IMI: Reflecting on my first conference presentation

On March 14th, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to present research at the Intercultural Management Institute’s 14th Annual Conference on Intercultural Communications at American University. As a team, fellow MLC-ers Alicia Ward and Alison DeBoer, Dr. Anna Trester (our fearless leader and mentor) and myself conducted research on the professional networking platform LinkedIn over the course of several months, each of us looking at LinkedIn through a different “Linguistic lens.”

In my research, I took a qualitative approach and looked at the ways in which LinkedIn was more of a “personal” and socially interactional site than it may at first appear. For the purposes of presenting, I broke my findings out into 3 categories with I refer to as the “3 Rs”:

Reading” LinkedIn for the personal elements relayed linguistically, “Representing” oneself on LinkedIn through personal linguistic choices, and “Reaching out” using LinkedIn, with language to make personal connections beyond LinkedIn’s basic platform. Ultimately, I argue that by looking at LinkedIn through the eyes of a sociolinguist, we can learn a lot about the person behind a profile, and how their linguistic choices — those facilitated by LinkedIn and those that are not — turn a profile into something beyond a static resume and into a more telling, living online document.

Anna, Alicia, and Alison also took fascinating approaches including a look at personal pronoun usage (Alison), cross-cultural implications (Alicia), and how “interactional sociolinguistics” can be a tool for understanding professional self-presentation and how it relates to the “connecting” and the “DOING” of things on LinkedIn (Anna). You can see the slides our group put together for the conference here.

The audience of cultural practitioners was engaged (lots of questions), insightful, and smart (read: intimidating and inspiring, at once). No surprise, then, that I felt shaky when first approaching the podium. But thanks in part to the audience’s positive participation, I quickly relaxed into the material (…which I suspect was thanks also in part to the inevitable familiarity and even confidence that comes from working with the same data for months!). I was glad to let the flow of the presentation include the questions and comments of the group, which revealed potential new angles from which to view some of the ideas put forth by me and by our team.

I was particularly pleased to witness the enthusiasm with which the participants applied themselves when asked to analyze real data, using linguistic tools we’d introduced. I so enjoyed seeing them apply the ideas and frameworks from our presentation, while raising new ideas and possibilities. Watching someone have that “a-ha!” moment, in which they discover something about language that they would not have seen before, is remarkable and familiar…and it is deeply satisfying to know you helped create that moment. This is especially true given that much of this type of linguistic analysis could be highly useful in the cross-cultural careers of these participants. In short, this was an encouraging example of sociolinguistics making an impact in a relevant, real-world context. And as this is at the heart of the MLC, I was energized by the experience.

After the workshop, we were approached with questions and thanks, and we made some new connections. As for me, I was (as ever) hard on myself, wishing I had done X, Y or Z differently. However, I was also proud of this accomplishment, and found myself not dwelling for too long on what could have been better, and instead jotting down lists (in the car, on napkins, in my class notebooks, in the margins of books…) of thoughts and ideas for another presentation next year, and for my own research. This opportunity propelled me to be even more engaged in the world of sociolinguistics than I’d been previously, and rather than leave exhausted and spent, I walked out the door brimming with ideas about the next step (OK…and a little exhausted and spent, too). To me, that feels like a sign of success and growth, academically and professionally.

Congratulations (and THANK YOU!) to the other members of our fantastic “A Team!” You’ve all inspired me greatly, and continue to do so daily.

-Alex Botti, MLC ’14