And since several of you mentioned practicing, you're making me think that even if my paper isn't perfect, it's better to spend the last few days practicing it rather than changing. I'll do some final edits tomorrow, and then I'll stop!