18.244 speaking (not so) well

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Wed, 29 Sep 2004 07:43:37 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 18, No. 244.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Wed, 29 Sep 2004 07:12:53 +0100
         From: Aimee Morrison <ahm_at_uwaterloo.ca>
         Subject: Re: 18.241 speaking well

hello all,

i can't help but jump in here, conference presentations being something
that routinely make me question my career choice. i have been to some
good panels, that invigorated a project, or spurred new thinking. but most
are really godawful dull.

EVERYONE goes over time, and NO ONE every stops them. i'm running an ACH
panel at the MLA this year, and the paperwork--from no less a personage
than the MLA presiden--that threatens the breach of time protocols is as
hysterical as the rules themselves are unheeded.

clearly, all this is evil. nevertheless, i give prepared papers myself
(reading from a script) and flatter myself that colleagues do not lie when
they say i am even occasionally entertaining.

>There is no claim to virtue, here. A sit-down, read, talk is largely
>impossible in much of the academy, since the necessary presence of
>equations and diagrams cannot be communicated other than visually.
>Thus one rather negative conclusion is that these talks persist in the
>humanities simply because they are possible.

i beg to differ. the humanities (at least english, my disciplinary home)
is belle-lettrist in orientation. our 'diagrams' consist of syntactical
elements: you draw formulas, i arrange words. the words and their order
are important, and so i write it down. most of us ramble less when things
are written down, too.

the main problem with scripting a talk is that most people don't seem to
consider them scripts, but rather pre-prints or drafts of a longer
unfinished piece for publication. it seems an important point to make, but
listening to a speech is different than perusing an article. you need to
write less-complicated sentences. or rework them.
hypothetical example

article: "the movie's box office revenues, something different from later
reports of world-wide, all-media slase, exceeded expectation by a factor
of 10."

conference: "The movie's box office revenues were 10 times larger than
expected. That's box office--I'm not taking into account later overseas
receipts or rental revenues or DVD sales. 10 times larger than expected."

the trick, as i see it, is to remove parenthetical clauses, be more
conversational, and repeat key information. i can script all of that quite
easily. it's not the written paper that's evil, it's the
article-read-as-a-paper that's soul-killing.

>Edwards notes with surprise that ``Graduate students may actually learn it
>from their professors.'' Graduate students have little authority of their
>own; they can acquire authority by behaving as much like the other
>conferees as possible, even if this means boring their audience into
>submission; by the time they have enough authority to start being radical,
>their style is fixed.

hear hear. i couldn't agree more. i used to torture myself as a junior
graduate student because people kept exclaiming in wonder about my
clarity. i honestly thought (from available evidence) that this must mean
'simplistic' or 'stupid'. i had a brave supervisor who held me to the path
of clarity. there but for the grace of god.

now i have a tenure-track position, and i'll be as clear and conversational
as i damn well please! :-)

>This `ecological' explanation puts the blame
>squarely on the community for permitting itself to be stunned by this, so
>that a ban on reading aloud -- changing the ecology -- would possibly
>change the high-status behaviour within an academic generation.

yay again. all of us who teach, and who require oral presentations as part
of our courses ought to make good and sure we're teaching good habits (as
opposed to, 'if i go10 minutes over time, professor softy will give me
better grades 'cause i worked harder). and when we're panel chairs, for
the love of pete, cut people off!

i like to go to conferences, and when i don't understand what people are
saying, i ask them to clarify. let's call a confusing spade a confusing
spade. i also walk out when sessions go overtime. my brain hurts and i
usually have to pee.

phew. sorry to rant (well, no i'm not, not really ...)
Aimee Morrison, PhD
Assistant Professor
Dept. of English Language and Literature
University of Waterloo
Received on Wed Sep 29 2004 - 02:51:22 EDT

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