I recently presented a paper at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) Southeast Colloquium held at the University of South Florida, Tampa. It is fairly typical within my discipline of media studies to project slides to illustrate various points of your paper rather than reading directly from the paper itself. I find this method much more engaging as a presenter and as an audience member, but after this conference I realized this kind of presentation forces something else in my work, namely better organization. I now know how to improve the structure of my paper after doing the work of deciding how and what to present. Some aspects must be cut for time. I will leave these nuggets in the paper itself, but the process of presentation hones my approach resulting in (fingers crossed) more clarity and perhaps publication. I tell myself that I have 20 minutes or less to tell a story. I guess I work much better under pressure. I have decided that come the first or second draft of any given paper, I am going to go through the process of presentation even if I am not presenting it to an audience–right down to making the slides.
The conference also reminded me of the value of feedback for the paper itself. A questioner from the audience asked me how I defined diversity. I confidently gave a two-pronged answer. No problem! Hit me with more! But of course, the problem was that the question should have been unnecessary. I am grateful for the question because I realized an opportunity or perhaps a demand to be explicit about a key term in my presentation, but most important in my paper. Defining terms is one of those obvious academic priorities that countless professors rant about, right up there with “read the <expletive> syllabus,” but when we get too close to our work slippage occurs; the obvious becomes obscured. Academic conferences, at their best, offer paths to clarity. The Florida weather in February did not hurt either.