21 Unsolicited Pieces of Advice for Novice PAMLA Conference AttendeesPresenters

21 Unsolicited Pieces of Advice for Novice PAMLA Conference Attendees/Presenters

  1. A lot of this year’s PAMLA conference is online. So, whether you are attending PAMLA 2021 in-person, or virtually, or both, you will need to create a Whova account to access our virtual events and sessions, and probably download the Whova app. Otherwise, you’ll be missing a huge swath of the conference. And if you are in a virtual session, you cannot attend without first signing into Whova. Please use your email that you use for PAMLA to sign in. And please do so very soon, as a lot of fun, interesting, and exciting conference discussion is already taking place on Whova. Go here to set up your account: https://whova.com/portal/webapp/pamla_202111/


  1. In-person attendee advice: Remember this year to bring multiple masks. You will need them. Also if you have an issue or concern, please contact PAMLA Executive Director, Craig Svonkin: [email protected] or 626-354-7526. Or on Whova, just “Ask Organizers Anything” under Community.


  1. Go to other folks’ sessions, and during the Q&A at the end, ask a real, thoughtful question or two (don’t make a speech disguised as a question). Doing so will be good for you, and good for the presenter and the entire session. Good listeners and thoughtful, polite questioners make a conference more successful.


  1. Go to as many other sessions as you can. Don’t just give your paper and leave. The karma you generate as a result of attending other sessions will mean more people will attend your session in turn. If everyone followed this rule, no one would have to complain about the size of their own session’s audience.


  1. Read through (out loud) and time your presentation a few times before you present, both to make sure you will not go over your allotted time and to be sure your paper reads well and is clear. (Please see “How to Present a PAMLA Paper” below.)


  1. Remember, “Sing out, Louise!” Be sure those all the way at the back of the room can hear you.


  1. In-person session advice: If your talk depends on images or text, plan a backup (handouts, or a mime, perhaps?) just in case the AV doesn’t work. Get to your room a few minutes early to check the AV. And factor the AV time into your presentation time. If you have a mere 17 minutes to present, and it takes you three minutes just to get a five minute clip to show, you will only have nine minutes left for your paper (yes, the time you take to set up and get the AV to work does count as part of your allotted time).


  1. Remember that presenting a paper—or your research, your argument—is a performance. Think about how to perform interestingly your work to an audience. Simply reading as quickly as you can a bunch of words for twenty minutes is probably not the most interesting performance strategy. Your listeners might have just heard five or six other scholarly essays—give them a reason to remain engaged.


  1. Try to get something real, vital, alive, important, or interesting into your paper. People have limited time and attention, so try to move them, inform them, inspire them, intrigue them, or make them think.


  1. You are giving an oral presentation, so remember that what might work in a written/read essay may not work in an oral presentation.


  1. Avoid overly long plot summaries, on the one hand, and overly dense, extended theoretical passages, on the other. Either too much plot summarizing or too much dense theorizing left un-explicated or unapplied can test an audience’s patience.


  1. You probably should assert something, and you probably need supporting evidence to explain and shore up your main assertion.


  1. Clarity of prose and clear, logical connections are no crime.


  1. Try to look up from your paper now and again, so as to make eye contact with your audience. Likewise, try to modulate your voice.


  1. You don’t need to express every idea you ever had about this subject. Remember, other conferences await you in the future. It is usually more interesting and useful to dive deeply rather than trying to explore too much territory. It is better to speak clearly and thoughtfully rather than to rush too quickly so as to try to cram too much material into a 17-minute presentation.


  1. Stay in contact with your chair and/or presiding officer. They are there to help. Be sure they know you are set for the session, and that you know exactly how much time you have for your presentation. If a problem comes up, please let your presiding officer, chair, and Craig Svonkin, PAMLA Executive Director ([email protected] or 626-354-7526), know immediately.


  1. Look at the map of the conference site (https://www.pamla.org/pamla-2021-accommodations/ ), and the schedule for the conference, ahead of time. Be sure you know where you need to be, and where you want to be. Leave for your session early enough so that even if something were to go wrong, you’d still arrive in time for your session. Arrive early to pick up your registration materials (the registration process may take, depending on crowds, 15-30 minutes), and arrive at your session early as well. Plan sufficient time for all of that. Nothing horrifies a panelist more than the chair arriving late, and nothing horrifies a chair more than a panelist arriving late. You may see the PAMLA schedule here: https://pamla.ballastacademic.com/Webforms/Schedule.aspx . Or better yet, look at your Whova web platform for the schedule, or the Whova mobile app.


