The two most visible fora for presenting academic papers in Classics in North America are the annual meetings of the American Philological Association (in early January; held in conjunction with the Archaeological Institute of America) and the Classical Association of the Middle West and South (in April). There are also smaller regional meetings such as the Classical Association of the Atlantic States (which meets in both the fall and the spring) to which you might consider submitting an abstract, as well as numerous independent conferences, including graduate-student-only conferences. Both CAMWS and the APA require that you belong to the organization for your abstract to be considered for presentation, but allow you to purchase a membership at the same time you submit a proposal.
Although much of the formal process of submitting abstracts and delivering papers is the same at the APA and CAMWS, there are significant differences between the conferences. Above all else, only about one in two abstracts is accepted for delivery at the APA, and even senior scholars often have their proposals rejected, while about nine out of ten abstracts are accepted for delivery at CAMWS. In addition, APA meetings have three to four times as many attendees as CAMWS meetings, including many more faculty from the major East and West Coast PhD-granting institutions; more sessions run simultaneously at the APA; and critical or aggressive questions, while scarcely the norm, are more common there. Finally, because interviews for most tenure-track jobs in the field are conducted at the APA, faculty from hiring institutions often attend the papers of individuals on their interview lists, raising the stakes at the paper sessions.
If you are close to completing your PhD, your best strategy may be to submit an abstract for the CAMWS meeting in the spring of the academic year before you go on the job market, and to submit both APA and CAMWS abstracts for the year when you plan to go on the market. If all goes well, you should have at least one and perhaps as many as three talks and the experience that goes with them to list on your CV when you apply for teaching positions.
In North America, at least, the programs at all national and regional meetings, and at most smaller conferences and meetings as well, are set via an anonymous process of abstract submission. An abstract is a much-abbreviated description of what you intend to argue in your paper. The deadline for submitting abstracts comes many months before the meeting; These deadlines are neither flexible nor negotiable. For specific dates, information how about abstracts may be submitted, and the like, you should visit the websites of the organizations in question (accessible in the Links section of the CJ website). Therefore, although you are welcome to attend a meeting without presenting a paper, you must plan well in advance if you wish to appear on the program.
All abstracts submitted are read by a Program Committee, which votes on the papers to be accepted for the meeting. You can expect to be notified within a month or so of the abstract deadline as to whether your paper has been accepted. The Program Committee attempts to create appropriate panels of four to seven papers out the abstracts it has accepted, and to schedule sessions so that, for example, two sessions on Latin epic are not going on simultaneously. You have no choice about what session you will appear in, who else will be in your session with you, or when your session is scheduled. If your panel appears to be an odd mix of offerings, you should assume that this reflects not the Program Committee's incompetence, but the need to create more or less coherent groupings out of the (occasionally intransigent) material available to them.
The primary purpose of an abstract is to convince the committee reading it that you know what you are talking about and will use your spot on the program to say something interesting and coherent. Program committees are unpredictable and the individual members may have their own interests and agendas. You should nonetheless keep the following principles in mind as you draft your abstract:
In your opening paragraph or two in particular, take time to position your argument in relation to other scholarship. Who else has worked on this question, what (very briefly) have they had to say about it, and how will what you intend to argue be different? Full bibliographic citations are unnecessary; names and dates will do.
Be intriguing rather than completely plain and prosaic. The goal of your abstract is to capture the Program Committee's collective imagination; don't be afraid to suggest that one purpose of your paper will be to use your specific, limited topic to shed light on larger and more difficult questions.
There is no advantage in appearing unnecessarily combative. Even if you dislike some of the earlier work on your topic, the rhetoric of cooperation, of building on previously articulated insights, or of exploring alternative paths, is likely to serve you better, both here and elsewhere in your academic career.
Be aware of what a 15-minute paper can and cannot accomplish, and offer a topic that works within those limits. A successful 45-minute paper (or a successful 40-page dissertation chapter) cannot be condensed into an equally successful 15-minute conference paper. But a successful 15-minute paper can be constructed out of a well-chosen and carefully reworked third of a 45-minute paper, or the best part of a dissertation chapter. On the other hand, one small idea, even if correct, is unlikely to be enough to hold your audience's attention for a full quarter-hour or (perhaps more important) to convince a Program Committee to offer a slot to you rather than someone else.
