Last year I attended the Anglo Catalan Society Conference in Manchester and I told myself I would write every night as I got to the hostel on my impressions on attending my first conference. Needless to say, that never happened. I don’t know whether it was the over-amazement, the over-boredom, the over-capacity that my brain had reached hours before actually leaving the conference centre for the day, or the ridiculous over-partying that Mancunians were having just outside my window. I stayed at the Hatters, right in the middle of party town. I did not sleep the first night. A box of wax earplugs was the best purchase I made that weekend.
So when facing the Anglo Catalan Society Conference this year, I knew that setting myself to write something about it (anything really), would be a real challenge. The fact that this time I went all super-student and decided to stay on a 6-bed dorm in the International Youth Hostel also helped: it’s hard to write anything down when there is no space for that, let alone no wish for that.
I do think that recording a little bit of what went down in Cork this time around is absolutely worth it, because I felt rather smug most of the time and because this conference actually meant something to my research in many ways: first real communication with my field, first praises, first professional networking, etc. So even if I am almost a month late with these musings, I thought it was appropriate to record them and post them. Perhaps for future reference.
I think it was probably a good idea not to think too much about what sort of presentation I was giving. From my experience on a previous paper I delivered barely a few months before and also in Ireland (Dublin this time), the simpler you make things, the easier it is for people to follow what you say. I think that in a way, as academics/presenters, one forgets that other people have absolutely no clue what your research is about until you present it. And that happens with really unknown authors and with rather famous ones too. I work on Merce Rodoreda. Yet I know that the way I have researched Rodoreda, no one in the room will have probably bothered going 10% of the way. I find it useless to explain very intricate details of my work in a presentation that barely lasts 20 minutes. Two minutes into it, your mind wanders. And it’s gone. And I really want the audience to listen and understand what I have to say.
So for me it was a no brainer to over simplify my article, summarise it to a point in which everyone could follow me at least 50% of the way, and then introduce ideas that perhaps they had not thought about or did not know. As I said, I work with a very famous author in the field of Catalan Studies. Yet there is so much to explore that it is unrealistic for me to assume that people are going to know what I am talking about if I wander too deep into my research. I kept it plain. I did not think twice. I felt that I was slightly oversimplistic the night before I presented. But I did some corrections, incorporated easy words, and read it all in my head slowly, and I was good to go. I essentially thought I would deliver it the same way I would deliver it to my PG group back home – simple and somewhat entertaining.
Over the past two years, my supervisors have been insisting on me to slow down and enunciate when I present. At the beginning of the year I gave a paper in our seminar series and really attempted to slow down. I was conscious that my mind and my nerves were wandering inside of me much faster than I was actually speaking. But my supervisors said that they could finally follow what I was saying, and felt that everyone could too. That gave me confidence and ever since I have always tried to slow down, engage, and look at the people. I feel that style gets closer to those you wish to communicate with.
Not thinking much about it, and trying to be engaging with a crowd that was there to see me despite the fact that it was 930 on a Saturday, I delivered my paper. I don’t know how people were following it. I was delivering it and trying to engage with the crowd, but I could not tell for the life of me what they looked like. They were literally a blur of people. Nevermind. I didn’t expect questions, but I got some. I got a fair few, actually, and people really engaged with my paper and with the paper my colleague was giving. The discussion was getting so out of hand (for entertaining and long) that we were almost kicked out of the room; nicely, though.
After that and over coffee, a fair amount of people who I did not know who they were praised me for my paper and asked me further questions. I could talk and discuss what I have been studying and researching for a rather long period of time. And they were nicely impressed. Someone even apologised for having missed my talk, yet they told him that it was a good one. I was smugly smiling and thanking everyone and later on I found out that some of the people who had praised me were actually rather important figures up the ladder of Catalan Studies. If I was smug before that…
Perhaps because I did not think about who was going to be listening to my paper, and I was only happy to be giving one, then I never really come to terms with what it actually meant to deliver a good paper and giving a good impression. I wanted to give a good impression for myself only: I know that topic inside out, so I better show this. That is all I was aiming for, so the mental preparation for it was easy. Perhaps that feeling of not really worrying about things helped in making it a much better presentation.
The rest was great. I had a really good time, I had a chance to catch up with other PGs just like me and some new people, and I met really important, interesting academics. Cork really exceeded the expectations, and renewed my love for my research once more.