It's a panel presentation, not a cattle auction
April 1, 2013 6:49 AM   Subscribe

I'm presenting at my first major academic conference this week. My draft paper is a whopping 6300 words right now. We've been asked to keep our presentations to 10 minutes. (gulp!) What's the best way to keep me under the time limit?

I was planning on just outlining the main points of the first half of the paper (literature review and historical background) and spend the bulk of my time talking about the most interesting aspects of my exploratory case study. I'm definitely not going to rattle off my entire paper like the grad student version of the Micro Machines fast talker guy.

Academics! What have been the best presentation strategies for you to get interesting comments and feedback? Can you jump past your literature review? Get through the historical background of your case study in three sentences? Or am I just bonkers for trying to give a 2 minute precis of 3000 words of my paper and I really should be distilling my paper down to a much shorter version?

There was great advice about how to get the most out of a conference in this AskMe but I need presentation-specific advice on what is important to include in your panel talk. Assume I will do a timed run-through beforehand.
posted by spamandkimchi to Education (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I don't know what field you're in, but being able to scale your research up or down -- and present it in a coherent way even if you can't get into detail -- is a very valuable skill in most. I'd recommend actually writing a shorter version out, even if you won't be reading from a paper when you're presenting. Give yourself a limit of 1800 words. Unlike writing an outline of major points, this will force you to deal with how much time and space each of your points will actually need. Once you've written your 1800 words, time yourself reading it and adjust accordingly.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:58 AM on April 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

(And no, you don't have to give your entire lit review. If someone wants specifics, they'll ask you in the question period or after the talk.)
posted by oinopaponton at 7:01 AM on April 1, 2013

Agreeing on the lit review: I want to know about your exploratory study and your results, not so much about the literature review itself. Boil the lit review down to the core questions of your study. The lit review helps tell the story of how you got to your research questions, but unless the focus of your paper *is* the lit review, focus on your study.

(I am in the healthcare field, so naturally I'm interested in results, but in your field, this might be different, so ask people in your field. Good luck!)
posted by absquatulate at 7:08 AM on April 1, 2013

I am not an academic, but have given plenty of presentations. Could you not just present the most interesting aspects of your research and let go the literature review and historical background unless really required for the target audience to get the point. Give a handout for those interested.
posted by sfts2 at 7:14 AM on April 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sounds like you are in a 'paper field' (I'm in a 'presentation field' - getting a paper accepted to a conference *never* comes with the assumption that I will read even one verbatim sentence from the paper during my talk), but ten minutes is really, really short for a talk! Do you have slightly-more-senior-than-you colleagues around you can ask about this? Have you watched other people give talks of this kind?

I'm hesitant to give advice since the norms for your academic community may be very different from mine, so my advice is really "ask your colleagues", but if the expectation is that you will stand up and 'read' or at least skim your actual paper, then yes, I would absolutely recommend actually writing out something close to what you'll say. And conferences are for new stuff, so I would definitely be most interested in your case study/new contributions.

My work makes tangential contact with a field where paper-reading is standard (which I'll admit I found absolutely weird the first time I saw it!), and the toughest time I've seen people have is when they have to summarize a long written paper on the fly. Depending on the norms in your field, you need either a written precis or at least outline/points to cover - maybe ask those colleagues of yours what kinds of notes they use for presenting?
posted by heyforfour at 7:17 AM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do you have a sense of the audience? In general, it makes sense to focus on your original work. But if your work is a refinement of previous literature, or an example that is generally consistent with previous work, and if the audience is unlikely to be familiar with the subfield, then it would make more sense to educate them more generally, in brief explain your case study, and then invite people to read the paper for more details.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:27 AM on April 1, 2013

Best answer: 10 minutes is a very short presentation. You are realistically only going to get through about 1500 words. So even if you were try to give a 2-minute precis of the 3000 words of your paper that's lit review and background, you would be faced with the problem of trying to fit the remaining 3000 "important parts" into a timespan that still only has room for another 1200 words or so. I would do as oinopaponton suggests and recreate your paper to fit the actual constraints you have, ditching the lit review entirely and offering only the briefest and essential background information before getting into your novel contributions.

You can have copies of a fuller version available to hand out to the interested listener, but I still think that could be shorter than 6000 words. To be a bit vulgar, it's important not to shoot your whole wad at one conference presentation. Try to distill it down to not just "the most interesting aspects" but to one cohesive, interesting aspect that you can flesh out adequately and give room to breathe despite the short time allotment. Save other "interesting aspects" for future presentation opportunities.
posted by drlith at 7:36 AM on April 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

You have 10 minutes, and that may or may not be with time for questions? This is where you whet their appetite for your work, not where you talk about your work.

