The abstract has been accepted, essay written, and now you’re in Smallsville, U.S.A. presenting a paper on a brilliantly esoteric topic at yet another academic conference. If you’re like me, you nervously anticipate the seemingly endless networking and awkward conversation that is perhaps the most important part of conferencing. Moreover, you dread the inevitable pissing contest between scholars that follows presentations.
Personally, my first academic conference was both fulfilling and nightmarish. It was a conference on Francophone literature and theory, which meant networking with strangers in a foreign language the entire weekend. While I’m fairly proficient in French, speaking it in a professional setting with people you’re trying to impress is draining, to say the least. To top it off, my presentation received an openly harsh critique from the self-important organizer of the conference as not being on-topic for the conference’s theme concerning autobiography in Francophone literature. Of course, as I pointed out in my response, my paper was indeed about how a Burkina Fasoan author uses his autobiography to come into conversation with debates on African philosophy, but that’s beside the point. Criticism – and harsh, irrational criticism – is par for the course at academic conferences. C’est la vie.
Thankfully the conference wasn’t a waste and I made an incredible colleague and friend out of the trip. Afterwards, however, I realized that there was one main thing that allowed me to feel distanced from the public criticism I received and respond in a calm, collected manner.
It was my reading glasses.
I know, I know, it seems silly but here’s why I think the glasses helped me out so much:
- Wearing reading glasses distances you from your critic. Reading glasses create a physical barrier between your gaze and the gaze of another person. Allowing this barrier to work for you is largely psychological, meaning that rather than being forced to lock eyes with someone else, you can imagine a wall between yourself and your critic, which provides you with the feeling of self containment and, dare I say it – confidence.
- Fidget with your glasses, not your words. Crutch words are incredibly distracting in presentations. You’re already expecting your audience to remain focused on your monotonous reading of roughly eight pages of academic mumbo jumbo, so crutch words are an absolute no-no. Nevertheless, we all get tripped up on reading, lose track of our last discussion point, or stumble over an annoying typo on our printout. This inevitable stutter moment will generally cause a flutter of random crutch words – “well, um, you know, New Wave African cinema has undergone various, um, shifts in aesthetic modes…” Before this syntactical avalanche happens, take a moment to adjust your glasses, compose yourself, and begin speaking again.
- Glasses project a scholarly image, which is especially helpful for female academics. I think most female academics can say that, at some point in their professional careers, they have experienced sexism. Being a young, female academic, I am hyper vigilant about being taken seriously in professional contexts. This insecurity has been considerably diminished since deciding to wear reading glasses during my time at conferences. Likewise, I have received significantly better treatment from *ahem* male scholars who now more frequently ask research-related questions rather than make appearance-related statements.
Maybe this idea is completely bogus and it’s all in my head. Who knows. But give it a try at your next professional event and tell me I’m wrong. 😉
What helps give you confidence in a professional setting?