Preparing for the Conference

Step One: Revising the Paper

1. Consider your audience: Be conscious of the differences in context: your professor reading your paper vs. fellow students listening to your paper.

2. Simplify your point:

  • one main analytical/argumentative point
  • no more than two or three passages to analyze
  • if you use critics, keep it to one or two, rather than citing dozens
  • try to juxtapose your point against some other "way of thinking" or critical commonplace

3. Put your argument/main claim up front: At the least, you should have in your first paragraph a setup of the broadest point you want to make, the problem or question your paper tackles, or the critical conversation you wish to enter, even if you save some sort of "zinger" for later.

4. Signpost and repeat: Tell your audience where you are going and where you have been. This is crucial for a paper read aloud (although also very good to practice for written papers).

5. Write more conversationally than you normally do. Do not be afraid about using the first person, saying things like "as we will see," etc.

6. Sentences, as well as paragraphs, should be short and punchy: A sentence that works great on paper does not necessarily sound the same read aloud.

7. Summaries of whole texts and/or key scenes is often necessary: The rule of "no plot summary" is not so hard and fast when you are addressing this sort of audience.

8. If your paper does a lot of close reading, consider making and distributing a hard copy of your quotes: Having this visual aid can work wonders for your audience's comprehension of your paper.

Step Two: Presenting the Paper

1. While many conference presenters simply read their papers aloud, you might consider creating a more engaging presentation; PowerPoint or other presentation styles are welcome as long as you keep to your 18-minute limit.

2. The nine pages/18 minutes rule: It takes two minutes to read one page. Do not go over nine pages: co-panelists and audience members will be forever grateful.

3. Practice delivering your paper orally: They may look good on the page, but those four-syllable words will trip you when you read them aloud. This will also help you know whether you have to cut more for time.

4. Practice delivering your paper orally, part two: In front of a roommate or at the gym, practice your voice projection, emphasis, and expression: soft voices and monotonous delivery can undermine fabulous ideas.

5. Look up from your paper and look at your audience: Making eye contact with everyone not only emphasizes the points you want to make, but it also keeps people attentive.

6. When you rehearse, underline words you want to emphasize: This way, you will easily recognize places to "punch" in your paper.

7. Pay attention to your fellow panelists: Listen carefully to your fellow panelists while they read their papers; it is a good idea to take notes while they speak, to have points to discuss later.

8. Pay attention during the discussion: You may still feel 'relief' that you are done presenting, but your job is not entirely over: be prepared for questions or comments about your paper.

9. Q & A etiquette: During the Q & A discussion period, it is okay to ask someone to rephrase a question if it is unclear, or to say that you do not know the answer if you do not.