Giving a conference paper

I read at Awilum that various bloggers have been giving their opinions on boring conference papers after SBL/AAR, etc. Charles suggests:

Practice your paper before you give it–if you do this you won’t wind up in a situation in which you have 1 minute left of time but have only presented half your paper; there is really no excuse for this situation except for laziness.

I second this, and perhaps it is just because I have a seminary degree where I did homiletics training, but I am surprised at how many scholars do not know how to use a 25-30 minute block of time effectively.

1. You do not have time to review the current state of research in your introduction. You have perhaps five minutes to tell me why your paper is important. What new idea are you bringing and what is the question that you are answering? If you are using some new fangled theory like cognitive linguistics then briefly reference it, but if you need to explain what cognitive linguistics is for anyone to understand your paper then this is the wrong venue for you to be presenting in.

2. There is a reason why a sermon has three points. Three points at 5 minutes each is 15 minutes, with your intro you have used 20 minutes (assuming you kept to your script in the intro and didn’t waste an extra 5 minutes). You have 5 minutes left for a conclusion. Selectivity is the mark of an excellent scholar. Pick the three most important points and support them with evidence and illustration. Illustration is good because we move from a didactic tone to narrative and most of us speak much more comfortably when we talk in narrative (which is also easier to comprehend for your listeners). This gives a bit of a rest before you are ready to move into more intense explanation and gives your presentation a nice rhythm.

3. Oral presentation relies on explicit transitions and repetition. It may sound unsophisticated, but it is much easier to follow if you say something like “Now for the second point…”. You can also “billboard” your main points at the beginning by saying something like “My thesis is X, and I will be making three points: A, B, and C.” Note that this also requires you to distill each of your points into one simple sentence. If you can’t make it into one simple sentence then it is not clear enough. Lastly, explicitly state the logical connections, “because X, therefore Y”. Don’t assume your listeners can infer them (they can’t go back and reread the previous section like a reader can).

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