the hunt: February 2007 Archives

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At least for a while, until CCCC in March. Another month, another secret mission, this time to the heart of the midwest. It's no secret, if you read last week's entry on Moretti, that said mission involved the presentation of ideas. A couple of people referenced my blog post in private, but I ended up not leaning on Moretti's work quite as much as I originally expected, so the question would have sounded a little decontextualized.

Ah, but this was Step #3 in my (toast)master plan to wean myself away from scripting my presentations, and it was perhaps my most successful step to date. I had a clock facing me from the back of the room, an hour for my session, and I started ten minutes late, due to some tech snafulery. I think I raced a little bit, but I ended up at 35 minutes, leaving a good 15 for questions, and it went pretty well from my perspective.

This time round, in part due to my own procrastination, I had to be briefer in the notes I was using. There were several spots where I just wrote down stuff like "Anderson - Long Tail - explain," trusting myself to say what I needed to. And what do you know? I think I did. You may think this a small triumph, but bear in mind that I've been doing this for more than ten years, and I have serious stage fright. To be able to tell myself to just explain something, in front of a group of mostly strangers, is a huge step for me.

The other thing that I noticed was that, rather than slipping off into the reading zone (where I start a paper and then don't notice anything until after I'm done), I was able to respond in some ways to facial expressions, so that if I needed an extra sentence to make something clear, I could do that. If no one seemed perplexed, I could move on. I'm definitely not perfect at it, but hey, actually remaining conscious and responsive during the presentation was a step in the right direction, methinks.

I had the chance to chat about the question of reading vs. speaking with someone there who's in a field where speaking is the norm. I tried out a little theory about why I at least have had to work hard at moving away from reading. I can't really speak for others in my discipline nor for other disciplines, but I began my graduate study at a time when there was a lot of emphasis on decentering teacherly authority in the writing classroom. The focus, we were told, should be less on direct instruction and lecture, and more on peer work and discussion. As someone who was pretty introverted already, this was an emphasis I could easily embrace. I don't really prefer to be the center of attention anyway, and so I was more than happy to decenter me. Of course, it's not that simple when there's grading involved, but that form of authority governed individual interactions rather than the classroom.

The point is that this kind of training, while it lent itself to my teaching style just fine, also left me rather underprepared to venture forth to conferences and speak confidently in a room full of colleagues without a script. I'd never argue that we should return to those halcyon days of yellowed lecture notes, but at the same time, I'm convinced that the shift away from "sage on the stage" styles has left us less able to perform well when we are on stages. I really admire those of my colleagues for whom this is not a problem, but I am most definitely not one of them.

Here's what I've done:

  • I track a few sites (Presentation Zen is my fave) that often contain advice for presentations, whether it's tips for engaging audiences, how not to prepare a Powerpoint/Keynote deck, or what have you.
  • I bought the Keyspan remote on PZ's recommendation, and so took some advantage of my gadget fetish to convince myself to try this.
  • I've been composing more in Keynote (and as I've given multiple talks, recycling slides from multiple sources has become easier), which helps split attention between me and screen (which helps me psychologically). Having roughly a slide for every 1-2 minutes also helps me pace myself.
  • I've tried to visualize speaking situations as I compose, which seems to help as well.
  • And maybe most importantly, I've tried to build up what I think of as a repertoire of 5-10 minute, modular talks, out of which I then compose longer presentations. Not only does that make signposting a breeze, but it keeps me from feeling like I'm relying too heavily on a long series of points that are tough to keep in mind as I work towards a conclusion. I start with an overview that explains how it's all going to fit together, and then I work through the pieces.

One compliment I got last week was that, each time a question was raised in this person's mind, the next slide or step in my talk answered it. This made me quite happy, as you might imagine. I don't think of myself as any great speaker, believe me, but I feel like I am improving visibly from one talk to the next. Confidence will do that for you, apparently. And I say all this not in an attempt to shame others in my field to weaning off of the script, but in the hopes that it might be helpful. As much as anyone, I understand the feeling of security that a script brings, not to mention the fact that you can "finish" a script, while I tend to tweak and tweak and tweak right up until the presentation without one. That's my next step, I think, to try and trust myself, keeping the tweaks to a minimum.

We'll see how it goes. In fact, we'll see how it goes come March.

That's all.



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This page is a archive of entries in the the hunt category from February 2007.

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