The quality of your writing is extremely important at the abstract stage. Especially in the case of your first abstract or two, get someone with experience in the process to work through several drafts with you.
After your abstract has been accepted, you will have an opportunity to revise it for publication in the meeting's abstract book. Your abstract is in any case only a statement of purpose, and the argument you make at the meeting may ultimately be somewhat different from what you had expected it to be many months earlier.
As a rule of thumb, 15 minutes is enough time to set up and develop one large point and two or three subsidiary points. Allot one paragraph at the beginning of the paper to orienting your audience to your topic, and another at the end to summarizing your conclusions. Beyond that, your goal is to be crisp, clear, organized, informative and exciting.
When you are notified that your paper has been accepted for delivery at a conference, you will generally be offered an opportunity to withdraw it before the program has been formally announced and sent to the printer. If you do not withdraw your paper now, you are formally committed to attending and presenting at the meeting, and it is considered bad form to drop out after this, except in the case of a serious personal emergency. Even if you find at the last minute that you are unable to attend a meeting, it is usually possible to arrange for a friend or colleague (or, failing that, the presider of your session) to read your paper for you, allowing you to continue to list it on your CV. Should you nonetheless find you have no choice but to withdraw a paper from a meeting, you should notify both the secretary-treasurer of the organization and the presider at your session as early as possible. Simply failing to appear on the day of your session is considered unacceptable behavior.
You must register for any meeting at which you present a paper. Although you may register at the conference itself, advance registration is less expensive; advance registration deadlines generally fall a month or two before the meeting. Conference registration fees for major meetings such as the APA and CAMWS are often around $100, although special student or first-time registration rates may be available.
You should plan to stay at the conference hotel if you can; the room-rates are generally as favorable as any you can negotiate elsewhere, and the convenience of being able to lurch off to your room late at night rather than go outside and take a cab elsewhere is worth at least $20/night.
The APA and CAMWS meetings both run officially for three days (Thursday, Friday, Saturday), but are in both cases somewhat front-loaded: parties and receptions begin on the preceding Wednesday evening, and by late Saturday afternoon almost everyone has gone.
At the APA and CAMWS, as well as at most smaller, regional meetings, papers are generally allotted 15 minutes. This is a serious limit; while a good-natured presider will sometimes allow you to go on for an extra minute or two, after that you run a very real risk of being cut off. This is embarrassing for everyone involved (including the presider, who wants you to succeed, but has a panel to manage), and you should plan to finish within the time allotted you.
As a rule of thumb, one page of double-spaced, 12-point text will take slightly less than two minutes to read at a reasonable pace, meaning that your paper should be about 8 double-spaced pages long. But this is only an approximation, and you should practice delivering the paper orally to be sure it is an appropriate length.
In the United States, reading from a prepared text is widely regarded as mandatory at conferences such as the APA and CAMWS, whereas speaking extemporaneously is likely to be interpreted as a sign that you are either unprepared or contemptuous of your audience. This is not the case in all countries, and non-Americans should be aware of the local customs and of how their own standard procedures may be understood (or misunderstood).
At some point before the meeting at which you are presenting, the presider at your session will probably contact you to request information that will allow him or her to introduce you. Introductions at paper sessions normally consist of only a few sentences summing up your interests and your graduate degree-history to date, including the title or topic of your dissertation, if you are ABD; describing your current teaching position, if you have one; and mentioning a relevant publication or two, where appropriate. If you send your presider a CV, therefore, you may want to eliminate extraneous material from it, or highlight what you regard as the most important points. You may also wish to send a three- or four-sentence narrative summary representing how you would ideally like to be introduced. In any case, you should bring a copy of this material to the session with you, as your presider may well have forgotten it and will be grateful for your thoughtfulness.
