Posted by: CJ | June 19, 2010

Comments on Giving Talks

Saw a number of talks at a conference recently. Here are some notes based on what I liked and didn’t like.

  • Use pictures. Everything is easier to follow if the main ideas can be boiled down to pictures, at least for very visual people like me.
  • Be funny, be humble, freely cite people and mention their high-quality work. But don’t be self-deprecating. Don’t be arrogant either, but a talk is a very bizarre place to be self-deprecating. If your ideas are silly, your results lacking, or your skills sub-par, why present?  Just tell everyone what you do have, focus on your results, and don’t whine about how they’re not what you really wanted.
  • Saying “mm-kay” periodically and often is bloody annoying. Ditto with “ummm….”.
  • Speak clearly, speak at a reasonable pace.
  • Give a talk at an appropriate level. Assuming too much background or too little background makes for a bad talk.
  • Choose aesthetically pleasing colors for the slides in your presentation. In particular, I strongly prefer a somewhat dark border on the slides to delineate them from the rest of the projection screen and the rest of the room if the room is bright, while lighter borders are ok if the room is dark. (I have no idea why I have that preference.)
  • Screaming periodically does help keep the audience’s attention. I am unsure whether it’s a good idea or not. (It seems to work better if English is your second language. Then the screaming helps keep annunciation clear and stops the speaker from going too fast.)
  • Don’t give the audience the run-around by changing terminology all over the place during the talk. Unless there’s a damn good reason for it, it’s amazingly annoying. And makes the speaker’s results seem like they rely more on trickery than actual substance.
  • Give intuitive background for why your topic is important, where it came from, what it’s saying, and easy ways to remember it. Even better, give connections with other people’s research. (And best of all is if you can connect it to the research of other people in the room.)

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