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Avior Byron will present a paper 'Huberman as Beethoven' in the 2010 Israel Musicology Conference.   

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Avior Byron

My name is Avior Byron and I am a musicologist, blogger and composer. I write books, articles and a blog about music, performance, research, and theory. Read more at my about page

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How to give a successful conference paper

Giving a successful conference paper is not an easy task. I have seen more people fail communicating during conferences than people who presented their arguments in an affective manner. In my Review of the IMS conference 2008: what there is and what there is not to read in Hebrew in Music I promised to write about how to give a conference paper. In this post I will give several tips that might help improving a conference paper thus achieving better communication and a stronger effect.

Practice make perfect: read your paper before the conference and measure
Most papers are limited to twenty minutes (with additional time for questions). It is not uncommon to see scholars who do not finish their paper reading on time (I am speaking now about conferences that one reads from a paper). A simple way to avoid this embarrassing situation is to read the paper you plan to give a few days before the conference takes place, and measure the duration. If you measure the time it takes to read the paper you can decide to make changes accordingly. Take into consideration that the pace of reading during a conference is usually different than when you are more relaxed at home. It is better to leave two-three minute spare so that you do not feel in a rush during the reading. This will also give a more relaxed impression during your reading and motive more people to listen to you. I saw some experienced scholars to write on their papers instructions what to leave out in case that the time will run out.

Present your paper before family and friends and record it
It is very effective to gather a few people that you trust their opinion and read the paper before them. This could be an excellent way to prepare to the conference. Ask these people to tell you what they understood from your paper. Try that the audience will include people who have a potential to understand your paper and others who are not from the field of your study (perhaps even not scholars at all). Receiving feedback can help you understand how you look and what is actually being communicated to others. Recording the session can help you see how you are talking and this will surely help you improve.

Body language
Some people argue that eighty percent of what one communicates is body language. When you prepare your paper you can add performance signs that will refer to body movements that you would like to use in order to underline, illuminate or express the things you say. Take into consideration that movements are an excellent way to keep your listeners listening to you. With one an unexpected movement you might gain the attention of people many people who are otherwise lost, dreaming, or asleep. Yet it is important not to be rude or too sudden – you do not want to achieve listening, yet cause a bad effect on your lecture!

Using power point
If you decide to use power point or any other visual presentation of text, make sure that the text size is greater than 18 and that there are a relatively little number of words that are presented. The power point presentation (unlike the hand-out) is useful for two reasons: (1) it gives the listeners an orientation in case that they get lost during your lecture (trust me, this happens all the time); (2) it gives you structure to your lecture. Do not present table with lots of data that no one will see. In other words, keep your power point text very short.

Check that everything is working before the lecture
Make sure that you will have time before the paper giving to come to the place and check if everything is working. Check whether people can hear you. Check whether the person at the last row can read your power point presentation. Check whether people can hear your sound examples. Make sure that you feel at home (as much as possible).

Keep your ideas simple
Take into consideration that when one reads a text, one can stop and think about it, change the pace of reading, return to the text, etc. During the paper you give, people will not have the possibility to do so. This is why keeping the ideas simple and even repeating them (something that you would like to avoid in an article or a book) is important.

After you give the paper
Do not forget to speak to people that heard your paper in the conference. You will learn an important lesson on what you actualy managed to communicate and what not. Ask more than one person so that you will be able to receive more than one perspective.

Relevant posts:
The difference between a poor critic and a good scholar
How to write good texts about music

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