Coloring Outside the Lines

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Mary L Gray
Rachel Watkins


Thoughts on Reimagining the Typical AAA Presentation Format

Let’s face it. A seasoned anthropologist dramatically (speed) reading her 10-page paper in the remaining 15 minutes of a panel session can be magical. But a similar presentation, at the wrong time, from a less-experienced orator, can lull an audience to sleep (even the best storyteller struggles with that Sunday 8am session slot).

New presentation formats can shake things up. Roundtables generate dialogue among more voices than the typical slate of panel presentations; Retrospectives allow us to reflect on foundations of the discipline and cast them in a new light; and Installations, established in 2010 as Innovents and reinvented and expanded at the 2013 Chicago Annual Meeting, serve up performance-driven moments of deep engagement blurring the lines between presenter and audience. In all cases, the medium can heighten the message.

But we also invite (urge!) you to reimagine (implode!) the tried and true paper panel presentation. Consider incorporating one or two of the options below into your proposal for the 113th Annual Meeting program in Washington DC. They are sure to enhance the 2014 conference experience even if only a small number of us take some creative risks with our submissions. Here are a few possibilities:

• Organize your panel as a media-intensive session. The 2014 conference will push the boundaries of location and presence through on-site, dedicated, high speed Internet access available in a specific conference venue. This will give a small number of competitively selected panels a chance to do things such as connect presenters with their offsite fields and key collaborators, or stream a live performance for a global network of anthropologists (and anthropologies) to analyze in real time. Wouldn’t that be a great way to reach the knowledge embedded in our fieldsites? Tell us what you would do with an Internet connection for your panel (beyond streaming a colleague in the field to dramatically read her paper). We’ll provide the Internet connectivity.

• E-ify your poster. Poster sessions are a fantastic way to share visually compelling information while also having a dialogue with those drawn specifically to your topic, rather than a panel title. Consider creating a digital slide or YouTube presentation and submitting it as an e-poster that can be played for conference attendees, at the click of a mouse button. And, if you are willing, we can archive it and make it freely accessible on an AAA sponsored website to members well-after the 2014 meetings end. E-posters can bring greater visibility to your work and lead to the kind of wider public engagement that makes fellow scholars, universities and other institutions producing anthropological knowledge stand up and take notice.

• Mobilize social media gossip into smart commentary. Plenty of attendees tweet and post on social media sites during the meeting, often during the sessions themselves. Rather than silencing those mobile phones and trying to quash the digital energy in the room, we invite panelists to use social media to promote interactive commentary, questions, and conversations. Consider projecting Tweets and Tumblr posts to a large screen to augment (or even replace) the traditional discussion time.

• Archive key events. We plan to record, archive and make publicly available all events deemed “Open Access”—it’s about time we had a record of those fabulous addresses, executive program committee invited sessions, and award ceremonies! You are invited to archive your panel and we will work with your Section or you to make the recording available on an AAA sponsored website for future viewing and comment.

• Connect us to broader DC communities through community-based, offsite events. Any panel proposal can suggest a host of participants from outside the ranks of the discipline. Like Ethnographic Terminalia and the Society for Visual Anthropology’s annual Ethnographic Film Festival, community-based events can stretch and continue the conversation from on-site panels to off-site parties. Ask your favorite Section to make you the lucky recipient of a coveted “Conference Guest Registration”—each Section has one waiver to offer its members so that they can invite someone to present at the meeting without paying a dime (though we hope they will be so excited about the rest of the program that they decide to stick around after their session). Combined with a community-based event, your panel could bridge the conference attendees to places they didn’t know existed in the DC metro area.

These suggestions are just a few of the ways that you can experiment with producing anthropology at the Annual Meeting. None of these require a new format—just a reworking of the well-loved (some might feel weather-worn) paper panel presentation. Ready to give something different a try this year?

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