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On presenting papers

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In the coming weeks many philosophy majors will be presenting papers either at our own LPSC colloquium or at the UVU philosophy conference. Since many of you haven’t presented papers before, I thought it might be helpful to offer some pointers and tips.

1. You will need to find out how much time you have for your presentation, and how much of that time will be set aside for questions and discussion. A typical amount of time is something like 15 or 20 minutes for presentation, plus 5 or 10 minutes for discussion.

2. The next thing to determine is whether you would be comfortable informally presenting your paper, or whether you want to read it aloud. If you think you’ll be nervous, it’s somewhat easier to read your paper aloud. Then you won’t get flustered or confused or leave out anything. But if you’re comfortable and confident, you might prefer the looseness and spontaneity of an informal presentation.

3. If you are reading, practice. It typically takes about 2 minutes to read a page. You want to be sure to read slowly enough that the audience can follow what you are saying. You might even want to rewrite your paper so that it is more easily digested by a listening audience. You may want to prepare handouts with an outline, or key passages you’re analyzing, or arguments, or diagrams, if you think it will help your listeners understand what you’re saying. You may want handouts also if you are not reading.

4. Be loud and clear. No one likes listening to a mumbler.

5. When it comes to questions, you might hear one that you don’t know how to answer. Then you should say, “That’s a good question. I don’t know how to answer it. Does anyone have any ideas?” You won’t look like a fool (unless it’s a simple question that you obviously should have already considered.) You will look like someone who is willing to learn.

Others may have other pointers or tips. Please share!

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8 Comments

  1. Good good tips, they would have been helpful for me last year.
    I greatly second the point of practicing your speech if its being read, but also if its being presented, as i represented that problem last year. I thought I would just go and be a talker instead of a cold reader, and I kept losing my train of thought or being overcome by nerves. I seriously wanted a plane or crazed gunman to come into the room and end me there.
    It helps a great deal with your mental focus to practice an informal speech, and you can be more relaxed and dynamic that way.
    In regards to simply reading, again, practice and time yourself, so that you aren’t looking at the clock and getting nervous. Our big perplexity last year was an issue of length. Our instructions were to present a paper of about 5-6 pages for a 15 minute speech. People just brought their full length papers and it was like listening to buzz saws, all that wonderful information was simply lost due to the speed and compression. Speaking more clearly and slowly will help the audience develop questions and absorb the material instead of trying to keep up with it all.

    For the UVU speakers such as myself, our instructions are to provide a paper copy of the presentation for further grading, so there’s no need for us to try and tough it out to impress the flocks of buxom ladies. I’d suggest (as I’m going to do) keeping a handout type paper of quotes or lines to keep yourself straight so that you don’t leave things out or get nervous on a lost thought and stand there with your head down for a minute or so wanting a Disaster Movie Death (poking at myself here. :)

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  2. Huenemann says:

    Wait — so does that mean that the organizers would prefer you not to read your papers? Or is it up to you?

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  3. ….Which part are you inquiring about? Its a presentation but they want a hard copy for an award. The language is:
    ” These prizes will be judged by the UVU Philosophy department faculty, and will be awarded shortly after the conference date. Please bring a hard copy of your presentation to the conference to facilitate this process.”
    Sorry for the confusion about that!

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  4. Oh dear, I sure hope that didn’t come out as sarcastic, it wasn’t meant to. I was just a little confused on the question, sorry!

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  5. Huenemann says:

    Not at all. Some conferences prefer people to “present” papers (meaning: talk about the ideas they contain informally, without reading) rather than “read” them. But “present” can also be used generally to mean “either read them or discuss them informally; it’s up to you.” It is almost always up to the person to decide whether they prefer to read or present.

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  6. Kleiner says:

    Not only is it almost always up to the person, in my experience people almost always just read their papers. While a more informal “off the cuff” talk is probably better (as the U of Utah prof did on Taoism and virtue theory), it requires that one be a real master over the material. Point is, there is no shame in just reading a paper – philosophers have enough of an attention span that they don’t need silly things like power point slides and Oprah-style audience interaction to remain engaged.
    That said, listening to a paper can be either engaging or quite boring. So practice reading through your paper. Know it well enough that you can make frequent eye contact with your listeners. Don’t be monotone, rather learn to modulate your voice to emphasize certain passages. Speak loudly and clearly. And practice your cadence. Nervous people sometimes start to read very quickly and so lose their audience.
    Good luck everyone! I think it is fair to say that this semester has the greatest amount of philosophy student involvement in conferences that I can think of in my 5 years here, it makes me quite proud!

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  7. I should have been clearer, and apologize. I think this one (the UVU) is up to the person, the LPSC was when I attended last year. The paper length suggestions they sent in an instructions email was a guideline to avoid the problem of last year, of reading a 20 page paper in 15 minutes flat. The UVU wants a hard copy for award purposes, it doesn’t have to be verbatim or anything like that.

    Good points Kleiner, though I’d hold back on the Oprah comments. After all, we might lose a lot of our audience if they aren’t guaranteed that “Everybody’s getting a new car!!!!” :)

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  8. Kleiner says:

    I want to add something about the LPSC Student Symposium. Huenemann and I were both extremely impressed with the quality of the proposals across the board. It was very difficult to narrow them down, and in fact we would have preferred including everyone since every proposal was interesting and promising. Those that were not accepted should not take it as a remark on the quality of their proposal, decisions had as much to do with practical time constraints and other such things.
    So a hearty congratulations to everyone who submitted something for a job well done!

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