How to stop being boring in conference papers

I’ve not been going to conferences all that long: I’m only a first-year PhD student. However, in the short time I have been attending and speaking at conferences, I’ve already become a pretty vehement opponent of a certain way of presenting. You probably know what I’m talking about – the kind of conference paper where someone reads out an extract from an essay or article in a monotone, barely lifting their eyes from the page.

Now, when I’ve talked about this to people, they sometimes draw a dichotomy between reading a paper like this, and presenting in an improvisational, ad hoc style – the idea being perhaps that they have to read their papers, because they’re not able to present just from notes or slides. This is a false dichotomy! And I think it’s quite a damaging one, because it means people fall back on the monotone paper-reading because they don’t feel able to improvise. There’s absolutely a middle ground, though. I’d love to be able to present my work just from notes, but right now I don’t have either the confidence in my material or the skills at timing to do it. So I do use a script for my papers. But I don’t just cut an extract from previous work and read it out; instead, I edit it to make it more conversational in tone, and I try to present in an engaging way. In this post, I want to offer a quick guide to presenting a paper with a script, but without being…well, boring and difficult to follow.

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