Instructions for Paper Presenters

Submit a Copy of Your Paper and a Short Bio

Please either upload your paper to the myMESA system or email a copy to your panel chair and discussant one month prior to the start of the annual meeting. If you upload your paper the only people who will have access to it are your co-panelists. Papers need not be the final copy; drafts are fine. There is no suggested paper length. Your topic and your depth of coverage should determine the length of your paper. You will present a truncated version of your paper at your panel.

Please also provide your panel chair with a short bio for introductory purposes.

Presentation Length and Tips

James Gelvin, professor of history at UCLA, prepared a piece on paper presentations for his graduate students. We share it here, as we think it is helpful for those who are new to presenting papers.

Plan your presentation for 15 to 20 minutes depending upon the number of papers on your panel and any instructions you may have received from your panel chair. It is unlikely that you will read your whole paper, but rather a summary of it that will fit in the allotted time for your presentation. It takes about 20 minutes to read 10-12 double spaced pages. Practice reading the paper summary you have prepared and time yourself. Our friend Mary Hunt of the Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER), Silver Spring, MD, kindly allowed us to share the following tips she prepared on paper presentations at academic meetings:

Be Brief, Be Witty, Be Seated

Be Brief. It takes about 20 minutes to read 10-12 double spaced pages. Allow a little time for introductory remarks and to repeat for emphasis what you really want to get across. Err on the side of too little material rather than too much. Your audience will thank you. Studies show that the average attention span for spoken words is slightly over 10 seconds. A few good ideas with a clear introduction and concise conclusion will stay with your listeners longer than a convoluted argument. Allow time for questions as it is another opportunity, usually more listener friendly than being read to, to communicate your ideas.

Be Witty. Every (MESA) scholar is not Whoopie Goldberg or Lily Tomlin, but it is important to think of an academic audience as people first and foremost. A touch of humor is always appreciated. It keeps the audience alert. Think of the presentation as needing the clarity of a picture, the precision of an article, the flow of a conversation and the satisfaction of a good meal. Humor adds levity and makes your remarks memorable. Anecdotes and examples will give you a chance to lighten what might otherwise be a deadly dull performance.

Be Seated. Honor the time constraints because they assure that everyone will have an equal opportunity to speak. It is boorish not to, a sure sign of inexperience. Practiced speakers finish up with a bang on or a little ahead of the time. Novices start out strong but end up fumbling because they try to speed read a 30-page paper in twenty minutes. When they realize that their time is rapidly coming to a close they often exclaim, "Oh, heavens, I am just going to skip the next ten pages and read you the conclusion," or desperate words to that effect as if the content they are leaving aside has no bearing on the argument. To avoid this faux pas, keep your presentation to the time allowed. But if you do not manage that:

  • acknowledge the time keeper with a nod so as not to distract your audience; 
  • summarize your remaining material without reference to the time problem; 
  • move smoothly to your conclusion like a practiced speaker and nobody will be any the wiser…except you, the next time.

Delivering a paper is learned behavior. It is like preaching a sermon, teaching a class or giving a lecture anywhere else. You can get it right with practice. Bad things can happen-the microphone can go dead, your PowerPoint® presentation can freeze, you might even have an attack of nerves that will cause you enormous stress. But for the most part it will be a good, even an enjoyable experience. You can enhance it by offering a warm thank you to your introducer and by thanking your audience at the end, Miss Manners would suggest. A quick e-mail thank you to the presider and/or the person who chairs the section is a nicety that increases graciousness among us.

Audio-Visual Equipment

Each panel room will have a LCD projector and VGA and HDMI cables to connect to a computer.

Mac users must bring the appropriate Mac to VGA or HDMI adapter. Some newer Windows computers also require an adapter if they don't have VGA or HDMI ports. The AV company will not have adapters, so presenters must bring their own.

MESA follows the industry standard of only putting microphones in rooms set theater style for 50 or more people. If your panel is held in a room that is set with fewer than 50 chairs, it will not have a microphone.

(Please note that roundtable rooms do not have projectors. Roundtable initial presentations are typically much shorter, five to ten minutes, to allow extensive interaction.)

Presenters must provide their own computer. We recommend that co-panelists share a computer and upload all presentations onto one laptop that can remain connected to the LCD projector. This will aid in reducing transition time between presenters. Please communicate with co-presenters ahead of the meeting about this possibility.

Sessions may last for a maximum of 2 hours. Therefore, it is important for everyone to have their presentations ready to go at the touch of a button so that as little time as possible is devoted to transitions between presenters.

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