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It could have been worse

First Conference Presentation:

It could have been worse

I have always been enamored of the phrase, this ain't my first rodeo. Well, this was my first conference-presentation rodeo. While I am not new to education, none of my previous jobs have required anything approaching serious scholarship before. I welcomed the challenge of presenting a paper at a conference and was eager to strut my stuff. After all, I am a fairly smart guy, well versed in digital media and storytelling, not to mention a lifelong gamer who had written a paper about Gamification. I could do no wrong.

My first step was deciding on a topic. I had seen lots of references to Gamification in my research and decided that I found it interesting, relevant to my long term goals of Engagement Based Learning and something I wanted to know more about; perfect fodder for a literature review style paper. An amazingly short time after arriving at this decision, I had a first draft, a submission to a conference and space on the presentation docket. I hadn't won the lottery or become famous overnight, but my nerd side was thrilled beyond belief.

Eager to show off my skills and model the kinds of teaching that excite me I dove into my presentation, carefully checking the elaborate presentation criteria provided by the conference.

→  Present your paper  ←

No rules? I love no rules! With unrestrained abandon I plunged into a 30 slide PowerPoint (no, not Prezi), brimming with images, words, video clips, a carefully formatting script and all manner of ancillary material to engage my audience as I regaled them with the basic stuff of my paper. I rehearsed the presentation for time deducing that I would have about 20 minutes as I was one of three presenters in a 90-minute block and each transition between speakers would probably eat up ten minutes. I recorded myself presenting using Camtasia and uploaded it to my website. In short, I was too big to fail.



Vegas Strip, epileptic blinking lights as far as the eye could squint through the billowing walls of second-hand smoke. 

I arrive a day early to observe other master craftsmen ply their trade in the hotel's accordion-walled conference rooms of knowledge.

Seated in my high backed hotel banquet hall chair, I eagerly watch the first Professor slide up to the front of the room and wave his remote control at the screen, bringing up a slide containing a graph. He then spoke (as if addressing peers just before we all board a bus to a ball game) in a completely off-the-cuff fashion about his paper, the topic, and some choice office gossip. He then advanced to another slide, peppered with bulleted text. He sauntered in front of the screen, warming up to his topic in full lecture mode and blew through six more bulleted text slides before asking if there were any questions. A couple of power-slouching professors orated on the presenters topic (in the guise of a question) and then the next presenter got up.

Not good.

My presentation was infinitely more elaborate and formal than that one. I clearly had twice the amount of acceptable content to deliver and while I secretly gloated that my presentation would be more engaging for the audience, I also feared that it would deviate substantially from expectation, revealing my first rodeo status to all. I was not going to look laid back and cool like my peers, but would that be better?

I was conflicted, but still drunk enough on my own Kool-aid to feign confidence.

The next day I was slated to present, so I slid in at the beginning of my session and loaded my PowerPoint onto their laptop from my carefully prepared thumb drive. I could have downloaded it from a cloud storage solution, but I had thought ahead! Anticipating dodgy internet, I was prepared with an offline solution, and for the same reason I had embedded all my video into my presentation – my plan was fool proof.

As we all know, rule number one of presenting is to never apologize or make excuses before a presentation. So, therefore it follows that the very first thing out of my mouth was, "I just want everyone to know this is my very first conference presentation!” This statement evoked vague and uneasy smiles from the sparse audience (it being the final day of the conference, most attendees were already halfway home). “You know,” I crashed on, determined to self-sabotage, “since it's my first time you should lower your expectations... Ha-ha.” Why did I say that!?


I dove in, flashing the first few slides of my presentation to bide my time. I am experienced enough to know that academic types tend to watch the beginnings of presentations with a vaguely hostile indifference. Reading through my material at nearly hyper-sonic speeds, I was excited because I was about to blow their indifference away with my witty and engaging inclusion of an absolutely relevant and entertaining video clips.

“And here we have a perfect example of that in this video clip. Let me just hit the play button.” Click. Nothing.

Grinning like a waiter informing diners that the restaurant is 'unfortunately out of Lobster Thermidore this evening,' I clicked a dozen more times. More nothing. “Well, this video does not appear to be loading, but here is what it would have shown you-” I plow forward knowing that any momentum I may have built up was now dissipating like the stale cigarette smoke on the ground floor lobby never does.

Reaching my second video I lean down once more, “As an act of pure optimism, I am going to see if this one will play.” That optimism was not well founded. This time I notice an error message, QuickTime player not loaded on this computer. It was at this point, hunched over a laptop trying to rewrite my presentation in my head, that I seriously considered fleeing out door like a teenager jilted at the dance. Knowing how unpleasant that would be for everyone involved - I persisted and finished the presentation and checked my audience.

Everything was OK.

No booing, no stone throwing, not even a frown of contempt; just everyday normal courtesy. The chair of the session thanked me for presenting and commented on a few points where my presentation overlapped with his subject matter expertise. A fellow presenter chatted with me about how my research and hers could be an opportunity for co-authoring a paper.

Going back to my opening statement, it could have been worse!


In hindsight I could and should have been more aggressive about chatting with folks who were veterans of these conferences, tailoring my presentation to their advice. My oversight was likely a byproduct of presentation nerves and delusions of grandeur. In the final analysis everything turned out just fine. My paper is still published in the conference proceedings; I have networked with new colleagues and am no longer a complete conference presentation Newb. That being said, at my next rodeo… I bring my own laptop.