Our Annual Programming Series, Part Three: Papers, Presentations, Lectures, and Pre-empaneled Papers

In part one of this series, we discussed some general information on programming. In part two, we detailed different ways to structure your proposal. Our next few posts will show you how to prepare proposals for each type of programming.

We’re going to use “paper” as shorthand, but please note that this post applies to other sorts of talks, lectures, and presentations.

This presentation style can range from a formal reading of a prepared paper to a more relaxed speech, where the presenter refers to notes to make her points. The presenter can go solo or work with others on a paper, or several presenters can read short papers as a set.

If your topic…

  • documents patterns
  • looks for hidden or subtle meanings
  • brings together knowledge from different areas to expand on what’s in the books you’ve read
  • compares and contrasts works, characters, or authors
  • reports on research
  • uses a specific lens for interpreting literature or art
  • presents meta!
  • or critiques novels, themes, or approaches

…it could make a fantastic paper.

This is a good presentation style if you prefer to speak from a pre-written paper or speech, and it’s especially good if you need to lay significant groundwork for your audience, be persuasive, or delve into information that your audience might be unfamiliar with.

A group of several people may submit pre-empaneled papers, meaning that those papers have some connection, no matter how small, and the group would like to share a 50-minute time block for presenting. The only difference in the submission process is that person who begins the proposal in the system will need to provide a title and summary for the group as a whole, as well as the email addresses for all co-panelists, who will be contacted separately to provide their information. Each person will need to provide an individual biography, summary, and abstract.

Presenters may choose either 25-minute or 50-minute time blocks, which will include your reading or speech as well as any discussion and questions from (or for!) the audience. We’ll match up shorter papers and presentations so that they fill a 50-minute time block; for pre-empaneled papers with more than two presenters, we’ll try to give you extra time on the schedule.

If you’ll be reading from what you’ve prepared in advance, a 6- to 10-page double-spaced paper is about right for the 25-minute time block; assume 2,000 to 3,000 words. For a 50-minute time block, assume a little less than twice that to leave time for discussion and to catch your breath or take a drink of water. Of course, it depends also on how fast you speak, whether you take time out for explanations, and so on, so determine in advance whether you need to err or the short side to make it to the conclusion during your allotted time.

Getting Started
As with other types of presentations, you’ll need to choose your focus, as well as a target for how long you’ll need to present your thoughts. From there, you’ll need to put together a strong abstract. (You don’t have to write a complete paper to turn in; we won’t ask for it at all, unless you’d like to be published in the conference compendium.)

Personal Information to Gather
1. Your contact information (which is not shared with the vetting board). All correspondence about your proposal will be sent via email, so make sure to use an address that you’ll have through the end of 2015 and that you check regularly. Please add (programming at to your safe sender list so that correspondence is delivered to your inbox.

2. Name to be published for presenter on website, schedule, and program. While we ask for some personal information to allow our registrar to confirm your status as a registered attendee, we know you might want to use a different name for your presentation, whether that’s a pseudonym, an online handle, or a formal name that you use professionally. (Please note that we drop titles on our schedule and with presentation summaries, but you’re welcome to note titles and professional credentials in your biography.) The “name to be published” will be the name we show to the vetting board, programming volunteers, and other attendees.

3. Professional affiliation. This is for those presenters who wish to note their current association with a university, and occasionally, a business or professional organization if their presentation is related in some way and they’re speaking with the endorsement of their job. Some people use this field; most don’t unless they’re currently teaching at a university.

4. If you are starting a proposal for a group of pre-empaneled papers, you’ll need the email addresses of the other presenters. You won’t give us the names or biographies of your other presenters; we’ll send them an email request for that information. Your other presenters will need to respond to the information request email for your pre-empaneled papers to be considered, so please let your co-presenters know that this email is on the way and ask them to reply promptly. As with the rest of your information, presenters’ emails must be provided before your proposal is reviewed; you can’t submit a panel of papers and find other presenters only after (or if) the panel is approved. (Also, a co-presenter, rather than a moderator, can be the one to submit the proposal, but it’s probably easiest all around if the moderator takes care of this task and becomes the point of contact.)

5. Your biography. Tell us, in under 100 words, a little about you. A couple of sentences work fine! You can explain any experience, studies, or long-term interest in your topic; tell us where you’re going to school; or what you do as a job or as a hobby. Shorter is better, because space is limited.

Proposal Information to Gather
1. Title. Remember that this title will be shown to the vetting board, so neither “Untitled” nor “TBA” is a good title idea! On the other hand, you don’t have to come up with something witty—just explain what the paper, lecture, or presentation is about.