  1. When your fellow presenters are presenting, or when you are in the audience listening to a presentation, do try to pay attention and jot down some notes, so you can help to foster a lively discussion following the presentations. A stimulating discussion can be as important and inspiring as three or four interesting papers.


  1. Try to be friendly and have fun. If this is your first PAMLA conference, welcome. If you are naturally shy, do try to push yourself to be friendly. Put yourself out there—if you do push yourself a bit, you will have a better and more productive time.


  1. Don’t take yourself too seriously. You might make mistakes. That’s fine. Just keep moving forward, with a good sense of humor and a desire to learn.


  1. Come to the special conference events and sessions (for example, the PAMLA Welcome Event: Creative Writers Spotlight; the Saturday Virtual Welcome Featuring Colin Cloud, the Cyber Mentalist; the Sunday PAMLA Forum; the Presidential Address and Plenary Address; the Thursday night PAMLA Reception, etc.):


    • Presidential and Plenary Address Luncheons:





  • Thursday Evening PAMLA Reception:


  • Virtual Welcome Event: Featuring Colin Cloud, the Cyber Mentalist:



  • Sunday PAMLA Forum:




And there are many other terrific sessions for you to choose from. As long as we have good topics proposed, we will have fascinating papers and discussions for you to join. So, please check out our conference schedule, either here (https://pamla.ballastacademic.com/Webforms/Schedule.aspx ) or on Whova!




A Primer for First-Time Presenters


If this is your first time presenting a conference paper, the following suggestions may help you as you begin to prepare. This brief primer will provide advice on

1) Preparing the presentation,

2) Presenting the paper,

and, finally      3) Preparing yourself.


Preparing the Presentation


You’ve written a paper for publication. Now you need to revise it for presentation!


You only have a limited amount of time to present your ideas (usually 20 minutes for a three-person session, or 15 or 16 minutes if there are four panelist, but ask your presiding officer or chair for the exact amount of time), so you’ll need to condense the arguments and examples in your paper into an essay that will be comprehensible in a brief talk.


Think about your listener’s needs. Hearing a paper read isn’t the same as being able to read and reread a published essay. So, constructions that work well when written and read silently in the comfort of your home or office don’t always work when spoken. Many perfectly good written constructions are not easy for your audience to follow when spoken. Also, technical or esoteric terms and multi-syllabic words can be hard for your audience to understand when spoken. You may therefore need to slow down, clarify difficult concepts or terms, and forecast or recap important concepts (on the other hand, some presentations using PowerPoint can go too slowly, so think about your speed in both directions).


When simply reading your written paper, you may be likely to go too fast for your audience to follow. In addition, if you try to read too many pages of an essay, you might neglect the important vocal emphases and gestures that help make your paper interesting and help your audience follow you – volume modifications, pauses, rhythm, and intonation. Even though it is probably wise to read your paper, don’t forget the importance of making eye-contact with your audience, using facial gestures – smiles, raised-eyebrows, expressive looks – , and generally making use of all the complex cues that are important parts of oral communication.


This means that you’ll want to edit the paper for spoken delivery, so that your audience can follow your argument and understand your points, in three ways:

  1. Make the structure of the paper clear,
  2. Make the language as clear as possible, and
  3. Reduce the content – so that you can go slowly enough to teach the material rather than just declare it.



  1. Making the structure of the paper clear


If possible, let your audience know the structure –by stating it explicitly in your introduction or implicitly in your opening.


It’s probably a good idea to provide a handout so that your audience can follow your argument. Handouts are also helpful if you plan to read some longer quotations—your reader will appreciate seeing these quotations. Or, perhaps you can use a PowerPoint for these sorts of quotations.


What are the 3-5 key points/ideas you want your audience to understand?

You might want to let your audience know where you’re heading by mentioning these key points/ideas in your introduction.


  1. Making the language as clear and direct as possible



  • Try reading your essay out loud a few times to yourself, listening to be sure that a general audience member could understand your main ideas.
  • If you cannot avoid using technical language, do explain it immediately.

Not everyone in your audience will know what a “hypertaxonomic referential derivative” is – you may need to tell them. (Note: I just made that term up!)


  • Include some repetition of your key points to ensure that the argument you’re making is clear.


  1. Reducing the material so that you can teach/explain it


Take the time necessary to make sure your paper is ready to be presented orally, and in only 15-20 minutes (depending on the time-limit given to you).


Remember, your listeners might have already heard ten papers that day. You have to give them a reason to listen, to engage. So, think about what makes a paper engaging. Have you included good examples of your concept? Is your paper fun to listen to? Entertaining? Educational? Thought-provoking? Your audience is there to learn something; you need to clearly express to them what you’ve discovered.


  • Remember:
  • You are the expert on your topic.
  • Your audience may not know much about the topic.
  • Provide sufficient context for your audience to understand.


