Being a cynic by nature, I am typically underwhelmed by linguistics conferences (I suspect that I'd be equally underwhelmed by other academic conferences too, but I'm a linguist). The Linguistics Society of America's huge annual meeting was held in my backyard this last week in San Fransisco so I attended a few sessions. Unfortunately, I largely had the same experience I typically have: squirming in the audience while smart, accomplished professionals drone on about their topic of choice. The problem is the format: 20 minute presentations with 10 minutes for Q&A. That's a tough set to play. Only academics and professional comedians are ever asked to perform under those kinds of conditions, and professional comedians get hundreds if not thousands of times more experience before they get good at it. Professional academics get maybe one or two chances a year to perfect the art of presentation.
Nonetheless, occasionally there is a person who has a talent for presenting complex information in a helpful and productive way, and I was lucky enough to see one presentation at the LSA by just such a linguist: Chris Golston of CSU, Fresno. He and co-author Tomas Riad presented an OT account of metrical phenomenon. By all rights, I should have been half asleep. I am neither a phonologist nor an OT adherent. But Chris, who was the primary presenter, was engaging, funny, and damned good and getting me to understand what the issues were and what their solution was. He is a natural teacher. His students at Frenso probably have no clue how lucky they are to have such a good teacher.
Their Presentation: Chris Golston (California State University, Fresno), Tomas Riad (Stockholm University): A constraint-based view of English meter.