- Know your audience. If you're giving a seminar, remember that you need to give an introduction that is appropriate for first-year graduate students. If you're giving a colloquium, remember that you're facing a diverse crowd that could include (in a physics department) astrophysicists, biophysicists, high energy physicists, etc., as well as their graduate students. Pitch your talk appropriately. This is (at least) doubly important if you're giving a job talk, and as my postdoctoral mentor used to point out, every talk you give is potentially a job talk.
- Know your time constraints. Don't bring 140 slides for a 50 minute talk, and don't go way over the allotted time. In fact, for an hour talk slot I'd say aim for 50 minutes.
- Avoid jargon; if acronyms are necessary, define them. Just because an acronym or term may be common in your sub-field, don't assume that everyone knows it. Just like most condensed matter people don't know what pseudorapidity means to a high energy physicist, most high energy physicists don't know what ARPES or XAFS are.
- Minimize equations, even if (especially if) you're a theorist. You can always have a backup slide with enough math on it to make people's eyes bleed, if you want. For a main slide in a talk, no one (not even the experts) are going to get much out of a ton of equations. If you have to have equations, have a physical interpretation for them.
- Don't show big scanned text passages from papers. No one is going to read them.
- Explain the big picture. Why is this work interesting? You'd better have an answer that will be intelligible to a non-specialist. Even better, think about how you would explain your work and the point behind it to a sophomore.
- If you're giving a ten-minute talk, don't spend two minutes showing and explaining an outline.
- Avoid technology party fouls. Make sure that your technology works. Make sure that your fonts are readable and correct. Too many colors, too much animation, too many cutesy transitions - all of these things are distracting.
- Make sure to repeat a question back to the questioner. This helps everyone - the semisleeping audience gets to hear what was asked, and you get to make sure that you're actually understanding the question correctly. No one wins when the speaker and questioner are talking at cross-purposes.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Words of advice about giving talks
I know that there are many many resources out there on the web about how to give scientific talks (see here (pdf), here, here, and here, for example). Still, I have a few pointers to suggest, based on some recent talks that I've seen.
Posted by Douglas Natelson at 8:31 PM