Academics, If You Must Read Your Conference Paper…

Academics, If You Must Read Your Conference Paper…

Recently, the hosts of the podcast Aca-Media asked colleagues to offer advice for those attending the 2013 Society for Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS) Conference. Several folks weighed in including (in order of appearance) me, Tim Yenter, Drew Morton, Tony Bleach, Derek Kompare, Beth Corzo-Duchart, Amanda Ann Klein, Michael Dwyer, Karen Petruska, Kristen Warner, and Lindsay Hogan.

I’ve transcribed my advice below, but the full podcast “More Dash Than Hyphen” is available on Aca-Media, and if you’re just looking for the section on conference tips, begin about 42 minutes in. SCMS is currently taking place at the Drake Hotel in downtown Chicago.

My Advice for Academic Conferences

Traditionally at academic conferences, panelists read their 20-minute presentation — sometimes word for word, monotonously, and without ever looking up at the audience. Dull doesn’t even begin to describe it. Although this is beginning to change in some circles — i.e., conference presentations are becoming more like, well, presentations — the majority of academics still read. So my advice is for that lot.

Academics, if you feel you must read your paper, please do three things:

Write casually. In other words, as you type your brilliant thoughts on that computer screen, use conversational language to support your scholarly point, and if you can, throw in a joke or two. Virtually no one wants to sit through a monotonous, 20-minute, jargon-filled Lacanian analysis of Two and a Half Men, which brings me to point #2…

Stop writing at 7 double-spaced typed pages. One double-spaced, typed page equates to 2.5 minutes of reading. Thus, seven pages equals about 17 minutes of presentation time — just enough to get your point across, refrain from boring your audience, and end on time so that your panel chair will praise your name forevermore. This changes, however, if you follow rule #3…

Bring visuals. Handouts, media clips, PowerPoint presentations: it doesn’t matter. Just make sure the audience has something to look at as you’re casually and energetically reading your work. That said, if you screen clips, cut your paper accordingly.

That’s it: write casually, stop at seven pages, bring visuals. And oh yeah, have fun!