The Ten Commandments for Interdisciplinary Conference Etiquette

by Robert E. Horn

1. Thou shalt be aware of thine jargon and not use it unless thou shalt have the courtesy to explain it.

2. Thou shalt attempt to make three points and no more. Blessed is he or she that makes one big point well.

3. Thou shalt strive to explain all thy main points or claims in plain English (or whatever language thou art using). Thou shouldst understand "plain" as meaning short, simple declarative sentences.

4. Thou shalt strive to be so clear in thy organization that thy audience can summarize thy main points or arguments easily at the end of thy presentation, because thou hast presented them a slide (or three) with the main points on them.

5. Thou shalt put thy obscure references in thy footnotes and keep them out of thy oral presentations.

6. Thou shalt not read thy papers because thou risks boring thy audience to the point of anger or sleepiness, which as thou knowest are not the most receptive conditions for thy ideas.

7. Thou shalt refrain from comparing all the works of one author with all the works of another author along a dimension, lest thou engender in thy audience the immense frustration of thinking they will have to go back and read, say, all of Shakespeare to understand thy point. These days, thou canst not assume that anyone in thy audience will have read the complete works of anybody.

8. If thou art a techie, do not assume that the technical details of thy system are known to the participants of an interdisciplinary conference.

9. If thou hast a political or religious agenda to convert thy audience to thy beliefs, thou shalt have the courtesy to be up front about thy goals rather than casting thy "shoulds" upon thy audience or, worse yet, thinly disguising thine shoulds within the contents of thine presentation, no matter how right thou art.

10. Blessed are persons who empathize with their audiences to such a degree that they shall attain communication, for that is the most of Heaven that they shall attain on Earth.

Copyright 1994, R. E. Horn