Scholarly conferences are a regular part of the academic life.
Whether big annual conferences run by scholarly associations, or smaller more focused conferences and workshops hosted in various institutions, academics attend conferences regularly. Or as often as possible given the travel funds available.
Unless you are invited to give a plenary presentation, chances are you get about 15 minutes to present your research. Even the very experienced often rail against this ludicrously short time limit.
What can you do in 15 minutes?
Your goal is to meet the people in the room who you would like to have a longer conversation with.
There are plenty of opportunities to have that longer conversation.
- the bar
- a walk around the conference grounds
- by e-mail after you return home
- by phone after you return home
The key to the presentation is to talk for 15 minutes on the parts of your research that are most interesting. Or, that you’d most like feedback on. Or, that most surprised you.
And to ask questions of the audience. What would you like to hear from the knowledgeable people in the room?
Not everyone is going to be comfortable speaking in the session.
Some people will want to read the longer version before making any comments. Some will be shy about coming up and introducing themselves. Others might not have anything to say right away, preferring to ponder things before making a contribution.
Have copies of the fuller paper available, and tell people you have them if they want them. Make sure your contact details are on the cover page.
Have copies of your business card to give to people in case they want to get in touch later.
If you feel comfortable talking to new people over lunch, let people know where you will be eating lunch and invite them to join you.
If you don’t have a paper version of the presentation, or if you have other papers the audience might be interested in, invite members of the audience to give you their e-mail address so you can send this to them when you get home. Have a sheet of paper for the purpose, in case they don’t have business cards.
Then follow up when you get home. Send an e-mail thanking them for their interest and sending what you said you’d send. Also ask what they are working on.
You are building relationships
Scholarly work is inherently collaborative. Not in the sense that it should all be co-authored, but in the sense that we develop our ideas in conversation with others.
These may be formal conversations. They may take place mostly in writing, even formal types of writing. But we do our best work in conversation.
Your paper will be better for the feedback you get from people you meet at the conference.
Your discussions will likely spawn ideas for future work.
You may end up collaborating more closely with one or more of these people at some point.
Some will be casual short-term relationships. Others may grow into something more sustained.
When you get home, you can discard any comments that you don’t find helpful.
It’s your research, after all.
And even knowing that there was a different way to approach it and deciding not to advances your research.