Talk Guidelines

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The goal of an academic talk is to communicate your ideas, and to convince others that your approach has merit.

Doing the following will generally help you give a more effective talk.

General talk advice

Be prepared

You should know the material of your talk well before you give a talk. You should know the order of the slides in your talk, and you know how you will transition from one slide or point to the next.

Practice with an audience, and time yourself

It can be difficult to critique your own work. Give practice talks to them, and encourage them to give helpful feedback. Also time yourself and make sure you have enough time to say what your work is. Some veteran presenters give advice similar to the following.

Plan on spending most of your time talking about your new ideas. I have seen talks where the speaker spends 13 minutes giving a review of the field and a justification for why their specific problem is interesting. Then -- what do you know?? -- there's no time left for the meat of the talk.
-Jim Blinn[1]

Know takeaway message

If you don't know what messages you want the audience to take away from your talk, it's quite likely the audience will not know what messages you want them to take away.

Finish strong

The last thing you say in a talk will stick quite strongly with the audience. Don't end by saying "I think that's it." Conclude with a strong statement supported by your talk.

Make eye contact

Making eye contact with the audience makes it feel like you're talking to them, not that you're reading off text at them. Try to look up and around when you can.

Presentation software advice

Most modern talks are given with the support of presentation software, such as Powerpoint or Keynote. Your talk will be judged as much by what you say as by what you show, so creating a well-designed presentation is of great importance. Standard rules of good writing generally apply to the text you put on your slides.

Make your slide text legible

When you create your slides, you are most likely only a few feet from the computer screen. When you present, the audience will not have as ideal viewing conditions, and as such, you should avoid having small fonts. The audience will think that all the text on the slide is important, so illegible text can distract the audience from what you're saying.[1]

Make your figures legible

The audience's viewing conditions are not as good as you have on your monitor. Make figures large enough to be clearly read. You might need to simplify figures from papers in order to have them show up well.

Make your slides visually appealing

While you are not expected to be an expert artist, following basic graphic design principles will make your slides more pleasant to look at, and will influence how others see your work. Spend the extra time needed to make sure you and others like the way your slides look.

Put key points on slides

Your main point on every slide should be written on that slide. Some people may only read the slides and ignore what you say. Having something written on the slides will emphasize that it is a key point and that you want others to remember it.

Pause when switching slides

When you switch slides, many members of the audience will immediately ignore you and read all the text on the screen. If you pause for a few seconds when switching slides, you'll be giving hopefully enough time for people to quickly scan the slide and then pay attention to you. However, this is not always the right approach, especially if you have a good logical flow between slides and are able to maintain the audience's interest.

Use a remote

Having the additional freedom to walk away from your computer can allow you to be more animated and involved in the talk. It also helps you make eye contact with the audience, which makes the talk more interesting.

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Jim Blinn: Things I Hope Not to See or Hear at SIGGRAPH