How To: Your First Biblical Studies Conference Paper

Last March I presented a paper at a Society of Biblical Literature/American Academy of Religion (SBL/AAR) conference for the first time.  It was a great experience that was made possible by the advice and help of my professors and friends.  Since proposals for the Southwest Regional SBL/AAR conference are due next Monday, I thought I would share some advice to anyone proposing/presenting a paper for the first time.

An action shot of my first SBL/AAR presentation
An action shot of my first SBL/AAR presentation

[1] Submit A Proposal!

Until last year, I wasn’t even aware that someone without a graduate degree could present at these conferences.  If you are thinking about submitting a paper, let me encourage you to muster up the courage to do it!  I had written a paper for a graduate class on Paul (“A [Just] War for Romans 13:1-7“) and my professor (the honorable Ben Blackwell) encouraged me to revise it and submit it.  For your first time, I’d encourage you to work with a paper you have previously written.

The submission instructions can be found on the conference website and are fairly straightforward.  AAR only requires you to submit a title & an abstract, but if you are submitting to SBL (and do not have a PhD) you are required to also include a full draft of the paper & the name/address of a professor who is familiar with your work (another good reason to submit a paper you’ve already written).

[2] Revise your paper considering two factors: timing and oral performance.  (And Practice!)

It’s important to remember that a conference paper is meant to be heard, not read.  When you are revising your paper (remember, the best papers are re-written papers), make sure that it is timed appropriately.  Since everyone reads at a different pace, practice to determine your average speed (words per minute) while making sure that you are not speed-reading.

[3] Get copious amounts of feedback. (And Practice!)

Make sure that you get plenty of feedback on your paper and that you have thoroughly practiced reading it.  I had the opportunity to present my paper at a School of Christian Thought Colloquium the week before the conference and so was able to get valuable feedback from the amazing faculty at HBU.

[4] Prepare a simple and informative handout.

Your audience will appreciate your handout.  I would suggest that you provide your email address on it (in fact, I even received a couple emails after my presentation).

[5] Enjoy yourself!  

After you have prepared and practiced, get some rest and enjoy the conference.  If you’re interested in presenting a paper, I’m assuming that at some level you find this sort of experience “fun.”  Enjoy the opportunity to research, write, and share your ideas with colleagues.


I know that other bloggers have shared some good advice about presenting at conferences.  
If you know of any particularly good posts, will you share them in the comments?

4 thoughts on “How To: Your First Biblical Studies Conference Paper

  1. Love the action shot by the way. The fact your eyes are closed is fitting since, as I remember, you had a long night and took quite the nap on the ride back to Houston. Makes your first conference paper even more impressive.

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    1. It was quite the experience. I definitely did not follow my own advice (resting and enjoying): took a red-eye flight from Nashville to Dallas, after taking 40 high schoolers on a mission trip for a week, got in to the hotel at around 4 AM, showered, prepared, ate breakfast, and then presented. And yes… then slept. 🙂

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