Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Conference panels: a pop quiz

I'm getting the Inspiration Award post ready (thank you, profacero!), but in the meantime, here is a pop quiz about putting together conference panels. You may think these are no-brainers, but I've heard arguments put forth for all the options over the years. (My answer to #3 is below.)

1. You are putting together a panel for Big Conference, which encourages you to have an "expert in the field" (i.e., a famous person) on the panel or as a respondent. A friend of yours, very junior, has submitted a brilliant proposal. Which one do you include?

a. Famous person. Academe is cutthroat, and having Big Conference on my vita is important.
b. Friend. I am not THAT soulless yet.
c. Get them both, if I can.

2. You're in charge of a panel that you know will run because you're the Division Head or Discussion Group Head or whatever. You have a number of really good proposals from graduate students and several that could be good from Dr. Famous and the Oldbloods, who have been writing about these issues for years. What do you do?

a. All grad students. Dr. Famous has had his say; let's hear from some new blood.
b. Grad students and Dr. Famous or one of the Oldbloods. Dr. Famous is a draw, so having him on the panel brings exposure to the grad students.
c. Dr. Famous and the Oldbloods. They're famous for a reason.

3. You want a panel that will go well and people who won't go over their allotted time so that you have to suffer through a terrible presentation or use the hook. Whom do you choose?

a. Graduate students.
b. Mid-level scholars who've been doing this for a while.
c. Dr. Eminent

4. Panelist A wants to use A/V media in her presentation. Where do you put her on the panel?

a. At the beginning to draw people in.
b. In the middle, so that it wakes people up.
c. At the end, because fiddling with the tech stuff and using PowerPoint or media always, always takes longer than expected. Besides, this gives people something to look forward to.
d. I can't believe you're shallow enough to think about this. Put the presentation wherever it fits thematically and don't worry about it.

5. What is the best method of giving the hook to a panelist who is well over his or her allotted time?

a. a card or note saying that time is up
b. tapping on your watch
c. an air horn

Answer to #3: Trick question! All levels can give great papers, and all can give poor ones. Think about how often you've seen these:
--the grad student who brings in an unedited diss chapter and flips through it while muttering "I'll skip this part, but here's what I say in it"
--the mid-level person who has a paper of the appropriate length but feels compelled to gloss every sentence with commentary
--Dr. Eminent's intense love affair with his own voice and confidence in his mad skilz at extemporizing, which results in a scenario in which you get, say, 25 minutes of background on something that everyone already knows. No kidding: I once heard a presentation for which the closest analogy would be telling a group of American historians who Abraham Lincoln was.

What are your answers? There's extra credit on the line here.


Anonymous said...

1c, 2b, 4a, 5a.

3a, or "people whose proposals showed a clue about audience plus email in advance some clear guidelines and a link to Linda Kerber's piece on how to give a good conference paper."

And 4a is because she better show up early and get that tech in place before the panel starts, while you are doing introductions, people are drifting in, etc. The tech you set up beforehand will mysteriously break while no one touches it during the previous 2 papers. Remind me not to go to a panel run by the person who answers D.

Can I write 6?

At what point do you introduce the speakers?
a) introduce them all at the beginning, because that's what you see most people do
b) introduce each one before they speak so that the latecomers are not fiddling with their program trying to figure it out
c) briefly at the beginning while announcing the order, then in more detail before each paper, plus a "thank you, dr. x" after each paper for the people who entered in the middle.

PS re 5. I once attended a quite big conference (6-8 panels at once, over 3-4 days) in which every room had laminated, color-coded "5 minutes" "2 minutes" "stop now" cards for the chairs to use. Excellent innovation.

Anonymous said...

Actually, re 2, if you are the division head, you push for two panels to present as a linked series that both mix senior and junior people. The AHA has started doing grouped panels like this, and it offers some nice continuity in audiences.

undine said...

Great points! Re #6: a and then c/a (thank you) would be my choice.

I wish every conference had those cards.

undine said...

And I don't know how the tech stuff breaks when nobody touches it, but you're right, it always does.

Mac Tíre said...

I made a set and now carry them to every conference. If I chair, you can be the cards get shown. If I present, I like to give them to the chair and ask him to tell me 5 min, 2min. This may seem a bit compulsive, but he/she usually asks to use them for other panelists. Although sometimes you still have to get out the airhorn....

Anonymous said...

1c, 2b, 3b, 4c, 5a.

I am, however, less committed to my answer on 4 than to the others. I'm also not convinced about my choice of all mid level people for the question on htat, because mid level types can get sloppy. Many grad students are still super conscientious, and many senior types are over the sloppy phase and really know how to present.

On introducing the speakers - I don't except by name, their affiliations are in the program, and people probably know their accomplishments or if they don't and are interested, they will find out. I do say all names at the beginning and the relevant name before and after each paper. Perhaps I should say more - I am just allergic to those big laudatory introductions, and I tend to like to strip them away and let the paper itself take the foreground.

Big yes on those laminated cards.

undine said...

Mactire, the cards sound like a good idea, not compulsive at all.

I wonder if those spoof MLA panels about longwinded panelists have ever used the airhorn.

Professor Z, I am allergic to those long introductions, too. For one thing, they take up time; for another, they make the audience anxious about their own productivity. I much prefer the simpler approach.