Posts Tagged ‘Conference Presentations’

At the American Sociological Association conference in Chicago I noticed something else that demonstrates the ways that faculty members are just as bad as students when they are in the audience instead of standing at the front of class. During several presentations audience members took pictures of PowerPoint slides so that they did not have to write information down. This practice was made worse by the fake camera noises that their phones made as they took the pictures (I’m not sure whether or not all phones have the ability to turn the camera noise off). The most egregious example of this was in a presentation with a lot of references on slides. Those who wanted to record the references just took pictures. Worst of all was the fact that the presenter made very clear at the beginning that he would send the complete presentation via e-mail to anybody who was interested.

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Speaking of gender roles, I recently saw a post at The Society Pages linking to this suggestion by Rebecca Rosen at The Atlantic that men refuse to speak on or moderate all-male panels at technology and science conferences. While I think this is a great idea, I also wonder how the fact that prospective male participants ask male organizers to include women affects the reactions. For example, see the exchange in Rosen’s post:

I cannot speak for the dozens of other Jewish male leaders, scholars and activists who also made the pledge, but in my case, push has never actually come to shove. My convictions have not yet been tested. I never had to refuse participation because, so far, not once have the conveners failed to “find” a woman who can participate. Generally, the conversations have gone something like this:

“Prof. Kelner, will you teach at our all-night Shavuot study session?”

“Sure. I’d be happy to. Who else is on the program?”

“Abe, Isaac and Jake”

“You couldn’t find any women to teach? Look, I’d love to join the program, but I’ve made a pledge not to participate in all-male panels. And anyway, do you really want to send the message that there are no qualified women?”

“Wow! You’re right. Thank you. We’re going to fix this.”

“Do that, and I’ll be happy to participate.”

Because a male is organizing the conference and a male is asking about the inclusion of women, this seems like a reasonable request to the organizer. I can unfortunately imagine all kinds of scenarios, however, where a woman mentions the fact that there are not many female participants and is criticized for suggesting that there may be some sort of bias at play. This also seems to invite tokenism or the claim that there “aren’t any qualified women.”

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After over six years of teaching, I am fairly comfortable standing in front of a group of students.  This doesn’t mean that I never get nervous, but going to class is not something that I fear.  Given the fact that I stand in front of people roughly nine hours a week, I am always surprised how nervous I am before a 15-minute conference presentation.

For the most part, the skills that result in good teaching seem to be similar to those that result in good presentations.  Organization, visual aids, and humor, for example, are all things that I appreciate both in the classroom and in a hotel conference room.   The biggest difference between the two seems to be the unpredictability of the audience.  After a few class periods, I typically know what to expect from my students, while this predictability never develops with a conference audience.  First and foremost, this unpredictability includes the fact that there may or may not be an audience.  I have presented in small rooms with only a few people and in large rooms with only a few people (there may have also been a large room with lots of people once, but that was an outlier).  Second, there is the fact that the audience members may ask questions implying that your research is terrible or that they weren’t listening to the presentations.  I like to think that the former is due to the latter.  Finally, there is the slim chance that somebody in the audience will play a role in your future as a reviewer or search committee chair.  This means that even if you are in a room with three audience members, answering a stupid question in a stupid way could affect your future.

Despite these differences, I’ve been told a few times that I am a good presenter and I like to think that I’m a good teacher, so maybe the hours I spend standing in front of students each week actually do contribute to speaking in other environments.  I am not going to subject myself to watching a video of myself presenting, so I guess I’ll have to take their word for it.

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