Presenting vs Reading Your Conference Paper

As someone "raised" in the humanities and social sciences, I've become used to a particular presentation style at academic conferences. And that presentation style primarily consists of reading a research paper, sometimes supplemented by powerpoint or some photographs. (There are notable exceptions, of course, but that is generally my experience.) For many years, I too followed this method, carefully ensuring I had no more than 8.25 pages of text double-spaced in 12-pt TNR font so that I would have enough time (with musical examples) to deliver my paper within the 20 minute limit. Others weren't so careful regarding the length of their papers and found themselves either going long and eating into their discussion time, suddenly realizing they were running out of time and skipping large sections of text, or (worst of all) being cut off and not having a chance to finish their thoughts.

I never really felt comfortable with this sort of presentation. It isn't all that engaging. However, I also have never really felt comfortable speaking "off the cuff" to an audience, which can be a stressful situation for a shy introvert. Nevertheless, in the past year I've been challenging myself to use powerpoint and speak from notes. And so, as I prepared for the Atlantic Schools of Business conference last weekend, I once again tossed aside the 25 page paper I'd published on the Unama'ki Economic Development Model and prepared a presentation with speaking notes (and then prayed that it would be short enough for the 15 minute time limit).

When I arrived at the conference, the first thing I noticed was that no one — and I mean no one — was reading papers. Most were speaking to their slides without notes, while others had brought cue cards. I'm not sure if it was the more engaging presentation style, the slightly shorter presentation time limit, or a combination of both, but it was easy to sit through a full day of presentations without getting tired or losing interest (which, if we're honest, happens to the best of us at conferences). I skipped happily from one session to the next throughout the day without once thinking "maybe I'll just skip this session and get a coffee.."

The experience has renewed my commitment to "present" my research instead of "read" it at conferences.