Conference Etiquette and Take-Aways from the 2019 WSCA Conference

WSCA: Highs and Lows


High: Thank God for Sunday’s performance panel. Day 1 was such a bust. This panel reminded me why it’s important to convene with professional colleagues and friends. I loved watching Kurt, Brandon, Amira, and Benny each knock their performances out of the park. Kurt noted how each of us have such a unique performance styles that are tailored to our quirks, strengths, and writing. I have developed earnest friendships with each of them, so I felt totally invested in their stories.


High: I bobbled a few lines in the first minute of my monologue but came back with a vengeance and stuck the landing. Once I got through the first minute of my performance, I felt totally in the moment and connected to the material. I fought back REAL tears at the end—not crocodile tears I sometimes resort to in performance when I’m not quite in the moment.


High: Spending time with Kurt, Benny, Sarah, Brandon, and Bell. It was great seeing EVERYONE but I got to spend quality time with these people, five friends I cherish, five people who help me flip a bad experience at registration into a joke, five colleagues I just get and who equally get me.


Low: I had a bad experience at registration. The registration team indicated that I needed to establish membership before I could register for the conference and directed me to Heather Hundley’s assistant, Jennifer. Jennifer asked me step to the side and use my mobile phone to fill out membership forms and submit my payment.  Jennifer’s request struck me as odd. I prefer to register in person because I have historically had a difficult time navigating the association’s website. After failed attempts to locate where “new” members enroll, I re-entered a short line to seek assistance. While waiting in line, I witnessed an odd exchange where Jennifer called Dr. Jimmie Manning, chair of Reno’s department, a student and did it in a condescending tone. My interaction with her did not go any better. I explained to her that the website is not intuitive and I could not figure out how to sign up as a new member. Annoyed, she asked if I wanted to give her “my entire life story” (pertinent biographical information?) so that she could enter it on her computer. I replied, “Yes.” She responded, “To which part?” At that point, I decided to end the exchange. I asked for her name and decided I would register for the conference in my hotel room and write Dr. Hundley a letter. Oh, by the way, here’s $350 for membership and registration fees.


Low: I also had a bad experience presenting on a Media Studies panel. I arrived to the panel 15 minutes early to test the audio/visual equipment. I only use Powerpoint when a presentation absolutely calls for it. I later discovered that I was the only person on the Top Papers panel who requested a/v access. When I entered the room, another presenter had already attached her laptop to the equipment. I was scheduled to present last. To my dismay, the hotel only provided HDMI attachments in this room. After struggling with the equipment for roughly 10 minutes, I had to present without technology, despite the presentation’s focus on several images and a 1-minute video clip. The division’s two program planners were in the room but did nothing to help the situation. In fact, the program planners acted as tag-team respondents to the panel. As a former program planner, I cannot imagine assigning myself as a respondent to the top paper panel. When I was Chair and planner of Performance Studies in San Francisco, I attended all the division’s panels; my primary focus was to make sure everything went off without a hitch. I was there to put out whatever fires might emerge. It makes no sense that the sole presenter to request a/v equipment was scheduled to present last. It’s a basic understanding in communication courses that people with more elaborate set-ups should present first. At a conference, technological setup can be anticipated by who requests a/v in their submissions and then reflected in the program presenter order. Panel chairs and program planners should also anticipate these issues and prepare accordingly. As a presenter, all I can do is arrive 15 minutes prior to the presentation and hope that competent people run the show.


High: Brandon took me to a bar called Pony Saturday night. Pony’s a mix of Fubar and The Eagle, located in a reinvented gas station. The bartenders were hilariously aloof, and the crowd was diverse, semi-dirty, and fun. It was the perfect escape from a shitty first day at the conference.


Low: One of my student arrived to present a paper and discovered they double-booked the room. One of my colleagues discovered she was double-booked to present two things at the same time. I now understand why attendance at Western has plummeted. After my experience this year, I won’t be returning until they get their shit together. I prefer to submit to conferences that treat my work with care.


Low: The paper panels I attended were noticeably uneven. Two good presentations packed with content and two shaky presentations lacking nuance. Every paper panel I saw demonstrated this split.


High: I loved seeing my student Liza present the paper she produced in my Queer Theory seminar. It was a great moment to sit in that panel. I was located directly behind David (a former student), so we got to enjoy Liza together. David is such a great, intellectually curious guy. I heard that Kamiran did a bang-up job performing the homo-nationalism essay he penned in my class.


High: Seattle is a gorgeous city. Brendon and I hit Biscuit Bitch, which was yummy and the perfect food to ease a hangover.


Low: I need to write an entry about conference etiquette. I don’t care how big of a Communication rock star you think you are, please be mindful of a few basic courtesies:

  • First, don’t dare enter room WHILE somebody is presenting. If the door is closed, stick your ear against it and only enter when you hear people clapping, which indicates one speaker has completed his or her presentation. Duck in and out BETWEEN speakers.
  • Next, if you are in the room—either in the audience or presenting—put your phone down. Don’t flip through the program. Look at the presenters. The only time it’s ok to play on your phone or open the program is if a presenter gives no eye contact. This is the only exception to the rule because shitty presenters aren’t respecting YOUR time and this is a reciprocal interaction. Unrehearsed, no eye-contact presentations don’t demand respect because they don’t command it.
  • Third, don’t come for your friend’s performance/presentation and then leave. If you do, you better have a damn good reason for doing so. As a general rule, stay for ALL the presenters and if you must leave early, do it during the Q and A.
  • Finally, if you just spent an hour in the audience listening to people share their research, you better have questions and comments prepared when the chair calls for them. It’s insulting when the audience stares at the front of the room with nothing to say during the question-answer. You’re an academic. You can think of some contribution that gets a discussion rolling.


Take-away: After WSCA, I’m not sure if I’m going to submit work to NCA. On the one hand, I would love to present a full-length version of my one-person show for my professional organization. I had a blast at NCA last year and was enthusiastic about 2019 after I left the conference. On the other hand, conferences showcase a few behaviors that drive me up the wall. I have lost a lot of respect for and trust in people I once considered friends based on their conference comportment. The good thing is that I’m finally at a place in my career where I can do the things that feed my soul. I no longer care if people think my work is important, or if they look at me as “somebody to know.” In Amira’s performance, she highlights the dangers of unchecked ascension, or the illusory power that comes with building (ourselves) up. To modify Amira, I am drawn to people who feed my soul, who remind me that up is only fun when grounded in the frightful fun of crashing down. Up is bullshit when we use that position to look down on others, rather than ponder the precarious architecture that enables us to look down our noses at everything the structure (academia or capitalism or religion or sexuality) has convinced us is “beneath” us.