Thursday, September 24, 2009

5-minute conference presentations--and spin some plates while you're at it

Back in the days of variety shows, there used to be some guy whose whole act was setting up poles and spinning plates on top of them, usually to Khachaturian's "Sabre Dance." (I've seen it parodied in movies like That Thing You Do.)

Now Henry Farrell wants to give academics--well, political scientists, anyway--about the same amount of time for their conference presentations:
Mr. Farrell, an associate professor of political science at George Washington University, uses a blog post for The Monkey Cage to call for a system that would keep presentations at the American Political Science Association moving along—and that would cut them off after five minutes, or perhaps 10 as a compromise.
To ensure that everyone stays within the time, he's not going to use the much-ignored red and green lights that MLA has used. Instead, he wants to use Ignite, a kind of software that makes PowerPoint slides change automatically every 15 seconds. If you only get 20 slides as a maximum length for your presentation--well, you do the math.

Of course, most of us in the humanities have papers rather than PowerPoints at conferences. I've heard roundtables with this 5-minute format, too, although a lot of times people go over those limits. Would this work for a real conference presentation in which an argument had to be developed, supported, and advanced, though?

The spinning plates association came up because I was imagining presenters in the humanities trying to time their talks according to the inexorably advancing slides, keeping all those ideas in the air as they raced frantically through their material. Add a little Khachaturian to a presentation like that, and you've got yourself a YouTube sensation!


Anonymous said...

I can't help but think that at least some sessions at the MLA would be improved with flying plates;-)

Ink said...

Loving your plate-spinning analogy!

I can't imagine MLA presentations in five minutes. Though some of them might get to the point sooner that way. ;)

undine said...

annieem--skimming them over the audience's head would be even better for preventing conference fatigue :-).

Ink, I can't imagine it, either, except in roundtables. Since the MLA claims to be looking for new approaches, though, it'd be interesting to see if they would accept a proposal like this.

michele said...

So would that mean there would also be a time limit on individual questions? i.e. your question can't take more than a minute to ask or you get cut off?

I could see that being a big benefit!

undine said...

Good question, michele. I'm assuming that there'd be a question period at the end. Limiting questions to a minute would certainly stop the "let me ramble on without a question because I haven't talked for 15 minutes and want to give you my research insights" kind of question.