Assigned to speak on Friday morning at the ESA this year? We have a post on that… (UPDATED)

It’s the time of year when presenters at the ESA annual meeting receive their assigned time slots–causing people who’ve been assigned to speak on Friday morning to groan, because the Friday half day is poorly attended. But somebody has to speak at the end of the meeting and so is going to talk to a near-empty room, right?

Not necessarily. A couple of years ago I did a post with some background on why the ESA meeting ends with a half day on Friday (short version: it’s complicated…). I also suggested various alternatives that might either boost attendance at the end of the meeting, or make it so that low attendance at the end of the meeting wasn’t a problem for speakers. And we took a little reader poll that revealed a couple of clear-cut leading options to address the issue. The one I and many readers would prefer, in large part because it would be free and easy to implement for a one-year trial, would be to swap the Monday morning workshops and the Friday morning talks and posters. The Monday morning awards ceremony could go back to the early-evening slot it used to have years ago. That way, only people who are planning to attend workshops need to stay for Friday. I wouldn’t claim this is a perfect solution (there is no perfect meeting schedule), but I definitely think it’s worth a try. Worst case scenario: you try it once and decide the old way was better, so you go back to the old way.

The ESA meeting organizers have a tough job involving a lot of tough choices. They do it very well, and they’re very open to constructive feedback. My understanding is that the issue of attendance on the Friday half-day is always on their radar. So if you have ideas on what to do about the low attendance on Friday mornings, I’m sure they’d appreciate your constructive suggestions.

UPDATE: Brian makes a good point in the comments that I should’ve remembered to make myself in the post. Just because you’ve been assigned a less-desirable time slot for your presentation doesn’t mean you’re wasting your time going to the ESA meeting! Far from it. Having lots of people see your presentation certainly is nice, but it’s rather far down the list of “reasons to attend the ESA meeting”. So don’t be too bummed if you’ve been assigned a Friday morning timeslot–you’ll still get a lot out of the ESA meeting and have a lot of fun! In raising the issue of low Friday morning attendance, I certainly don’t mean to suggest that it’s some incredibly dire problem that ruins the meeting the meeting for anyone assigned to speak on Friday morning! The issue isn’t nearly as serious as that (though I do think it’s serious enough to merit an attempt to address it).

12 thoughts on “Assigned to speak on Friday morning at the ESA this year? We have a post on that… (UPDATED)

  1. How about going back to 15-minute talks from the current 20? To my ears, many talks are well-padded with umms and uhhs, have overly long, rambling introductions that state what everyone already knows (“understanding the distribution and abundance of species is a long-standing challenge in ecology” — ORLY?), acknowledgment slides that go on like Oscar acceptance speeches, and awkwardly short Q&A sessions. Practice your talk and you can say a lot in 12-15 minutes.

    Boom: meeting cut by 25%.

    • I see now this topic was sufficiently hashed out last time. So here’s a crazier idea: treat the first 4 days of the meeting as preliminaries, and invite the best talks back for a reprise on Friday. You wouldn’t want to leave early in case you were chosen for the “ESA Greatest Hits” session, and the talks on Friday should be good.

      • Now that’s thinking outside the box! It also a creative way to deal with ESA’s Cannes Film Festival-like feeling that the best talks to see are all the ones you missed.

  2. I am assigned to speak on Friday morning, I hope there will be someone in the audience to hear my first ever performance at the ESA :). Good to know in advance that I did not get the best day!

    • Jonas – I got Thursday morning – the 2nd worst time (but at least I am like 10:30 Thursday morning, 2 years ago I got 8:00AM Thursday morning – talk about a dead slot).

      But the truth is, giving your talk to a lot of people is really not the most important reason to go to ESA. Even with a “good” slot on Tuesday or Wednesday, most talks are given in small rooms that seat 30-50 people and will often only have 20. Writing it up as a paper will reach many more people. So will giving it at a more specialized conference where there is only one session at a time.

      For me the main reasons to go to ESA are, in approximate order:
      1) To meet with and network with other people (this is where many collaborations start)
      2) To hear other talks to get a sense of the general direction of the field. What’s trending? Get exposed to some stuff outside your normal areas – you never know when it will spark a creative idea. Note, though, I did not say to devour 79 specific 15 minute talks (another common mistake is to go in with a list of dozens of talks you “have” to hear).
      3) To get some feedback on your research from people who are fresh to it (i.e. not your labmates) and who are in the same field as you.

      You can still achieve all these (even #3) with a Friday AM (or in my case Thursday AM) slot!! Don’t despair! 🙂

      • Thanks a lot, you are definitely right!
        Because it is my first ever international conference, I will just experience as much of it as I can, just to get an idea of the real-time events in ecology and a broader idea of how ecologists are performing science.
        Plus, meeting scientists I know from there publications only, that’s also a big motive to go.

      • Yes – its fun to start putting faces and real people on all of these names we know from papers! And when you get to be an old timer like me, its almost like a reunion – so many friends and people you want to catch up with, ecology is really a pretty small world.

        I would definitely encourage you to reach out to people you want to meet. Its not unheard of to email people in advance that you want to meet. Or hang out to talk to them after their talk is over (although often many people will do this). In general, be a bit bold about meeting people. Ask somebody if they want to grab a coffee (or during posters a beer) together. Lunch and dinner are usually reserved for friends, but lots of people are happy to meet new people over coffee or beer.

        Good luck and enjoy!

    • Hi Jonas,

      I second everything Brian said. Yes, probably only a few people will see your talk (and as I said in the post, I think that issue is fixable). But don’t sweat it too much, because as Brian says “Having lots of people see your talk” is not the most important reason to attend the ESA meeting.

      I’d also highlight Brian’s advice about emailing people in advance to arrange a time to meet. Especially if you want to meet with someone who’s fairly established, because it’s fairly common for such people to make their schedules in advance.

      I have a couple of old posts with advice on why and how to “network” at conferences:

      I *love* the ESA meeting, hope you enjoy your first experience of it!

  3. I am thought the BES’ strategy from Intecol last year worked fantastically: have a big plenary both right before and right after all the Friday morning talks. I had a Friday morning talk myself, and thought no one would show, but ended up with a near full room, and pretty much every talk I went to that day was like that.

    They also started each day with a single big talk, which was good incentive to make the morning sessions.

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