If your field is anything like mine, you need 10 slides. They should be mostly pictures. Most of the talk should be background, you should strive to read as little verbatim from your paper as possible.

Slide 1: Title slide
Slides 2-3: Introduce the issue, ackowledge coauthors
Slides 4-5: Some background, what others (maybe those in your audience) have done
Slides 6-9 Contents of your paper, the most interesting graphs/results/pictures
Slide 10: Questions slide

Note that publiction is forthcoming (and where), pass out business cards, offer to talk with anyone at greater length after the session.
posted by pseudonick at 7:38 AM on April 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

In ten minutes, there is no "bulk of your time". This is the overview-est of overviews. If you were presenting an hour's talk, this would be the time you might take over the introduction and conclusion, and a couple of questions. If you were in a hurry.

You definitely don't have time for a precis of the paper. But you absolutely have time to explain to people why your paper is interesting and they should read it.

If they want the literature review they can go read the paper!
posted by emilyw at 8:13 AM on April 1, 2013

You want to tell a little short story. Pick one result from your data/analysis and tell that one. Set it up with whatever background/lit. review necessary to explain that one interesting result. At the end, explain that it's part of a bigger project with a couple highlights of other results (presentations/papers to come).
posted by iamkimiam at 8:15 AM on April 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

I want to work in your disciplines where ten minutes is short instead of being normal (or slightly longer than normal for MPSA meetings).

These things vary by discipline so you really ought to be talking to your advisers first and foremost.

The best way to keep under the time limit is to practice, and then cut stuff until it comes in under the time limit.

So, again, things vary by discipline, but in my own social science the two things you want to talk about almost exclusively are (1) what your new contribution is and (2) why someone might give a damn.

That means:

Take anything about the intellectual history of your project, especially why you're interested, and throw it away.

Take the lit review and throw 99% of it away. If the underlying project is a thesis, and so has a cover-your-ass lit review, throw away 99.9% of it. You want a slide or two as needed to help establish why someone might give a shit. If it doesn't directly and immediately help you demonstrate something, don't mention it or give it any space.

You'd want slides for

(1) Who you are
(2) Statement of the problem in one slide
(3) Why someone might care in one or two slides -- all background in 3 and 4
(4) Your methods
(5) Your results or findings
(6) What they mean and why, again, someone might care

What you really want to do, which is HARD HARD HARD, is bust through 1-4 in as abbreviated a way as you can so you can concentrate on 5 & 6.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:31 AM on April 1, 2013

(Side note for fellow slide-users...OP may be in a field where slides are entirely non-standard, and should determine whether this is the case before planning to use them...)
posted by heyforfour at 8:36 AM on April 1, 2013

The ten minute time limit is to get you to pare your paper down to the essentials, not to get you to speed-talk through it.

An anecdote: In grad school in our very last class, we each had to give a 15 minute presentation on our research project. Once we were all done, we were all done and celebratory pitchers of beer awaited us at the bar across the street. One guy was so enamoured of his topic that as the last speaker, he spoke for nearly an hour. We were all desperately trying to give him signals to wrap it the fuck up, but he was oblivious! No one really cared about his topic, or what he did with it, or anything like that. We wanted to go, burn our books and never speak of grad school again!

So, ten minutes is ten minutes. As others have said, hit the high points and sit down.

Practice, out loud, multiple times, until you have it perfectly at ten minutes or under.

If you do a good job of this, then people will read your paper voluntarily.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:43 AM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

- 20x ahead of time
- Standing up
- Outloud
- With any multimedia you'll be using, including having a screen behind you (not just your laptop)
- Ensure any dongles will be provided, or ideally, bring your own
- SLOW DOWN. Write this on top of every page. Take a breath between paragraphs.
- SMILE! :-)
- Put on your entire outfit, practice standing and gesturing. See if anything gapes or slips or pulls.
- Record yourself if possible

You'll be great. It gets better with time, promise.
posted by barnone at 8:53 AM on April 1, 2013

Best answer: The advice I have is geared towards Powerpoint presentations, but I think that it's useful for planning presentations more generally:

-practice a lot before hand, with your slides, using a timer to make sure that you're keeping within the time limit
-you should spend between 1-3 minutes on each slide. So for your presentation, you'd have around 5 slides to work with.
-you should have no more than one table/figure or 6 bullet points per slide. You don't read from the slides, they only provide a general outline for your talk.

also, the progression of slides that I try to use is
0. Title slide with author name
1. Research question (no more than one very clear sentence)
2. Lit review
3. Methods & data
4. Results
5. Implications & future research
6. Bonus slide: contact information

So the general pattern of the talk is, "this is the question I'm asking. Let me tell you in about 30 seconds why I think it's important. Here other people who have tried to look at these types of issues before, they've done a great job. But, there is a gap in the research that I want to fill which I am clearly explaining to you now. I used X data and Y method on population Z to address the gap. My results show that I (did/ didn't/ partially) succeeded in filling the gap I identified. My work (is/isn't) super important to everyone who works in this area, and I have some thoughts about the additional questions that my paper raises for the field."

