Organizing Lightning Talks

After going to and presenting at a few different lightning talks events in the past six months or so, I decided to organize a lightning talks event for Stony Brook’s English Department. There were a few strong motivating factors:

1) Lightning talks are a great way for students and faculty to showcase their hard work that often goes so unappreciated and unnoticed.

2) At inter-university lightning talks that I’ve attended, I learned about so many exciting projects and techniques taking place right here in the NYC area that I probably would not have found out about otherwise. I soon realized that there are tons of projects going on in my own department that I don’t about- many of my colleagues don’t know what exactly I’m working on, and I don’t know what exactly many of my colleagues are working on, even though we’re only an office or two apart! Lightning talks provide a fun, relaxed opportunity to learn about the very people/community surrounding us.

3) This new awareness of one’s surrounding academic community often leads to new collaborations and sharing of information and resources!

4) The 3-5 minute time limit is great practice for the loquacious academic (most of us) in focusing talking points and eliminating tangents and unnecessary parts of discussion. It also make one really consider his or her research and writing from new perspective- what are my major arguments, what are my strongest supports for that argument, what did my argument emerge out of, and what is my argument leading toward? After my own lightning talks, I’ve often gone back to my full-length essays and given more attention to points that I realized needed to be stronger and more of a focus, and I’ve also shaved away some of the attention given to points that I found are not as important for my argument.

5) 3-5 minutes also keeps things very relaxed and low-stakes. Rarely have I seen somebody read straight from a paper for a short discussion. Instead, it’s easier to keep things more conversational by talking off the cuff and following a rough outline (maybe 3-6 bullet points is all!). Because it’s such a short amount of time, it might also be a good way for less-experienced presenters to get their feet wet in terms of conference papers.

So on April 19, 2016, I held the SBU English Department’s first ever lightning talks event, featuring about 20 graduate students and faculty members. We also had an awesome and informative presentation from Kate Kasten and Lis Pankl from the SBU library on campus resources for research in the Humanities. I was grateful for funding from both the English Department and the Graduate English Society, which helped make the event a success. The event received an impressive amount of positive and supportive feedback, and I am planning to organize another event this coming spring. Ultimately, I’d like to either open this event up to other departments in the Humanities or create another event for the fall semester through the Humanities Institute.

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