My discipline reads papers as well, but even then I have heard some people complain about “reading.” For example, “They could have just sent me the paper and I could have read it.” I never have understood that one. You wouldn’t know to ask for the paper if you didn’t hear about it at the conference. What do they want you to say instead? However, I have always written my papers out, even when the conferences don’t call for that, simply because otherwise I tend to go long.
Does anyone have a suggestion for what folks want you to do rather than read? Should you memorize it? That doesn’t change it from being something they could have read.
Update: This topic must be on the brain of several people.
John L. Jackson, Jr. said in The Chronicle:
And I made a pact with myself way back in graduate school that I would never read a paper at an academic conference. And I’ve stuck to that irrational decision. Maybe it is my own idiosyncratic version of ADD (academic-speak deficit disorder), but I get super bored when most scholars read papers, especially when they don’t even seem particularly moved by what they’re saying. So, I have lunged in the other direction. I just try to talk my stuff out. Sometimes with notes and sometimes without, which usually means that I forget semi-major points (even when I have the notes in front of my, I tend to make the mistake of not looking down at them) and probably come off as somehow not taking the event seriously enough (because I didn’t read prepared comments). It also means that I don’t always bring everything back together neatly at the end of my 20 minutes. But I think I am getting better at that. And cultivating such a non-readerly skill is worth the minor embarrassments along the way.
I would think that reading a paper, a written-to-be-read paper, while looking at the audience and waiting for laughter to die down, would be a good choice. But perhaps there are other issues besides audience ADD that I am not aware of.