It's also commonplace in the conferences that I go to have a final slide that says "thank you" so that you remember to thank people who helped you out in the presentation, thank the audience for their attention, and ask for questions. Below that is your name, affiliation, and email address in case anyone wants to contact you.
posted by _cave at 9:23 AM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

also I would use an outline or a powerpoint presentation to assist with preparing beforehand even if your field isn't pro-powerpoint.
posted by _cave at 9:29 AM on April 1, 2013

Before you take any of this excellent advice, try to come up with one sentence - really one sentence which describes your main point and why it is important. If this is easy, then you need to build ten minutes around this idea - add support to the main idea. If this is hard, you don't yet have a good idea about exactly what you want to say. Focus on finding this sentence and the rest will fall into place.

As an aside you will be asked by lots of people at the conference about what you will present or have presented. You will need the one sentence answer for these conversations as well.
posted by NoDef at 10:03 AM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Step 1: Talk to several different people in your department/discipline who have attended the conference before to determine the general expectations for presentations, not only in terms of format (slides mandatory, slides optional/preferred, slides despised, etc), but also in terms of content expectations. For example, my personal inclination is to advise cutting the lit review, in part because as an audience member I find that the least interesting material, but it's conceivable that the audience you're presenting to may expect it--so find out.

Step 2: Having established the expectations, go back through this thread and pick out the advice that best pertains to the style of presentation you are expected to give. If you are giving a slide-driven, empirical results type presentation, I think iamkimiam and ROU_Xenophobe have good advice. If you will be expected to read a paper, I think drlith has good advice. Definitely do not just take your 6000 word document and try to mark up what you want to read. I have seen many, many people do this, and it is super boring and usually very hard to follow (and then opportunity to lose your place increases exponentially).

Step 3: Put your slides or whatever together and practice, practice, practice. I recommend doing at least one in front of other people, because we frequently talk faster by ourselves than to an audience. And if you are reading, the more you practice the better chance you have at giving a more extemporaneous sounding talk. You want to be comfortable enough with your material that you can make lots of eye contact with the audience, even if you are "reading." No eye contact = boring, equals I won't remember your paper and won't bother to look it up later.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 1:16 PM on April 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the great suggestions everyone! I'll definitely poll my colleagues and my advisor today to ask for urban planning-specific advice and any tips on the Urban Affairs Association conference itself. It's a bit of a mixed bag of social science disciplines and practitioners so I assume PowerPoint and the like is fine.
posted by spamandkimchi at 3:00 PM on April 1, 2013

Best answer: In my field (social sciences), I would do 10 minutes like this:

Pick the most important point from the paper.
Make one slide that illustrates that point. (Illustrates is better than states. You can have a slide with one sentence on it, stating that point, but that is boring. Better is a figure or diagram or table, or even an image.)
Then make a slide that illustrates why people should care about that point. This might be a quote or two from the literature that call for work like yours. This is the only place for anything resembling a lit review.
And make a slide that illustrates how you found evidence or arguments for that point.(Methodology if you conducted an experiment or interviews or whatever. A picture of your fieldsite if you did fieldwork.)

Those are your three content slides. Make a title slide that will sit on the screen while you are being introduced or introducing yourself. If you like, you can make a final slide that lists your references, and have that up on the screen while you take questions. In my field, we often print the references on a sheet of paper and have copies available for people to take if they like.

You will build your talk around those three main content slides. For an empirical type study, the most sensible order is usually (1) why we care, (2) how you came to your conclusions, (3) your conclusion. For a more discursive, argumenty paper, it might make sense to go (1) your conclusion, (2) how you got there, (3) why we care.

If you decide you need extra filler slides, go ahead, but if you end up with more than 10 total, you are unlikely to keep to time or end up being coherent to the audience.

Think of it not as presenting your 6000-word paper, but as telling people just enough to make them want to read your 6000 word paper, or to talk to you about it at coffee.
posted by lollusc at 7:21 PM on April 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Just wanted to update this awesome list of advice with a link to collected advice on academic conferences. The advice is mostly from folks in the social sciences and includes specific comments for academics "on the margins", but could be more broadly applicable and includes advice on presentations, networking, etc.
posted by spamandkimchi at 2:49 PM on August 28, 2013

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