Over the weekend, I provoked a friendly disagreement with the illustrious and extremely entertaining Historiann over whether it was OK to read your conference papers like a script at profession forums. Yes, I know everyone does it – in history – but I’ve seen more than enough economists and business professors go off the cuff (as is the norm in those disciplines) that I think that we should do it too. After all, would you ever be satisfied teaching that way?
Feel free to chime in here or there for your chosen side, but as I think my comments there weren’t quite enough to get my whole point across I thought I’d add a little more here on this subject. First off, I am working on the assumption that someone talking to you is more entertaining than someone reading at you. Indeed, if there is a non-academic in the room, I strongly suspect they will be automatically put off by your reading whether your paper is any good or not. Unless you record books on tape, your reading isn’t going to add much to the presentation and a few ad-libbed asides aren’t enough to make you look engaged and spontaneous. Talking off a script is alienating by definition. That’s why actors memorize their lines.
Consider this comparison: UD had a very good post yesterday which included a reference to “Death by PowerPoint,” a favorite topic of hers as we regular readers know. Explain to me the difference between reading from slides and reading from pieces of paper and I’ll take it under consideration. What I do know is that at least in a death by PowerPoint situation, the students presumably have pretty pictures to ponder. What are you giving your colleagues to look at it if you read your conference paper other than the front part of your head?