2. A summary of no more than 100 words. This is the very short version of your presentation that will be published in the program book and on the Sirens website. The summary gives you the chance to attract an audience who will be interested in hearing your paper. It should be concise, written for a general audience (in other words, avoid slang and jargon, if you can), and give people a sense of your perspective on the topic. Here’s one example that we’ve borrowed from a paper that was presented at Sirens in 2009:

This presentation examines Holly Black’s and Melissa Marr’s works of faerie fantasy and explores how each author’s series complicates and/or subverts faerie tale conventions both to deconstruct gender binaries and to resist new (and equally constraining) reconstructions of gender roles. Through their respective reimaginings of faerie tale narratives, Black and Marr effectively problematize the traditional dualities of the faerie tale: good and evil, virtue and vice, self and other, and—most particularly—masculine and feminine.

Here are four more, from 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014, that we think are excellent examples:

The myths and legends of India and many of its neighbors feature beautiful snake women and cannibal demons, celestial dancers, and nature spirits, most of whom are largely unknown in the West. Through storytelling, discussion, and slides from popular Indian comic books, we will introduce the magical and monstrous women of South Asian tales, with a focus on the fluidity and ambiguity of their classification as monstrous or simply supernatural.

This essay examines the way in which Angela Carter and Karen Russell recast the historical rehabilitation of savage girls in their respective short fictions, “Wolf-Alice” and “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.” These narratives, along with poetry by Janet McAdams and Bhanu Kapil, will serve as imaginative interrogations of the gendered pedagogy that informed the attempted re-educations of Marie-Angélique Leblanc, the Wild Girl of Champagne, in the eighteenth century—and Kamala and Amala, the so-called Wolf Girls of India, in the twentieth century.

Many first-person novels use the conceit that the book itself is being written by the narrator. Fewer make that act of writing an integral part of the plot. In C. S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces, Orual’s telling of her own story transforms her, as she comes to understand how she has been telling stories to control others and justify herself all her life. Her journey becomes an exploration of the ways in which stories are inherently participatory and transformative—and sometimes redemptive.

Henry James’s “The Turn of the Screw” is known for being a ghost story, but it is also a love story. This paper looks at both love story and ghost story, and at the three couples that feature in them: Uncle and Governess; Miles and Flora; Quint and Miss Jessel. In doing so it hopes to discover exactly what kind of dangers the ghosts of Bly—an abandoned woman and a thoughtless rake—represent to the heroine.

For more examples, please check out the archives of past years’ presentations (look for the links in the navigation bar at the top to move from year to year).

3. An abstract of no more than 500 words. An abstract is a complete—but very short!—version of your presentation. For a paper or lecture, it should outline the topic you plan to address and points for discussion, explain your conclusion, and point to major sources or theories that have influenced your thinking. Here are a couple of resources you might use to put together a brief but cohesive abstract section for your proposal:

More tips:
Most abstracts range from 100 to 300 words, though they can be up to 500 words, and are 1–3 paragraphs long. Aim for about 300–350 words, and at least a good, solid paragraph, unless you need more space to explain a theory or cite sources.

Your abstract should not be the same as your proposal summary. An abstract is the part of your proposal where you get a little more room to convince the vetting board that your presentation should be chosen. It is the short version of your eventual paper, and should be able to stand alone. A good abstract will include your thesis or approach, supporting details or arguments, and most importantly, your results, recommendations, or conclusion. The vetting board wants you to spoil the ending! (In a summary, you probably want to write something more like book jacket copy, but for the abstract, summarize the plot.)

“See my other proposal for X [biography, summary, alternate abstract]” usually results in a declined presentation, because the board members may not have access to your other proposal for a variety of reasons: it could be on hold while collaborators check in, the board members may not yet be reviewing your other proposal, or they may simply decide they are unwilling to search through the proposals to do this comparison for you. Take a moment to copy and paste in your information again.

Make sure that your proposal is complete. The vetting board wants to know that you have a clear plan. No “maybe we’ll do this, or maybe someone in the audience will suggest something, or if you want, I could do this or that.” There’s a difference between allowing room for audience participation and not having a plan!

Have a volunteer who is willing to provide you with honest feedback look over your proposal, both to proofread it and to offer suggestions for organization, focus, and purpose. Remember, the vetting board won’t see your entire paper, and they won’t know if you’re the most engaging speaker to present in a hundred years. They’ll decide whether to accept or decline your presentation based on your summary and abstract.

Audio-Visual Requests

  • Paper presenters are routinely provided with microphones, and we request that presenters use the microphone to assist the audience in hearing the entire presentation.
  • A table and podium will be available, allowing you to stand or sit down.
  • You can make a request for an LCD projector (with computer), but please remember that we prioritize use of equipment for visually-oriented presentations, and consider what you might do if extra audio-visual support isn’t available. We’re typically able to provide this support—we just can’t guarantee it at the time we notify presenters of acceptance. If you desire projection, be sure to explain how you’ll use it in your abstract.
  • Presentation rooms have an easel and a small dry erase board as standard equipment.
  • Some presenters will bring several copies of a handout to pass around and then collect email addresses of those who would like a copy after the conference, which saves room in everybody’s suitcase and is environmentally friendly. We approve!

