Yesterday’s paper sessions offered eleven presentations. I almost fell asleep several times. This was not mainly because four of the papers were in German and French which I have a hard time understanding when spoken quickly. The main reason was that few of my colleagues know how to perform an engaging presentation. Yes, you need to perform it. So here are a few suggestions.
- Never ever read a prepared text out loud. Speak from brief notes or a slide show. It is better to have five lines of summary text in ball-point pen on the back of your hand than a manuscript.
- Do you have reason to believe that a considerable part of your audience a) does not know anything about the subject, b) does not yet care about the subject? Then make sure that you start your talk by setting the scene with some background info (a few maps, a time line, a landscape view or two), and above all explain why you care. Why is your subject interesting?
- When presenting a scientific study, do not rattle off data and descriptions. Start with questions, explain how you came up with them, and then present only enough data (in overview format) that you can make a plausible argument in favour of some answer to each question. If you have no questions or no argument, do not agree to make a presentation.
Luckily, osteologist Raphaël Panhuysen understands these things very well, and so I enjoyed his paper – regardless of the fact that the differences between various coeval Merovingian-period cemeteries in Maastricht is not something I would usually take an interest in.
After the end of the sesh I took a three hour walk on the southern outskirts of town, during which I had a walking dinner of fries & chicken and failed to find two geocaches. In Sweden, geocaches cluster in cities. In Maastricht, the caches avoid the city and cluster in hiking areas on its outskirts. To log a so-called multi-cache, in Sweden you will need to walk perhaps a few hundred meters from the first to the second and maybe the third point. Here, you have to hike several kilometres, and there may be ten points along the way. No thanks.
But it was nice to see some Victorian suburbs and the 16th century southern town gate. And waiting in line with working-class peeps at the chip shop, where everything is boiled in oil by a saftig woman with an air of world-weary authority, was a slice of a genuine Maastricht Sunday evening. Even though I got neither salt nor mayo with my fries.
What am I doing here? I always end up asking myself that at conferences. The boring papers and the lonely evenings or the evenings in boring company at restaurants and pubs.