Preparing for the Conference | University of Portland

Preparing for the Conference

Step One: Revising the Paper

1. Consider your audience: You probably wrote your paper for a particular professor and class. However the people listening to you at the conference won't be familiar with what you and your class talked about. You'll need to revise your paper to make it accessible to a broader audience of listeners (who may not even be familiar with the text you're discussing). 

2. Simplify your point:
  • Focus on providing your listeners with one main argument or takeaway. 
  • Limit yourself to analyzing two or three well-chosen passages, rather than dozens. 
  • If you're citing literary critics, limit yourself to one or two crucial ones, rather than dozens.
  • Juxtapose your point against some other way of thinking about the text or problem you're discussing.
3. Put your main claim up front: Engage your listeners. Use your first paragraph to set up your main claim, the problem or question your paper tackles, or the critical conversation you wish to enter.  

4. Signpost and repeat: Tell your audience where you're going and where you've been. This is crucial for a paper read aloud. 

5. Write more conversationally than you normally do: Don't be afraid to use the first person. Phrase things in ways that will help your listeners follow your argument. 

6. Sentences, as well as paragraphs, should be short and punchy: A sentence that works great on paper doesn't necessarily sound the same when read aloud.

7. Brief summaries of whole texts and/or key scenes is often necessary: Assume that your listeners haven't read the text you're presenting on. (Even if they have, it may have been years ago. They'll appreciate having their minds refreshed.) What do they need to know in order to follow your argument? 

8. If your paper engages in a lot of close reading, consider making and distributing a hard copy of your key quotations: A visual aid can work wonders for your audience's comprehension of your paper.


Step Two: Presenting the Paper

1.While many conference presenters simply read their papers aloud, you might consider creating a more engaging presentation; Powerpoint or other presentation styles are welcome as long as you keep to your 18-minute limit.
2. The 9 pages/18 minutes rule: It takes 2 minutes to read one page. Do not go over 9 pages: co-panelists and audience members will be forever grateful.

3. Practice delivering your paper orally: They may look good on the page, but those 4-syllable words will trip you up when you read them out loud. Keep things simple, and get a sense of whether you need to cut more of your paper to keep within the time limit. 

4. Practice delivering your paper orally, part two: In front of a roommate, practice your voice projection, emphasis, and expression: soft voices and monotonous delivery can undermine fabulous ideas.

5. Look up from your paper and engage with your audience: Making eye contact with everyone not only emphasizes the points you want to make, but it also keeps people attentive.

6. When you rehearse, underline words you want to emphasize: This way, you will easily recognize places to "punch" in your paper.

7. Pay attention to your fellow panelists: Listen carefully to your fellow panelists while they read their papers; it's a good idea to take notes while they speak, to have points to discuss later.

8. Pay attention during the discussion: You may still feel 'relief' that you're done presenting, but your job is not entirely over: be prepared for questions or comments about your paper.

9. Q & A etiquette: During the Q & A discussion period, it's okay to ask someone to rephrase a question if it's unclear, or to say that you don't know the answer if you don't.