Throughout the post-SBL blogosphere there are critiques and suggestions on how to improve conference presentations.Â Duane Smith says that boring readings of papers wouldn’t fly in the business community and I’d have to agree with him.Â He suggests actually knowing your material well enough that you can talk about it with the audience, not just read from a script.Â Kevin Wilson gives some helpful technical tips such as avoiding the “air quote marks” and vocalizing abbreviations such as i.e.Â Finally, Chris Heard gives his advice which includes making sure that your conclusions flow from real data and are logically supported (if you think this advice is superfluous, you’ve never heard papers read at the conferences).
I think all of the above posts are very helpful and would be worth your read.Â Let me just throw in a couple tips of my own:
- Be provocative–the best and most memorable papers that I heard at the conferences were those that caused me to think.Â Philip Marshall did this with his presentation on the “exceptions” within the Old Testament and Niek Veldhuis got me thinking with his comments on the concept of oral tradition (this was not part of his paper, but in the Q&A time).Â I think there is a deep sense of fear within the academy of being wrong.Â This in turn causes people to pick very obscure topics and directly read from their paper.Â We need to collectively get over this fear.Â You’re human, you will be wrong sometimes and when you are the guild will still respect you.
- Choose your topics with care for an aural audience–the audience is not reading your paper in the quiet solitude of an office or library, therefore, you need to pick topics that are appropriate for aural audiences who are exposed to your ideas for the first time.Â There are many ideas that might make perfect dissertations, monographs, or articles but they will never be appropriate for an SBL session.Â Avoid overly tedious, focused, complex or obscure topics.
- Don’t use SBL as resume padding–If you don’t have an idea or presentation that has potential to spark a beneficial scholarly conversation or clarifies or deepens our understanding of something, then don’t give a presentation.Â Also, don’t slice up your dissertation into pieces and dribble it out over several SBLs.Â If your ideas are good they will get published and publications look far better than SBL presentations.Â SBL is a good forum for testing out your ideas and (hopefully!) receiving knowledgeable feedback–use the opportunity for this purpose.
- Be humble–no one likes hearing an arrogant jerk talk about themselves for half an hour.
- Practice your paper before you give it–if you do this you won’t wind up in a situation in which you have 1 minute left of time but have only presented half your paper; there is really no excuse for this situation except for laziness.