FAQ about Proposals for Papers, Lectures, and Presentations
What are the requirements for presenting? Do I have to be a teacher or scholar?
Our only requirement is that you be eligible to attend Sirens, which means that you must be at least 18 years old by October 8, 2015. We have no academic or professional requirements, and in the past we’ve received excellent presentations from high school students, grandmothers, professors, musicians, fans, and teachers, among others. Remember—your voice is important.

What is the proposal deadline?
May 15, 2015.

Do you accept all papers/presentations?
No; we forward all proposals to the vetting board, which selects the papers that will be accepted for Sirens.

If my paper is declined, can you tell me why?
Unfortunately, we can’t. We simply have too many proposals, and we don’t ask the vetting board members to write up formal feedback. We can say, however, that proposals are never declined because they include unpopular opinions or controversial takes, or on the basis of personal relationships; the board is designed so that no single person accepts or declines a submission. In the past, we’ve found ourselves in the lucky position of having more excellent ideas than we could include, and that will likely be true in the future as well.

Should I contact the vetting board about my paper/presentation?
Please do not contact the vetting board members about your proposal. They make their decisions confidentially, and can’t answer questions about the status of your presentation. Instead, please write to (programming at if you have questions. We’re happy to help!

How many proposals can I make?
As many as you like. However, we want to emphasize that one or two presentations is a good maximum number that enables you to be part of the presenting side and part of the listening side, so we recommend that you focus on just one or two proposals that you’re most excited about.

What if I make a proposal and it’s accepted, but I can’t come?
If you find out that you won’t be able to attend before May 15, 2015, you do have the option of withdrawing. After that, we strongly encourage you to advertise on Twitter, Facebook, or on the message boards for a proxy reader: someone who will be attending Sirens and can read your paper in your place. In order to complete our schedule as quickly as possible—so that we have the necessary lead time to make arrangements for equipment, so that we can proofread and publish the final schedule, and so on—we do not keep a waiting list for presenters. And it’s always a disappointment to have to cancel your presentation.

Can I change the title of my paper later? Can I change the format or focus of my presentation?
If you provide us with the information before the paper is passed on to the vetting board, then yes, you may make changes to the title or summary, as long as the focus of your paper is not substantially changed. We will ask you for a final confirmation upon acceptance, and you will have a short time to make updates before the information is published and final.

You may not make major changes to your presentation’s direction or format once it has been accepted; the proposal that you entered is the one that the board approved. If you wish to make substantial changes to your presentation, and it is earlier than May 15, 2015, please write us to withdraw your existing presentation, and then create a new one through the submissions system.

Can I request a specific day and time for my presentation?
Unfortunately, no. While we will take certain immovable factors into account, like presenting at another conference during the same weekend, we have so many presenters and constraints that we’re unable to take scheduling requests (everyone wants to present at the same time, but without being at the same time as any other presentation). The schedule depends on our ability to create thematic tracks of presentations, our need to accommodate presenters with multiple presentations, any restrictions on space and available hours, and availability of audio-visual equipment. You should expect your presentation to occur on October 9 or 10, 2015.

Do you “track” presentations?
We make an attempt to schedule presentations into morning and afternoon tracks by theme and by type of presentation, and sometimes by format and audio-visual needs. The advantage here is that an attendee could spend half a day absorbed in a topic or theme without needing to move from room to room. That’s not always possible, of course, because of the different styles of presentation, but we do try not to schedule two presentations on closely related topics at the same time, whenever possible.

How can I connect with other presenters or collaborators?
Please feel free to tag @sirens_con on Twitter, to post on Facebook, and to check out our message boards to suggest ideas that you’d like to see someone propose, to search for collaborators, and to brainstorm topics.

Questions? Concerns? Please email general queries to (help at and questions about programming to (programming at

Quick links:
Programming Overview
Call for Proposals/Guidelines/Additional Preparation Information
Submit a Proposal
Past Conferences Archive
Specific Questions for the Programming Team: Email (programming at

If you’re looking for co-presenters, why not place an ad on Facebook or the Sirens message boards?

Join Us for a Chat!
We’re hosting a chat on the Sirens website for talking about programming ideas. Join us on Sunday, April 19, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Eastern. The linked page will turn into a chat during that time; no software or downloads are required, but you may need to refresh the page.

We’ll also be holding chats on Twitter: Sirens will hold two Twitter brainstorming sessions for programming topics. The first will be held on March 28 at 4:00 p.m. Eastern, and the second will be held on April 8 at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. Our Twitter account is @sirens_con and our hashtag is #Sirens15.

Also, #SirensBrainstormMonday on Twitter has topics free for the taking (and if you have too many ideas, please feel free to contribute your extras).

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