Mentoring Discussion Series

Jesse George-Nichol's picture

Mentoring Discussion Series, Question 5: 

What have you learned about giving conference presentations over the course of your carrer?  What advice would you give to someone giving her first conference presentation?

Thank you to everyone who has participated in our discussion series.  We hope that you will continue to do so, and make this a useful forum for discussion for the hundreds of scholars on the H-SAWH listserv.

A new discussion question will be posted in this series every other week.  You can suggest a discussion topic or question here.  There are also excellent essays on a wide variety of mentoring-related topics available in H-SAWH's mentoring toolkit.

Practice your presentation. Read it out loud (even if it is just to yourself). You'll catch a lot of mistakes that way, and it will help with your nervousness. Also, the more familiar you are with your presentation, the easier it will be to maintain a degree of eye contact with the audience.

Send your paper to your discussant by the deadline set by the conference. If organizers have not set one, email the discussant and ask her/him. Most people would like it a few weeks in advance. That -- and not the conference -- is your deadline. Send *exactly* the version that you will be sharing with the audience. Asking another scholar to read two or three times the material you can share in the time allotted to you and to guess what to address in her/his comments is disrespectful.

Rose Stremlau
Davidson College

Read your paper aloud several times to catch (and change) awkward wordings. Time yourself to one minute less than the allotted time and edit as needed. Once you have it in final form, print it triple spaced in a large (size 14 or larger) font, bolded. Number your pages. Do not staple them. Put the pages in a folder, paperclipped. Remove the clip before presenting.

If you get nervous, put marks on your reading copy indicating good places to pause, take a sip of water, and such. Put marks to remind yourself to make eye contact. Also put marks at the points where you have ten, five, and two minutes left so you can adjust as needed when your chair gives you time clues.

Have some humorous turns of phrase scattered in so your audience will have something to chuckle at. This will help keep them awake and interested. Likewise, if possible have some sort of sexual activity included. Put a reference to this in your title to attract an audience.

Wear professional clothing: shirt not too short, heels not too high. Wear your outfit a few times so you are comfortable in it. Wear your hair so it does not get in your eyes or mouth. You do not want to be distracted in any way by your own appearance.

Take business cards and have them ready to hand out when the panel is over.

Remember that this is supposed to be fun. :-)

Jean Stuntz, West Texas A&M University

And time your presentation, reading slowly! Some conferences, like Organization of American Historians, provide you with exact word counts for a 15-minute and 20-minute presentation and you would do well to adhere to these guidelines. And others, including OAH and the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, Genders and Sexualities, require you to submit your papers to the person selected as "Commentator" no less than two weeks before the conference, so don't be that person still writing your paper on the airplane en route!