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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13 comments on “Are SEAC Paper Presentations Too Long?

  1. Meg says:

    I think you bring up some really interesting points, Jake! I personally am a pretty big fan of the 20 minute papers. In addition to the reasons you mentioned, one of the things I really like about SEAC having a 20 minute limit is that it allows you to present something different than what we do at the SAAs or the AAAs… it allows you to expand on something that you got questions about, or give a little background that ties it in to what you know the other people in the session are interested in. In makes us different! I’d vote for keeping it and just pushing people to write better papers rather than taking it away to punish people for sometimes being boring with those extra 5 minutes! Anyone else have thoughts?

  2. Agreed! I think the twenty minutes is fantastic when used appropriately. (Really the same can be said for any paper, no matter the length! 😄)

    Although, all of the responses to the blog post do have me thinking. It’s been pretty split. Some saying 20 minutes is too long and some saying 15 is way too short and that 15 minutes is barely enough time. I’m now asking myself two questions. What do I want to accomplish when I give a conference paper? And, what do I expect from others’ conference papers?

    My question to those who think 15 minutes is too short, is what are you not getting from a 15 minute paper? What is usually missing for you? Where are you left wanting more? I find myself thinking about what I would cut from a 20 minute presentation but not necessarily what I would add to a 15 minute one.

  3. Victor Thompson says:

    There is a structural issue that comes up with the 20min presentation. As SEAC continues to grow there will be choices that will need to be made. One of them is paper length. There are only so many 20min presentations that can be realistically handled by the conference. And, I would say that SEAC is reaching its limit. If the number of papers continue to grow then either paper length will need to be cut down (as it was for the SHA), another day added to the conference (hard to justify), or the dreaded night session (something no one wants)…

    • Meg says:

      I have a feeling people will hate this opinion… but I’d like to see the discussion on it. Can’t we be a bit more selective in what papers are accepted? I don’t know, but I assume that most everyone who submits is accepted… but is that necessary? Could we keep the conference at it’s current size but handle up ticks in paper submission by scrutinizing the acceptance process a bit? This is on my mind currently because it took me a while to realize that my students were really nervous about whether or not their papers would be accepted (as is the case with many other conferences)…. didn’t cross my mind to tell them that this really wasn’t going to be a problem….

      • Ken Sassaman says:

        Last resort. When SAA ran into growing pains in the early 1990s they went to a vetting process to eliminate “marginal” papers. I think it was New Orleans in 1991 when accusations about bias arose. Allegedly, the meeting organizers cut a disproportionate number of papers that, at the time, were denigrated by some as “postmodern.” The SAA Board resolved to thereafter not cut anyone from the program because of space/time constraints. Sure, abstracts are still reviewed by a committee, but organizers tell reviewers to flag only truly troublesome papers, such as ones that violate the code of ethics. Surely we do not want to squeeze out younger contributors; they are the future of the organization.

  4. Charlie Ewen says:

    As the organizer of a session scheduled for Saturday afternoon (where, no doubt, only the participants will be present). I support 15 minute papers. The only viable (and cost effective) way to keep it in the days allotted. If you can’t say it 15 can you really say it in 20? That’s what the journal is for

  5. Kenneth Sassaman says:

    You can always add more concurrent sessions on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturday mornings, to avoid Saturday afternoons. It means bigger venues (more rooms), but it’s one viable way to accommodate growth without shortening papers.

    • Victor says:

      The only issue with more concurrent sessions is that rooms cost more money. This is ok if you have the funds to spend, but not if you’ve already committed through contracts for other parts of the conference. Which you can’t really anticipate at the start of conference planning. Also, if you only have an increase in papers, but not an increase in overall attendance then you still have the same budget.

      • Kenneth Sassaman says:

        Need better deals. For the two SEACs I organized the meeting rooms were “free” so long as we met the quota on bedroom nights. Sure, one has to anticipate what the attendance may be, but if I remember correctly we had to meet only 80% of projected attendance to get the meeting rooms for free. The hotels I worked with (Greenville, Jacksonville) made their revenue on catering and of course bedrooms, including outrageous coffee rates. I turned over revenue for both of those meetings to SEAC, in one case thousands of dollars.

      • Wouldn’t more concurrent session means smaller audiences then? And would this be a problem?

    • Victor says:

      The other issue here is more conflicts as Jake points out. Even as it stands, it was very difficult not to have conflicts with discussants for sessions and their other papers. Also, as Jake points out smaller audiences. When you try and pack them in to 2.5 days with more concurrent sessions then it becomes impossible. There are over 100 more presentations than even the largest SEAC. As far as deals go, this again is structurally constrained by the conference venue. For example, since the Conference Center is not tied to a hotel we can’t do that here. There are more complexities to this that at this point I’m too beleaguered to even write about now.

      • Ken Sassaman says:

        Sorry Victor, I did not know you had a meeting venue that was independent of hotel. Clearly Athens is a huge draw. Maybe this is just an isolated thing; will as many people flock to Norman? Anyways, thanks to you and yours for organizing this. I know it’s a huge job, but it’ll be a great meeting, I’m sure.

  6. dover1952 says:

    Dreaded night session? What you really mean is “cut into my party time and my opportunity to get smashed on Jack Daniels.” But hey. When have Jack Daniels and southeastern archaeology never been effective partners? Historically, they are Hope and Crosby, Frick and Frack, Lewis and Martin. Have those dreaded evening sessions!!! Bring your bottle!!! No one will care whether presentations are 15, 20, or 30 minutes. Student presenters will be less nervous. Somewhat chemically altered brains might have new insights that would not necessarily come to light under other circumstances. People will be more willing to ask questions and speak up. You could make the evening sessions totally casual and call them “The SEAC Howler Moon Sessions.”

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