Hey! Be my buddy?

buddyIt’s conference season, and I’m guessing you’ve had the usual moment of sitting down for a panel, only to get one of those presentations that just doesn’t work.

I’m thinking of the “I know you said 15 minutes, but I’m going to talk for 30+”, or the “I’m going to just read the words on my slides”, or even the fabled (but rarely-spotted) “I’m just going to read out my paper, verbatim.”

I’ve been lucky this year and not had anything so egregious, but I’ve talked to plenty of others who did get these. Not even the silver lining that someone had actually written their paper before the conference could make up for it.

We’ve talked a lot about this on the blog over the years: particularly in a L&T setting, it’s scarcely forgivable to not make an effort to present work well. But with impact and dissemination agendas becoming even more important, we all need to think about how we communicate our work.

And it’s not helped by the lack of structured support we give each other in this. Presentation workshops exist, but infrequently and not connected to our other professional activities. Moreover, even if you hear a bad presentation, you’re more likely to grumble about it to colleagues than you are to discuss it with the person in question.

So here’s an idea that might work.

When you set up a conference, offer buddies. These buddies would be other delegates, who would sign up to provide constructive feedback on presentations to those who want it. The presenter would get some support, without stigma, plus would get to know another delegate, while the buddy would get to channel all the usual frustration into a constructive outlet.

While it might be new academics who would benefit most from this, it would be open to everyone: I’d like to get feedback on my presentations, even if I have had plenty of practice and self-reflection, for example. Indeed, by having this system, it might normalise giving feedback to colleagues more widely. Rather than just railing against poor standards we might begin building a community of practice and improvement.

More practically, this system would be relatively easy to implement, since it wouldn’t require changes to structures – unlike some of the other ideas we’ve had about this – although it would require both demand and supply of people to make it work. However, there’s got to be enough good Samaritans (and people tired of poor presenting) to deal with the latter. One option might be to make chairs responsible for giving feedback, if no one else is available: this might make some of them take their duties more seriously too.

I’m going to kick this one around a bit more, but if I’d love your feedback on it.

And thanks to Rhea for the (conference) discussion that kicked this idea off: because conferences are still great places to be.