Presentation tools

I was rehearsing my conference paper this morning, and discovered a very useful tool to time the paper. With this online stopwatch I found out that my paper takes me 20 minutes and 52 seconds to read. Very reassuring.

Also on the subject of presentation tools, I plan to use a PowerPoint presentation at the conference, to allow the audience to read along with quotations from primary material, and to display some images. I had a discussion over the use of PowerPoint this weekend, when an exact scientist (who shall remain anonymous) advised me to include slides that summarize my arguments, or at least reveal the structure of my paper to the audience. I used to be bored by such slides in lectures, but perhaps in the case of a twenty-minute paper, which tends to be rather dense, this is not such a bad idea? I have the impression, though, that although such summarizing slides are common in the exact sciences, you do not find them much at conferences in the humanities. Is it because we put more faith in our rhetorical skills?

I looked into this question, and googled Paul N. Edwards’ brave attempt at transforming the conference culture of the humanities. He writes that speakers at a conference should simply talk to their audience, instead of reading out a paper. Also, PowerPoint in his view can function as a means of structuring as well as timing a paper.

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5 thoughts on “Presentation tools

  1. That stopwatch is cute.

    As for not reading from papers, you’ll have a job to tear me away from them. There’s nothing wrong with a well-written and well-read paper. The other way has its downsides too (lack of focus and flow, for example) if done poorly, as scientists will tell you. The best thing is for researchers, whatever the discipline, to find what works best for them individually and then use it.

    But I should probably use more visual aids than I do at the moment…

  2. I agree, and the arguments you use — the lack of focus and flow that results from a ‘talk’ instead of a ‘paper’ — are precisely the ammunition I used in my discussion with the scientist.

    Having said that, I just witnessed a wonderful keynote speech at the Valenciennes conference I went to (here is a photo of all speakers). The keynote speaker used powerpoint to structure her argument, and did not really use her written notes at all. It was a very lively and stimulating opening of the conference.

    Perhaps this way of presentation works best when you are presenting a broad overview of developments in the field, and paving the way for future directions, and does not work as well when you present a paper that gets into the nitty-gritty details of your own research?

  3. I agree with eszter – it really does depend on the type of presentation. I am a great fan of Powerpoint or Keynote presentations, provided that the level of text is minimal. Images are great, but text can be intrusive. I’ve found that some people (students in particular) find it difficult to decide whether to listen or to read along.

    I’m also fond of animation. For a paper I gave on The Merchant of Venice I recreated a scene that I was discussing using animated LEGO characters. It was very popular – I had people asking about the LEGO for the remainder of the conference… I’d be happy to give you the link for the free Flash application that I used if you’re interested.

    I hope all goes well with your paper!

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