Tips for Presenting at AAA

Some General Tips for Presenting, Chairing, and Discussing at AAA/CAE

Presenting in the typical 15-20 minute slot

  • Unless you are scheduled in an alternative format, or have absentees on your panel, you will most likely have 15 minutes for your presentation. This time goes by quickly, so be sure you aren’t trying to cover too much information.
  • Be sure to focus the majority of your time on YOUR data/analysis/findings/key arguments. A common pitfall is to spend most of your 15 minutes talking about your literature review or the context of your research. These things are important, but don’t get carried away so that you run out of time to substantially engage your data.
  • We are anthropologists and ethnographers, so we love rich data! Share a particularly meaningful vignette or other data piece to exemplify or highlight your point(s). These are often the most memorable takeaways.
  • Yes, we love data, but you also need to help us figure out what sense we should make of your data. In other words, don’t just provide a “data dump,” either.

For a helpful further elaboration of most of these points, see this excellent blog about giving conference presentations.

Serving as chair

The role of chair is often overlooked, but it is important for tone-setting, introductions, and timekeeping.  A good chair is visible and vocal when necessary, and virtually invisible when yielding the floor to the participants.

As Chair, you should arrive early, and aid in clearing the room of previous participants.  After checking in with the presenters, and seeing to any audio-visual arrangements (attaching a laptop and downloading any remaining files), the Chair calls the session to order at the precise starting time, announces the title of the panel, and briefly explains the dynamic of the presentations (Generally, questions and comments are held till the very end of the session, but by prior agreement, some time might be allowed for pertinent questions immediately following each presentation). If there is enough time (for instance, if the panel has only 4-5 participants rather than 6-7), it is entirely appropriate to take 5 minutes at the outset to introduce the topic/theme of the panel. Perhaps this would involve reading or summarizing the session abstract. Then individual panelists and discussants should be introduced before their respective presentations, clearly enunciating their names and the titles of their presentations.   Finally, it is the responsibility of the Chair to provide equal time to each participant. Placards or notes should be flashed toward the presenter when there are about 5 minutes left, when there is just one minute left, and when the presentation really must conclude.

After the discussant’s comments, which should be limited to no more than 15 minutes (preferably 10), the Chair helps facilitate a discussion and dialogue. It is customary to give each of the presenters a minute or two to respond to the discussant; however, based on remaining time and the Chair’s judgment, the floor can be opened to the audience for further questions and comments before such responses. Finally, the Chair must be attentive to the closing time of the session. Unless it has been ascertained otherwise, there is likely another group waiting to enter the room, so the session can only last at most a few minutes beyond its scheduled time. The Chair should close the session and urge participants to vacate the room as quickly as possible, taking up possible conversations in the hallways outside.

Serving as discussant

  • Although it is not required, you should strongly consider requesting copies of the papers from the authors in your session ahead of time (1-2 weeks before the conference). The session organizer or chair can facilitate the collection of papers. This gives you time to read and think about them. Of course, you would need to give your presenters/authors a “heads up” about this at least 2 months ahead of time so they know by what date they need to have their papers completed.
  • Consider speaking to some broad themes that cut across all (or most) of the papers in the session. Are there some key “takeaways” that we can glean from the entire group of papers? Are there ways in which the papers collectively push forward our thinking on the topic?
  • Consider also offering a couple of focused comments on each paper so each presenter/author has something specific to think about. However, if pressed for time, it is preferable to devote more of it to general conceptual comments, reserving individual comments for private communication.  As an organization, CAE strongly encourages discussants to provide constructive and positive feedback to presenters as part of our collective mentoring efforts.