How to Give an Academic Talk:
Changing the Culture of Public Speaking in the Humanities (PDF)
Paul N. Edwards
School of Information
University of Michigan
. . . . Why do otherwise brilliant people give such soporific talks?I have provided that quotation by way of taster. I must admit to finding it very refreshing to see someone independently making the case I have been trying to make for the last three years; he does it with clarity and style. I see that the article appears in a variety of places on the net where other sympathisers have uploaded it, so I'd also like to thank Paul Edwards for making it available in this way, which demonstrates the power of the net to disseminate one's writing on topics of interest to a broad range of people.
First, they’re scared. The pattern is a perfectly understandable reaction to stage fright. It’s easier to hide behind the armor of a written paper, which you’ve had plenty of time to work through, than simply to talk.
But second, and much more important, it’s part of academic culture — especially in the humanities. It's embedded in our language: we say we're going to "give a paper." As a euphemism for a talk, this is an oxymoron. Presentations are not articles. They are a completely different medium of communication, and they require a different set of skills. Professors often fail to recognize this, or to teach it to their graduate students.
Stage fright is something everybody has to handle in their own way. But academic culture is something we can deliberately change. This short essay is an attempt to begin that process with some pointers for effective public speaking . . . .