So Amanda Achtman has sent me some tips for presenters that she developed while apparently suffering through the recent APSA meeting. She’s not only funny but very sensible.
I would add that too few scholars take the role as ENTERTAINER at the meeting seriously enough. I know I, for example, have a very uneven record on this. I had WAY TO MUCH TO SAY on Strauss, Kojeve, and such and so said it way too quickly. And then at the NSF thing I was afraid that if I highlighted my jokes I would have not gotten out of the room alive.
The GREATEST ENTERTAINER in poiltical science was, of course, the late Carey McWilliams, who barely prepared but was so knowledgeable that he could be semi-off-the-cuff fascinating about any topic imaginable. I remember him not-so-gently correcting Paul Cantor on X FILES details. (Paul is also quite the entertainer.)
Here’s my convention advice: Never go to a panel where papers are presented. You can read them later. And paper presenters understandably think it would take a lot more than 15 minutes to share their wisdom, and so they usually end up stinking at sharing.
The exception to my rule here has to do with loyalty to friends. You can get credit for being there without being too bored by sitting in the back and having something else to do. That’s where, for example, your smart phone comes into play.
Go to roundtables: There the VANITY of presenters almost guarantees a better show. Roudtables are more likely to feature proven entertainers. And they’ll be talking about the same general topic—such as THE ELECTION OF 2012 or JOSEPH CROPSEY. In the case of roundtables on legendary figures (such as Cropsey), respect for the topic also elevates performance.
Here’s my idea for a ROUNDTABLE: Get a bunch of proven entertainers—such as our Mr. Ceaser—of diverse erudition. Don’t tell them the topic until 3 minutes before the panel. And equip “the discussant” with a GONG to dismiss anyone who’s flailing or is just boring.