February 26 - March 1, 2014 • Savannah Marriott Riverfront • Savannah, GA

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Preparing to Present Your Paper or Creative Work at the Convention

Congratulations! Your paper or creative work has been accepted for the convention, and you have replied to englishconvention@niu.edu saying you will be presenting in Savannah! Whether this is your first time presenting at a Sigma Tau Delta convention or whether you are a convention veteran, you can improve greatly how well your presentation is received by following some basic rules:

Rule No. 1: Observe time limits scrupulously. Time yourself as you practice reading your paper or creative work. On average, a typewritten page holds 250 words. It will take at least two minutes to say 250 words aloud. Read aloud, your work should use no more than 15 minutes and no fewer than 8 minutes, including any essential introductory explanation.

Rule No. 2: Revise for your real audience. A paper written for the ears to hear must be substantially different from a paper written for the eyes to read. Go through your final draft, looking for dependent clauses. Turn complex sentences into simple, declarative statements. Use quotations and examples judiciously. Because a listener cannot see footnotes and end notes, you need to work the research that sustains your argument into the text you are reading. After your panel finishes their presentations there should be time for the audience to ask questions. It may have been a year or more since you wrote the paper that you are presenting. It's a good idea to reread--or at least skim back through--the text that you'll be discussing.

Rule No. 3: Rehearse your talk. Read your paper aloud to yourself, listening to yourself speak and noticing when you run out of breath. Watch yourself in the mirror if you can stand it. Take a deep breath at the beginning of each long sentence or group of short sentences. If you do not have enough breath to finish a sentence strongly, break it up into smaller pieces. Read it out loud again. Then mark your copy to remind yourself when to take a deep breath. Now read your copy aloud to someone else. At the convention you must read the same work which was submitted and accepted, but you may and should revise wording and sentences to make the work fit the time allowed and to make the work more listener friendly (rather than reader friendly).

Rule No. 4: Print out your paper in large type (try 14-point or even 16-point) so that you do not need to squint to see it when you are standing at a podium. Find a room approximately the size of the room you will use at the conference (seating 40-100 people). Position your friend at the back of the room. Stand at the front with a lectern and read the paper aloud. Your friend may also be able to comment on whether the argument sounds persuasive; sometimes in all the revising and cutting, one leaves out a significant piece of evidence in the argument. Now rehearse one last time, making sure that your performance is smooth: No tripping over pronunciations, no wrong intonation.

Another helpful (and fun!) practice technique is to present your paper to your chapter or put together a panel and invite the campus to attend. Then you'll also get practice answering questions about your paper.

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.