How to Kill an Audience

About a week ago I attended my first academic conference as a presenter and it was awesome. I flew all the way down to Gainesville, Florida to talk about the Red Hulk at the University of Florida’s 9th Annual Comics Conference. First things first, I had an absolute blast. I met some awesome people, listened to some great talks, and partied really, really hard.

However, while I’d love to talk about my entire trip, yes I did see alligators, I really need to get something off my chest, something that really rankled me at the conference: DO NOT READ YOUR PAPER VERBATIM! 

The fact that anyone even THINKS this is acceptable, not to mention actually does it, is absolutely unbelievable. My entire being rails against the practice. What’s worse, I’ve heard from professors more travelled than I that this travesty is common practice in academic circles. More than that, it’s what conferences are built upon!

If you read your paper to a crowd, you’re doing it wrong, it meaning everything. You’ve become the Sandman, softly singing your audience to sleep and unfortunately that’s not the only thing you can do to kill your audience. Below I’ve listed a few other presentation indiscretions that will straight up murder your audience with head shots.

Read Your Paper Verbatim
I suppose I only have once question: How? How does anyone make it through a paper reading and glean anything important from it? How do you as a presenter not respect your audience enough to bore them to death? Your paper is meant to be read, not spoken. The language that you use is likely a reflection of that. It should be a no brainer that at that the very least, you make it audience-friendly, especially when your presentation is open to the public.

When you read a paper you don’t engage your audience, you threaten to put them to sleep. Get up! Move around! Gesture with your hands! Keep us interested! When you read your paper, you show us that you haven’t thought about presenting to an audience. It’s bush league.

Don’t Prepare
You can bet that if I fly from Michigan to Florida to talk about the Hulk, I’m going to talk about the Hulk. I’m not going to ramble, I’m not going to be tempted by tangents, I’m not going to wax philosophical and waste time. And yet, sometimes presenters do just that, slowly suffocating their captive, not captivated, listeners.

Again, this just seems so unprofessional. How can you not know your presentation materials? Have you not practiced your presentation ever? How do you hope to keep us interested if you don’t know what you’re talking about? During the conference someone literally started with “I don’t know what I’m going to talk about today.” What you’ve effectively just done is asked me to pull out my laptop and ignore you.

Don’t Show us Pictures
Comics is a visual medium, virtually inseparable are its text and pictures. You can’t really have comics without both, so why not SHOW us what you’re talking about. How many times have we heard “Show don’t tell” in our English classes? Not only that but you give us some pretty things to look at! It helps break up the monotony of an all text presentation or, God forbid, you’re reading your paper.

And if you don’t have pictures? Bring us the material you’re talking about. Let us see with eyes unclouded by hate because I promise you, if you talk about comics without at least giving us something to look at, we will hate you.

Don’t Talk About the Conference Theme
If the conference is about comics, you sure as heck better talk about comics. That might seem like a no brainer but I think there were at least five or six presentations while I was in Florida that dealt with novels unrelated to comics, a movie trailer unrelated to comics, and just straight text. You think I’m joking and yet… I’m totally not.

People are at this conference, if it’s about comics, to listen to talks about comics. If you don’t feel like talking about comics, dear lord what are you doing? Why are you subjecting us to this torture!

Conclusion
Really what this boils down to is use your common sense. Prepare for your presentation. Talk about the topic. Present your material in a fun and entertaining way, don’t read a paper. Show don’t tell. Don’t be fucking lazy.

However if you do find yourself in one of these death trap talks my friend Amanda has prepared an AMAZING drinking game to combat the woes of the dreaded read paper. All you need is copious amounts of alcohol. But really, should alcohol be required to make it through a presentation?

In an answer: Yes.

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4 thoughts on “How to Kill an Audience”

    1. Dude, I got your back. This is my really shitty first draft but I was thinking about your post the entire time. When I get a chance to revise this a little bit you can bet I’m going to include a link to your brilliantly lethal conference drinking game 🙂

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