  • Identify your key points.


  • What are the 3-5 main points you want your audience to understand at the end of your talk?


  • In 16 minutes, you probably cannot explain and offer interesting supporting evidence for more than three to five main points. Often, one main point with two supporting points, and two good, interesting examples of those ideas, examples fully explained, is plenty for a conference paper..


Presenting the Paper




Practice giving your paper orally. This can be in the context of a formal presentation to your peers and faculty at a department seminar, or to your advisor in the confines of his or her office, or to friends sitting around your living room, or simply aloud to yourself.


The idea is to get familiar with the paper as an oral presentation, and to be comfortable delivering it orally. You might even mark your paper up like a script—with “stage directions” of when to look up, of when to make a brief aside, etc.


Don’t apologize for what you’ve written. If you’ve timed your paper out, don’t add a long impromptu preamble. Show respect to your fellow presenters by keeping to your time limit. And you probably should avoid clichés like: “This is a piece of a larger project.”


Physical Considerations


Sitting is not usually the best posture for speaking to an audience. Sitting can make it difficult to breathe. If you do decide to sit, be sure not to hunch over your laptop—doing so restricts your diaphragm. Remember, you need to project, so that even some of your audience members with hearing issues can hear what you have to say. Practice reading your essay in a firm, clear voice that can be heard by all in the room.


If there’s a lectern available, try to use it. If not, perhaps stand in place.


Be sure to pause regularly, looking at your audience to be sure they’re following you. Pausing gives you the opportunity to breathe. Breathing is important. But you will need to plan out the length of your essay so that there is time for pauses, time for breathing.


It helps to have a large-font version of your presentation from which to speak. This can be either a large-font document on your laptop or a large-font printed version of your talk. The idea is to have something that you can easily see. And be sure to number the pages so you don’t get lost!


Handouts and other visual aids


A handout is often a good idea, as can give your audience visual guidance to help follow your talk. It gives your audience something to look at and something to take notes on. It also gives them something to take home, so they can remember the talk and get in touch with you if they have something to add to your research.


  • A handout can include:
  • an outline
  • a copy of the text you are analyzing
  • key quotations
  • diagrams
  • graphs
  • pictures pegged to your talk


  • There are many possibilities for things to add to your handout.
  • Consider adding anything you think will help clarify the material and engage your audience.
  • Longer quotations are particularly good to include on the handout, because they are especially hard to follow and because audience members may want to reread them.


  • The more senses you engage, the better! Hearing, seeing, writing – all help keep your audience engaged.


  • Consider including your name, affiliation, and email address on the handout, so interested audience members can contact you if they want to hear more about your research.


Preparing Yourself


“Public speaking is more frightening than death!”

  • I don’t know if this is true or not, but there have been many studies suggesting it’s at least partially true.


  • How to overcome this fear?

Practice!  Practice!  Practice!

You are likely to have many opportunities to practice, from formal seminars, to informal discussions, to meetings with your advisor.


  • There is almost certainly a Toastmasters group on your campus.


“The mission of a Toastmasters club is to provide a mutually supportive and positive learning environment in which every individual member has the opportunity to develop oral communication and leadership skills, which in turn foster self-confidence and personal growth.”


Seek it out.  Attend.  Join.


Toastmasters is a structured public-speaking program, with a structured public-speaking curriculum. You will attain some level of public-speaking proficiency by participating, even if only for 2 or 3 meetings.


The Question and Answer Period – possibly the most frightening part?


  • If you don’t know the answer, say so immediately, and then pivot to something you do know that is related to your talk and to the question.
  • g., “I haven’t given much thought to that issue, but in the context of …”
  • Then say something.
  • The admission that you don’t know gives you time to think of something you do know!

Remember: You know a lot!


  • If you do know the answer, state your thoughts immediately. And then talk more about your topic! But remember that the discussion and Q & A is for all of the panelists, so try to limit how long you speak so your fellow panelists can also respond to questions.


  • Always acknowledge the question and the questioner.
  • g., “Thank you for that question,” or, “That’s a very good question.”
  • (If nothing else, this brief acknowledgement gives you time to come up with an answer!)


  • Remember, the Q&A part of the session is your opportunity to expound on your topic, and your audience’s opportunity to learn more about your topic.


Try to have fun!

Your first time presenting a conference paper should be exciting and rewarding… and fun!

Focusing on the three areas discussed above:

1) Preparing the presentation,

2) Presenting the paper, and

3) Preparing yourself,

Doing so will help you experience this wonderful conference opportunity with confidence.

(Written by Professor Melissa Axelrod and William Russell Sype, with some minor revisions.)