Practice your paper at least once before a live audience, and revise it in light of their suggestions. You may want to ask a friend to attend specifically to alert you to any nervous tics you have that you do not know about. In addition, you should read the text aloud at least three or four more times before you deliver it, so that the words flow easily off your tongue and you can lift your eyes from the text and look at your audience from time to time as you speak. (Keeping a finger under the line you are reading will allow you to do this without losing your place. Set pages aside after you complete them.)
Your text is a script for a live performance, and you should construct it that way: add commas to help you structure your sentences; underline or bold words you want to emphasize; add "(PAUSE)" in the text at points where you need to do so for dramatic effect. Even if you are naturally soft-spoken, you must do your best to speak loudly, and vary your tone and cadence. Your audience would not be at your talk if they were not interested in what you have to say, but your task is to keep them engaged with you and your topic as you present it. Try to relax and enjoy yourself in the spotlight, and to enchant them with your argument.
Begin your paper with the words "Ladies and Gentlemen" or the equivalent, and end with an emphatic "Thank you" (which signals that you are done speaking and the audience is free to applaud).
Almost all presenters at North American meetings today offer a handout, which provides an easy way to put the material you will be discussing directly in your audience's hands, while making it easier for them to follow your argument.
Put your name, the date and the name of the conference, the title of your paper, and your email address at the top of the handout. Individual items within the handout should be numbered, allowing you to refer to them more easily in the course of your talk. Translate all Greek and Latin; even if your audience is familiar with the texts you are discussing, forcing them to sight-read as they listen will inevitably mean that they pay less attention to your argument. Include a bibliography at the end.
You should generally bring about 100 copies of your handout to your session. This is likely to be too many, but that is better than not having enough.
Find the room where you will be giving your paper well in advance, and arrive at least ten minutes before your session is due to begin. Introduce yourself to the presider when he or she arrives, and be sure that the presider is ready to introduce you. It is also good manners to introduce yourself to the other presenters, and to make arrangements among yourselves for distributing handouts.
Although you are expected to stay for the entire session, the individual members of your audience are not. Members of the audience will therefore come and go unpredictably throughout the session; it is generally considered bad manners to stand up and leave during the middle of a paper, but people will certainly arrive then. None of this reflects on you, and you should do your best to ignore the various comings and goings.
Question sessions generally come immediately after the papers and work better then, although some presiders will insist on reserving questions for the end. Most often you will be expected to field your own questions; unless there are fewer papers than the session could have accommodated, you may well be able to take only three or four. If no one in the audience has a question for another presenter in your session, it is a kindness which you will be happy to have repaid to offer one yourself.
If a question takes you completely by surprise, the best response is often to begin by saying "That's very interesting; I've never thought about it that way." You can then briefly tease out some possible implications of the idea for your own work, suggest another parallel, and suggest that the two of you follow up the matter after the session is over. It is acceptable to ask a question in return, but remember that the floor belongs to you and that some audience members are only too happy to take it over.
Although most questioners will be courteous even if they do not agree with you, occasionally one will not. Your best strategy in such situations is to politely decline to engage. If the questioner aggressively rejects your basic approach or premise, therefore, you should restate it (firmly and confidently, rather than apologetically); explain briefly why you think this is a correct or appropriate way to deal with the text or problem; say something polite but designed to end the discussion ("It's clear we don't agree on this, but I'm not sure this is the right time to debate the matter"); and then move on ("Anyone else?"). Do not lose your cool, do not surrender, and do not be drawn into an extended public argument. You "win" in such situations by appearing courteous, confident, and thoughtful, particularly if your opponent is none of these.
The other presenters in your panel may not want to make friends with you, but there is little harm in trying. Particularly if the session went well, therefore, ask afterward if anyone would like have coffee or (depending on the time of day) a beer. Pay for the first round, and think of it as an investment. After you do this a few times, you will discover that you have developed a small network of friends and acquaintances whom you see at other conferences from time to time, and who will in turn introduce you to their friends, colleagues and acquaintances, and so on and on for the rest of your career.