I had the opportunity to present at the Humanities Unbound works-in-progress conference today. The conference was a collaboration between the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Digital Humanities Lab and the Rhetoric Society and English Graduate Student Organization of Old Dominion University.
The conference interested me for several reasons.
- It was a remote access conference open to attendees from anywhere via a shared Zoom meeting link.
- It was a “works-in-progress” conference.
- It offered a great mix of literature scholarship, composition and rhetoric scholarship, and digital rhetoric scholarship.
Overall, it was a good day. The scholarship presented was interesting and often compelling. It was nice to draw connections between my work and those whose work I don’t get to see all that often. I consider that a great benefit.
Since this was a “works-in-progress” conference, I am reluctant to say much about the panels. I will say that each gave me a lot to think about and I really valued listening in on the challenges, successes, and questions that others have had in their own scholarship. I am excited to see what they produce from these sessions.
While I won’t talk about them, I will talk about myself. After all, this is a blog with the title of hubris. Some random narcissism should be expected.
My Reflections on the Day
Remote Presenting is different.
This was my first time presenting remotely. I have had meetings (so many meetings) and interviews via teleconferencing software before, but I have never presented an academic paper (or start of a paper) in this manner. It went. It went about as well as I could have hoped for, I suppose.
I am notoriously uncomfortable sharing works-in-progress. In fact, one reason I applied to this conference was because I need to face that uncomfortable space. It was still there, today, but I did it. I hate trying to make sense of half-thought-out ideas in front of an audience. It was my biggest problem in workshop. I would come in and offer up my half-baked work.
“Hey guys, here is my mess, ain’t it pretty?”
We all knew it wasn’t pretty. It was a work in progress. Works-in-progress are ugly. They need to be.
This presentation was messy. It was confusing. There was way too much background and no real content. I spoke at nearly 180 words-per-minute and I think I still went long. So yeah, that was a bit of a challenge.
Of course, when you are already battling a sense of insecurity, there are certain things that don’t help.
Let’s start with going first. That was fun. To be honest, though, that didn’t bother me too much, and I was happy to get into it.
That was when I discovered a second problem. One of the best things about presenting or performing live in front of an audience is that our eyes are in our heads. It’s kind of neat, that. It means that we don’t have to watch ourselves as we speak. Do you want to make a presenter uncomfortable? Put a few mirrors up in the audience. That was my experience today. While my laptop shared my presentation, my colleague’s system and camera were focused on the room and projected that back to us. This meant whenever I looked up, I would see my chubby self prattling away. Now, I was in a small box, to be sure, but our DH Lab has several nice screens and though I tried not to, I could not help but see me there.
Finally, and this is something I didn’t expect, I found text chatting to be more difficult than I usually do. Neither my colleague nor I wanted to interrupt conversations in the primary room, so we would use the chat interface to communicate. I usually like this. It is a great backchannel and lets questions flow in as needed. In this case, however, I found myself reluctant to engage. Part of that was the fact that I was already doing a lot of new things that did challenge my comfort level. Another part, more surprising, was the loss of vocal and body cues. Normally, this, too, isn’t an issue. I just change how I talk in chat to accommodate. I often think that chat text is more informal because we can use informal language to convey what we normally would via vocal and body cues. In an academic environment I found my informality limited and that made my chat stilted and clichéd.
Seriously clichéd, when discussing teaching philosophies, I actually used “community of learners” in my sentence without a hint of irony. That phrase has been used so much it is utterly devoid of any real meaning. I should know better.
Ah, well. I am sure part of my critical analysis of self was due to the fact that I felt like a bit of an outsider. It happens in new spaces. My colleague was an organizer of the conference, an ODU alum, and knew several of the participants. It appeared that I was the only person who didn’t really know anyone else in the other room, but that is the nature of things. If we didn’t meet new people, we would get nothing done.
So, those were my lessons of the day. While I am always hard on myself, I enjoyed the conference. To the credit of everyone there, they were gracious and welcoming. If I had to challenge my comfort-level and learn a lot of really cool and interesting content along the way, this was definitely a great way to do it. I am curious to see if they do something similar next year. After all, I can only go up from here.