We decided to spend the seminar time as, well, study hall. Everyone worked on their projects and we chatted about problems as they came up.
We also had an interruption for a gas leak. Good times!
By now, you all have a lot of précis. And by the end of the term, you are supposed to have a literature review. Octave asked the right question: is the literature review something more than concatenating the précis? Of course, we all know in our hearts that the answer is “yes,” but that leaves us with the obvious next question: what is it supposed to look like?
We talked about was of organizing the material. For example, one way of doing it is by finding issues on which your authors disagree. Another way of organizing material is by identifying themes that crop up in large parts of the literature. In some cases, a developmental story makes sense: X said this, they Y responded to X, and Z replied to Y, etc.
I spent my time in study hall trying to offer constructive comments on the oral presentations. I found this difficult. Partly, I’m sure, this is because I have not done this in the past. But I suspect that part of it is that I’m worried that we are more self-conscious about our speaking than we are about our writing. I don’t want to say anything even mildly critical that will seem to be about you as opposed to the way you make a presentation.
Anyway, I found myself repeating a few points. You already have them on your comments, but I thought I would record them here as well.
One thing to consider if you have to make professional or academic presentations is starting with a statement of where the author begins, where the author ends, and, very briefly, how the author gets from the beginning to the end. The idea of such a summary is to orient people: they know the conclusion that the author is trying to reach, what the author takes for granted at the outset, and then (and only then) how the argument goes. In my experience, this both helps me to understand an article and it also helps the audience evaluate it. For example, some people don’t buy the initial premises; identifying the premises helps these people to understand what they think.
In addition, when preparing a presentation, ask yourself “what are the three things that I would like people to remember from this?” The question is a good way of reminding yourself that people just aren’t going to absorb even a small portion of what you have to say. It’s also a good way of coming up with some pretty dandy things to say! Just use the answers to the question in your presentation.