Careers: Delivering a conference paper for the first time

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The end of this month is the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association. Over 4,000 anthropologists will descend on Washington DC to present papers and schmooze. One of the grad students in my department asked for advice regarding giving a conference paper for the first time.

My general suggestions for conference papers are:

  • You only have 15 minutes. Reading at a relaxed pace, this is only 10-12 pages. I would strongly recommend against trying to read faster than this.
  • With only 10-12 pages, you can only make one point well. You need to distill your thoughts into, "What is the one thing that I want my audience members to think about after they've left?"
  • Explain what you are going to say, say it, then explain it again. Standard five paragraph paper structure also works for conference talks.
  • Conference papers are good practice for job talk skills. Think about the worst job talks you've sat through and ask yourself why they were so bad. In reality, this might be the only AAA you'll have this opportunity to "practice" since after you've come back from the field, you need to be ready for the Real Thing.
  • Practice reading your paper so many times that you do not have to read it anymore. Keep eye contact with the audience. Time your paper so you don't go over time. Practice in front of other grad students and get their feedback.

Anyone have any other advice for first-time paper givers?

[Read other articles on Careers in Anthropology on]


Here's a practical tip from personal experience - don't accidentally leave your notes in the mensroom before you're due to give your paper.

Ouch. That's painful. The modern equivalent is forgetting your power supply (did that, I had painful few minutes left on battery on my laptop) as well as forgetting the appropriate dongle adapter for hooking up to the data projector.

Another thing is to assume you are being surveilled by departments that are interested in you. When I presented at the AAAs in 2002, one of the members of the audience was a faculty member from an institution that I had applied to. I didn't know he was in the audience and they didn't interview at the AAAs. I guess he liked my performance since I was later called to an on-campus interview. But you should always assume that you are being watched -- even on a Sunday morning panel!

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Karen Nakamura published on November 14, 2005 10:35 PM.

Link: ONLY HUMAN exhibit was the previous entry in this blog.

Careers: Visual anthropology "pre-conference" at the AAAs is the next entry in this blog.

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