TCR Grad Blog

Graduate director's blog for the Technical Communication and Rhetoric Program at Texas Tech University

May Workshop 09 Presentations

Posted by Joyce on May 4, 2009

This year, we’re experimenting with something we talked about last year: having different lengths and formats depending on where you were in the program. Thus, we have scheduled 30 minute slots for upperclassmen and 20 minute slots for newbies.

1. What’s the purpose of presentations? First, it’s nice to get to know everyone and their scholarly interests. Second, we all have a stake in helping each other hone the various extracurricular parts of this profession, and presenting your work in front of a critical body of peers is a big part of what we do, whether it’s at a conference, in a job-talk, or in a lecture. We hope to establish a culture of sharing our work and sharing our criticism with each other — we figure it’s better to hear all about your presentational weaknesses from friends than from foes.

2. Who is the audience? Well, obviously your primary audience is your classmates and your faculty. But bear in mind that we’re hoping to channel the rest of your academic discipline when we ask you questions, so it is probably best to picture this audience as a typical group you’d see at a national conference like the STC, the 4C’s, ATTW, CPTSC, IEEE, or any number of specialized national conferences. In other words, this presentation isn’t an occasion for you to chat or tell a story — it should be taken as the kind of talk that’s worth proposing, flying across the country to give, and (for audience) to highlight in our program as worth listening to.

3. Can you speak for the entire block? No.

Both formats should allow for plenty of time for questions and formative criticism from the audience. Long-format talks should run no longer than 12-15 minutes, leaving 5 minutes for questions and 5 minutes for feedback (and 5 minutes for a break). In other words, when we’re on a longer-format schedule, we’ll start each speaker on the 30-minute mark, promptly. I’ll cut you off if you go past 15 minutes. Short-format talks should aim for 5-6 minutes of content, 4-5 minutes of Q&A, and 4-5 minutes for critique (leaving 4 minutes for breaks between speakers). We’ll start each short-format speaker promptly on the 20-minute mark.

If you are paired with someone in a round-table type of format, then you can pool your slots, but still allowing for lots of time for questions and feedback.

4. What should I speak about? Upperclassmen should speak about their own research, either something that they’re working for quals, a recent seminar paper, or their dissertation. Newbies should, by the very nature of a tight format, focus on something pithy, either from their seminar papers or literature reviews, or from a problem they’ve discovered in doing a literature review, or in their own work situation (something that intersects with rhetoric and/or technical communication).

And newbies, you’re not getting sold short — the CPTSC conference, widely praised as energetic and useful, requires a 3-5 minute position talk (robustly enforced) to allow for lots of interaction and engagement.

Regardless of your topic, please bear in mind that the 5 minutes or the 12-15 minutes you have in front of your academic field should be spent explaining, problematizing, detailing ideas that people want to hear. It never hurts to ask, “so what?” and imagine your audience asking themselves the same question while you’re speaking.

You will have a podium and an auditorium and a big screen that can show a networked computer, or even Powerpoint (if you’re into that kind of thing). Please be mindful of our need (as fellow academics and as students/faculty in your program) to hear you and engage with you — don’t turn your back on us as you enjoy your own powerpoint presentation. Use this occasion to make eye contact, to share your hard work, and build value for yourself and your academic program.

Because of the program’s stringent time/attention requirements, you should do what you should always do before giving any presentation at any conference: practice.

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