Are SEAC Paper Presentations Too Long?

Are the twenty-minute slots for SEAC paper presentations too long? Should they be shorter? Would shorter time slots improve the overall quality of papers? What are the pros and cons of longer paper presentations? Here are my thoughts:

 

  • Pro: More data! Being a regionally focused conference, where we are all share at least one common interest (Southeastern archaeology!), SEAC serves as a great venue for the presentation of data that others may actually care about. Many people use SEAC as a time to present data and results from summer fieldwork, collections reanalysis, and undergraduate and graduate theses and dissertations. The extra time afforded to SEAC presentations is great for introducing datasets that may be useful to many of the other Southeastern archaeologists in attendance.
  • Con: More data! How many papers have you sat through where it’s slide after slide of rim profiles, bar charts, or table after table of counts and percentages? It sometimes seems like the presentation of data is more central to the presentation than the information that resulted from the analysis that data. Because there is more space, I myself have probably included more data than necessary, or chose ways of presenting that data that may not have been the most efficient. SEAC is undoubtedly a data-rich conference. But does its richness of data sometimes keep the papers somewhat parochial? Just because the conference is for Southeastern archaeologists doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be explicitly drawing out the significance of our research to broader research themes with importance to archaeology/anthropology more generally.

 

  • Pro: With the longer presentation times, SEAC papers can be very explicitly contextualized geographically, temporally, and conceptually/theoretically. There is more room for productive discussion of the particular circumstances surrounding the research which can contribute to more powerful explanatory frameworks. Beyond being able to fully address the nuances of the particular research, there is a real opportunity to present the significance of the research in a broader theoretical and conceptual discussion that crosscuts regional archaeologies. This extra time is often used to set up detailed and unique theoretical frameworks through which the research will be presented.
  • Con: Too often this extra space, when not used to present more data, is used to present too much background. (I am guilty of this!) A detailed history/lit review of research that is related or relevant to the research being presented is probably unnecessary. I want to know what YOU are presenting. What have YOU done? Why is what YOU have done significant? Your brilliant work on that awesome Mississippian mound center doesn’t need to be prefaced with a history/significance of mound building and prestige goods exchange. You’re presenting to other Southeastern archaeologists. I’ve had these discussions. I want to know what you’re contributing to the discussion! (This rings true for methods sections. If I have to sit through another detailed explanation of how isotopes work…) Further, the longer amount of time doesn’t force us to be succinct. Being able to summarize our research and pick out the important parts is a VITAL part of being producers of knowledge and a vital part of communicating what we do!

 

Are there other formats that would be conducive to the goals of SEAC? Fifteen minute presentations with five minutes of question/answer? The meetings for the Society of Economic Anthropology provide thirty minute slots for presentations. Fifteen of those minutes are used for the paper presentation and the following fifteen are devoted to discussion/questions/answers. Should there be more panel discussions/forums? The lightning rounds at the SAAs this past year seemed quite productive. Presenters each give a five minute presentation, while the bulk of the allotted time is used for structured discussion.

 

Let’s be honest. We’ve all sat through long 20 minutes talks. We’ve all sat through long 15 minutes talks. If talks were only 10 minutes, there would still be ones that felt long. We should all be able to present our research in 15 minutes. But we should also be able to effectively present our research in 20 minutes. Maybe the issue isn’t the length of presentations but rather the presentations themselves. What makes a good conference paper? What are the hallmarks of a bad conference paper? This is clearly an issue for another post, but I often ask myself the following when organizing a presentation: How many parts (or as our lab likes to call them: Acts) does my paper have? What is the goal of each part? How do the parts articulate with one another? Asking these questions of our own papers, and really just being more critical of our own work (or having someone else comment on drafts!), would probably be way more conducive to improving overall quality of conference presentations than setting time limits.

 

-Jake Lulewicz

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