Scratching through my Long Drawer I came across an article I wrote some years ago (think, 20 years ago) about the first academic paper I presented. The article was published in the Murdoch Uni Postgraduate (MUPSA) newsletter, Mupifesto (June 1999, vol 2 no 1).
Some of the hints that I outlined in the article seem reasonable such as, “Practice by reading the paper aloud … many papers look really good written, but flounder miserably when spoken”. I warn against listening to the nightmare stories, adding that I have a few of my own.
My nightmare story was the first time I delivered a paper at a conference. The chairperson did not enforce the 20 minute time limit allocated to each of the three speakers. As a result I had to fit a twenty minute paper into twelve minutes. Apart from being an excellent lesson in humiliation, it was frustrating and made me angry. Add to that, more than half the audience left after the first two papers. When I eventually stood up at the lectern, I proceeded to drop all my overheads on the floor and lost time picking them up and putting them in some sort of order. You don’t know what an ‘overhead’ is? Well, it was the time after writing stuff on a whiteboard and before the dodgy technology difficulties that haunted conferences in the early 2000s. Certainly well before Death-by-PowerPoint.
Very important. If you are given the choice of question time being at the end of each paper or at the end of the session, always choose the end of the session. Some people in the audience like to take question time to present their own views at length. This, of course, eats into the time allocated for the next presenter.
Two good things to come out of an ignominious debut such as mine: however poorly the paper is received you can still add the presentation to your curriculum vitae, and secondly, the experience taught me to be a good chairperson and to stand up for myself.
There is a third good thing. I actually got a publishable paper out of my experiences at that conference that served to change the direction of my Thesis completely.