Do you read – or talk – your conference paper?


You’re going to a conference!! Your abstract has been accepted. Yippee. All that remains now is to pack your bags, sort out funding and actually write the paper. Simple.

Well no. Presenting at a conference involves lots of decisions – there are Serious Things to consider.

One of the decisions that you have to make is whether you are going to read your paper, write a version of the paper specifically designed for reading at the conference,  or talk to your paper (most often using slides to keep you and the audience on track).

Now, there’s a lot of opinions about each of these options. Some people are entirely wedded to the talking to the slides option, while others swear that reading the paper is likely to lead to the most thorough and well-evidenced argument. And keep the audience awake.

I have a view too. Mine is that it’s possible to do any one of these options.

You may decide that writing and reading the paper is the best way to deal with your nerves. Or to present your argument in the most cogent and comprehensible way, to do it justice by giving it the full scholarly treatment. You may decide that you want to  be more conversational and informal and appear to be having a casual chat. It’s up to you.

Perhaps you prefer different options for different occasions. Most often I am conversational. But not always. I tend to read a written text the more nervous I think I am likely to be. (I am always nervous BTW despite having done a lot of presentations)

But whatever you do, you want to do it well.

I’m sure we’ve all been to those presentations where the presenter has a load of slides and rambles on and one and then has to skip through several to make up time. Or the paper reader who consistently stumbles over their own text. Or the presenter who sits, head down the whole time, reading in a dreary monologue, like the world’s worst bedtime story.

One of the ways to avoid at least some of these horrors is to be prepared. How? Well here’s a few ideas for starters. Please add more in the comments.

  • Do some rehearsal beforehand. And I mean some – not just once but several times. Some people sing in the shower – academics rehearse their talks.
  • Make sure that you can get through all your slides.
  • Reading? Know where you are going to make a joke. Know what to emphasise when reading the text, where to pause and where to speed up.
  • Notes. You can make notes underneath your slides and use presenter view; this helps to make sure you don’t forget anything, a real risk with the conversational genre.
  • If you are reading you can get a script together -that is, if you are reading and you haven’t written the text as if it is to be read.  You know that you can prepare a separate text just for reading. Remember speaking, reading aloud, is not the same as reading to yourself. Go through your paper highlighting what you will read out. Then read it aloud and time yourself. Adjust and then cut and paste the highlighted pieces into your reader’s script.

Preparation doesn’t fix everything. But it is important.

Being prepared is respecting your audience and their need/desire to understand what you are presenting. Being prepared is respecting your work, and organising to present it in the best possible  light. Being prepared is also about valuing and respecting your own scholarly self and your colleagues. You are not only representing what you have spent time, and a part of your life, getting together but also representing scholars in your field and the scholarly endeavour itself.