How to Run a History Presentation Extravaganza (Univ. of Chicago)

By Lindsey Martin, University of Chicago, August 2016

Using This Guide: This guide provides an overview of how to run a History Presentation Extravaganza in your department. This event challenges graduate students to distill some aspect of their research—a seminar paper, a dissertation chapter, an analysis of a primary source—into an engaging five-minute presentation followed by four minutes of questions from the audience. A panel of judges evaluates each presentation for style, substance, and accessibility, providing feedback to each student and awarding a prize to the top three presentations.

Purpose of This Exercise:A Presentation Extravaganza provides an opportunity for students to practice a wide range of skills not traditionally emphasized in graduate programs. Public speaking may be the most obvious, but it is far from the only one. As the event asks students to craft presentations that are engaging and accessible, these talks challenge students to consider how they can make their research relevant and interesting to a broader audience, not just specialists in their particular subfield, which can be useful in teaching, job talk preparation, and public outreach. Each presenter is strongly encouraged to craft a presentation using software like PowerPoint or Prezi to accompany their talk, providing practice in effectively using images and digital tools to complement their research. Finally, the event is open to students at all stages of the program, providing a unique opportunity for students within the department to learn more about the work of their colleagues and make connections across fields. For this reason, it is an excellent way to bring members of the department together and foster a sense of community. Add food and beverages, and it can also be a fun and positive way to conclude an academic year. A fuller description of the event as held at the University of Chicago can be found on AHA Today.

Skills This Exercise Addresses: Communication, Intellectual Self-Confidence, Digital Literacy

Preparing for the Event

  1. Book a room in the department suitable for presentations with an A/V setup.
  2. Announce the event two to three months before the date to give students plenty of time to consider what they might present; the deadline to submit a brief abstract of the talk should be roughly one month before the selected date. Eight to ten participants is ideal. This announcement should state that students are welcome to present any part of their research, from a seminar paper to a dissertation chapter to a single primary source of interest. It is strongly recommended that each student create a PowerPoint or Prezi presentation or a one-page handout to accompany their presentations. Let them know that the five-minute time limit will be strictly enforced, as will the four minutes for Q&A following the presentation. Whatever subject they choose, emphasize that talks will be evaluated by judges not only for style and substance, but also accessibility. As such, presenters should draft their talks to engage a broad audience of historians, not just those in their particular subfields. Guidelines for drafting an accessible talk can be distributed once students have committed to participating.
  3. Select two or three judges who can evaluate the presentations. These judges can be faculty members or individuals from around campus, such as from a center for teaching and learning, a library, or career services. Judges should use a designated form to evaluate talks. The forms will be returned to each student after the event so they can use the feedback to improve their public speaking skills.
  4. Once participants have been selected, draft a program that randomly assigns students nine-minute slots (five minutes for presentations, four for questions), leaving a few minutes between each presentation. Share this order with students a few days before the event.
  5. Ask participants to email their presentations to someone running the event ahead of time so they can all be loaded onto a single computer. As participants will not be required to connect their computers to the A/V equipment, this minimizes the chance of technical difficulties and ensures the event runs in a timely fashion.

Running the Event

  1. Distribute programs that list speakers and presentation titles to the audience and provide judges with a feedback form for each student.
  2. Select a master of ceremonies who will introduce each presenter and a timekeeper who will ensure that presentations and Q&A sessions do not go over their allotted time. Encourage the timekeeper to be strict, as learning to adhere to time limitations is a useful skill. Another volunteer could be placed in charge of loading each presentation, or participants can do this themselves.
  3. After the final presentation, judges should convene in another room to select the top three presentations. During this time, snacks or beverages may be served to attendees at a reception while they await the results. When announcing the winners, judges should say a few words about the strengths of these presentations. Small prizes can be distributed to the top three, and certificates or other tokens of participation can be given to all presenters.
  4. The master of ceremonies should collect all feedback forms from the judges and give them to presenters in the days after the event.