This is a GradHacker post by Terry Brock, PhD candidate at Michigan State University in Anthropology, @brockter
I had worked for weeks on my first conference paper. I had received comments from multiple faculty members, and rehearsed it in front of friends. I had the slides perfectly lined up with the text, and had inserted just enough animations to emphasize my points, but not take away from the entire presentation. I felt ready. I was nervous. I was anxious. I spent the first three days of the conference worried about the presentation. What if no one liked it? What if my computer crashed?
And then the time came, and I stood in front of a nearly empty room and gave my presentation.
Everything went well, but I was disappointed. All that hard work, and hardly anyone actually heard my talk. I hadn't expected the room to be packed, or for it to be full of archaeological dignitaries, who would later clammer for copies of it. But I was at least hoping for a couple faces I didn't recognize to be on hand. Unfortunately, this is the harsh reality of big conferences: there is a very good chance that no one will be there to listen to your paper. As a grad student, this can be a little disheartening, because we often put a lot of time and energy into them.
A few weeks after the conference was over, I had an idea: I sat down with Keynote, opened up my slide show, hit the "record" button, and gave my paper again. Then, I uploaded it onto Vimeo. A few years later, hundreds of people have watched the presentation, and I've created a resource I can use over and over again.
There are a number of reasons why I think you should all consider doing the same thing with your conference papers. The nature of the conference paper is that it is only as useful as the amount of people who hear it. If you're in a popular session, with some well-known archaeologists, then you may get some exposure. But, as a graduate student, particularly if it's one of your early papers, this may not happen, and then the hard work you put into that paper feels like wasted time. What good is a piece of research if no one is reading it?
By having my presentations available online, I'm able to give my conference papers a second life. I post them all over the place: on Twitter, Facebook, my blog, and my online portfolio. This has led to a number of conversations with other scholars, who have been interested in my work, and has even led to conversations with people in other fields or with other jobs, who used the content of my work to think about their work in different ways.
Soon, I'll be hitting the job market, meaning I'll be sending a CV off to people who have very little to no idea who I am or what I can do. As a graduate student, I anticipate only having a limited amount of published items on this CV, but a number of conference papers. Typically, these papers would not be available to hiring committees: they would have to infer from them that I am simply an active conference go-er. But, with URLs to these presentations added to the CV, I can get extra mileage out these presentations: they can actually go listen to and watch my presentations, and can demonstrate my abilities as a researcher.
Earlier this month, I attended another big conference. Since I've now been around the block a few times, I had mustered some courage to specifically ask some scholars if they could attend my paper so I could gain some feedback. Many said they couldn't, but they'd happily read a copy if I wanted to send it to them. In addition to a pdf, they'll be receiving a link to my Vimeo site, and the presentation that I wanted them to see. This is important for a couple reasons: first, it may stick with them a little bit because it's different, and second, I consider the visuals of my presentation to be integral to understanding what I'm talking about. It will help them better understand my paper.
Lastly, the recording is helpful with my own committee. Only one committee member was able to attend this conference, and I am not living near my home institution, so I did not have an opportunity to share this presentation with my committee before hand. Fortunately, I am able to send them a link to the video, so they can see how I am applying some of the concepts I'm writing about. It's a great way to demonstrate the work that I'm doing, and get feedback from them about it.
Some quick suggestions for those of you who are considering this as yourself.
First, the software. Keynote for Mac has a good recording feature. I believe Powerpoint can also do audio recording. My personal favorite, however, is Camtasia from TechSmith: this software is a knockout when it comes to screencasts and online lectures, making it a great tool for putting together a nice looking presentation.
Second, protect your work. Be clear in the beginning of your presentation, at the end, and in the description of the video who you are, where you gave the presentation, and that you'd like people to cite it appropriately. Your presentation is no different then a publication: it's your intellectual property and you should treat it as such.
Third, consider Vimeo over YouTube. I had miserable luck with YouTube making my presentations look good. Vimeo offers better quality and longer video times. While it isn't quite as popular as YouTube, I think the quality is better.
Have you made your conference presentations available online? If yes, we'd love to see them and hear about how or if they've been beneficial for you! Do you have any other ideas about how to make your conference research more accessible to others?
[Image by Flickr user herzogbr and used under Creative Commons License]