Why do speed presentations?

On your mark!
On your mark!

The format of our upcoming conference is unusual for anthropology: instead of the usual, 15- to 20-minute paper in a panel, with multiple parallel panels, we’re opting for very short presentations to the whole assembled conference. I’ll try to explain the logic, and my previous experience with speed presentations.

So often at conferences, the focus is on research that has already been conducted. It’s done and dusted, and the author reads a pre-publication version of a future article. In fact, sometimes the audience comes to feel that the presentation is even further along, that the published version is either in press somewhere or mostly finished. This can give many conference presentations a kind of maturity, but at the cost of discussion; when people do get to talk or ask questions, they may have the impression that they are talking to hear themselves speak. The author’s work is mostly done, and any question about research methods is too late.

In speed presentations, however, we’re encouraging people to present research ideas, works in the early stages of development, and first passes of ideas. Because the format is shorter, the research can still be in progress or even in proposal stages. This allows discussions to be much more productive; like the roundtable on research methods, we’re hoping that this will spark discussion of how to get at difficult questions, techniques for eliciting data, and hybrid methodologies that combine strengths from different fields.

Because neuroanthropology is a nascent field, this sort of collective brainstorming session, with presentation as much introductions, provocations, and ice-breakers for future exchange, seemed to us to make the most sense. So if you’re considering it, don’t hesitate to bring your half-baked ideas, your unrealized research ambitions, and your works in progress. This is exactly the sort of material that will benefit most from a forward-looking, future-oriented conference like The Encultured Brain.

In addition, at some conferences, you feel like you’re competing against other sessions. Someone you’d like to see present is talking at the same time your panel is scheduled; hell, you’d even skip your own talk if you could, so how can you expect to have a big audience? That won’t be an issue here. We’ve been very careful to invite some of the most generous, congenial, and free-thinking colleagues we could find, so we’re going to try hard to put everyone on equal footing. For at least five minutes, you’ll have everyone’s complete attention.

After your presentation, everyone will have pre-printed slips to respond to your work, so that they can’t drop you a note, pass on their cards if they want to get in touch, suggest a technique or a reading you might not know of, or otherwise give you some feedback. In the breaks, with food and drink to put us all in a better mood, you’ll have a chance to chase down that future collaborator who just inspired you with their presentation. And if someone’s presenting something you’re not interested in, you can relax — it’s going to be over quick.

The format is sort of like speed-dating for research exchange. It will help us to see what is out there, who’s doing what sort of work, to swap ideas, ask each other for assistance, and try to set up some future collaboration. So if you’re thinking about joining us, but you don’t think you’re quite ready to present at the American Anthropological Association or the Society for Psychological Anthropology or the Cognitive Science Society, then this conference is definitely the place to help bring your work closer to realization.

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Trained as a cultural anthropologist at the University of Chicago, I have gone on to do fieldwork in Brazil and the United States. I have written one book, Learning Capoeira: Lessons in Cunning from an Afro-Brazilian Art (Oxford, 2005). I have also co-authored and co-edited several, including, with Dr. Daniel Lende, The Encultured Brain: An Introduction to Neuroanthropology (MIT, 2012), and with Dr. Melissa Fisher, Frontiers of Capital: Ethnographic Reflections on the New Economy (Duke, 2006). My research interests include neuroanthropology, psychological anthropology, sport, dance, human rights, neuroscience, phenomenology, economic anthropology, and just about anything else that catches my attention.

9 thoughts on “Why do speed presentations?

  1. Sounds like a good idea if you can get enough people to go along with this novelty (as we all know, it’s not easy to change ones practice). One problem with the 15-20 min presentation in my experience is that people are so intent to forestall any criticism that they spend far too much time to present the backgound and all they’ve read and done. The results and interpretations and conclusions are usually crammed into a panicked 2 minutes at the end as the time has run out. The question time is usually useless, the best one can hope for is that someone will approach you at the pub later to offer some insight (if they can find you again).

    On that topic, I think you miswrote a sentence above. I assume you mean that they CAN drop you a note, not that they can’t…

  2. I believe more and more people are interested in this form of presentation. We organize speed panel at AAA in December. We use the Pecha Kuch format (6,40 min and 20 images). So if anybody there and would like to see how it works (we hope and belive it will) please welcome.

  3. “…the focus is on research that has already been conducted.”

    This is an interesting statement because it seems to imply that research is not an ongoing process but carried out in distinct “chunks” with a beginning and end. I think many researchers who have some long term research program never see their research as “mostly done” but rather as a series of steps in a (long) process. So, it seems the issue lies more in the style of presentations commonly given at meetings, especially the lone “Discussion” slide that is rushed through at teh end of a talk.

    An alternative to the speed dating approach might be that all presenters are alloted their standard 20 minutes, but that they are obligated to discuss three (or more) alternative “next steps” that they could envision taking their research program. If one can’t envision any next steps, then this probably says something about the importance of the issue. But, for those who can, then a large web of future research pathways would emerge.

    Please do post a report on how the speed-dating version worked.

  4. I’d also like to hear how it works out…

    On a slightly related topic…always thought it would be interesting to develop an Amazon clone that lets folks do a form of distributed hypothesis testing by posting a research scenario (research done or contemplated) that others could (1) rank; (2) comment on; or (3) replicate.


    – opportunity to bring scattered researchers together in community
    – opportunity for students with research topics to attempt replication (with some obvious perils and pitfalls as well)
    – opportunity for the research community to review and comment on research proposals, rank merit, suggest modifications
    – opportunity to find similar interests and projects
    – opportunity for those who are experienced in the field to do distance mentoring
    – helps dissipate the silo effect

  5. I hope your conference went well! sounds sooooooo interesting! Will the outcomes or the papers be publsihed somewhere? How was the “research methods round table” – I’d be very interested in this, is there anything available to read about? You do some great work here! greetings, Lea

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