Presenting at the Convention
When the day arrives for you to present your paper or creative work at the convention, there are several rules you can follow to greatly improve your performance and enhance your presentation.
Rule No. 1: Check out the room in advance.
Rule No. 2: Plan to arrive for your session five minutes prior to the start time and introduce yourself to the session chair or moderator; and confirm the pronunciation of your name.
Rule No. 3: Stand at the podium to read your paper or creative work.
Rule No. 4: Smile! Your work earned you this opportunity, so enjoy the experience.
Rule No. 5: Observe time limits and keep within the 8-15 minute time limit, to be courteous to your fellow panelists and to allow time for questions at the end of the session.
Rule No. 6: Enunciate, and speak audibly and slowly enough so listeners can follow along. With the exception of minor revisions to improve readability, do not improvise or deviate from the work that was accepted for convention.
Rule No. 7: Do NOT fidget. The attention of your listeners should be on your words. Avoid anything that draws their attention away from your words. Here are some of the classic distractions:
- Your hands, waving around in the air. Except for an occasional gesture that you intend to make, hands are not part of your performance. They should be as invisible as possible, generally at your side or resting on the lectern.
- Your hands, fiddling with paper clips or a pen. Never hold anything in your hands when you are speaking in public except when sliding a page of your talk out of the way.
- The paper on which your words are written. Do not wave the paper around. Do not pick up each page of the paper and turn it over so that you end with a stack in the order in which you began. Slide the pages across so the audience won't see them and you end with a stack in reverse order. The advantage is that you also have two pages in front of you at all times and you can see where you are headed.
- Your fingers. The only way to indicate a shift from your own words to quoted ones is by the tone of your voice, or by the simple word "said." Don't say, "quote unquote." Never wiggle your fingers in the air in an attempt to indicate quotation marks.
- Your head. At the convention, you will be expected to stand to read your paper. The advantage of standing at a lectern is that you do not need to move your head much to read the paper and then look out at the audience.
Rule No. 8: Listen to fellow panelists and jot down thoughtful comments and questions to ask them.
Rule No. 9: Save your improvisational skill for the question period, when you will need it. Then answer questions from the audience clearly and concisely.
Rule No. 10: Remember—you are among friends. To give a conference paper is to make yourself vulnerable; it's the intellectual equivalent of stripping naked. You are taking your ideas out to strangers, so you are vulnerable to their criticism. Of course you are anxious; you would be foolish not to be. Think about the panelists and the audience as your friends. After all, despite the competition of other panels and other things the listeners could be doing, they have chosen to come hear you. They are obviously people of good taste and judgment; they are your friends. You are enthusiastically looking forward to meeting them. When you walk into the room, the thought in your head must be how happy you are to be there, what fabulous people are sitting out in the audience. That holds whether there are five people or 500. The good vibes will be catching.
Excerpted and adapted with permission from LINDA K. KERBER, “Conference Rules, Part 2,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 21 March 2008: 1. Kerber, a professor of history and a lecturer in law at the University of Iowa, has served as president of the American Historical Association.