Computer Sciences Department April 1992; Revised January 1997
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Computer Sciences Department
April 1992; Revised January 1997
Listeners have one chance to hear your talk and can't "re-read" when they get confused. In many situations, they have or will hear several talks on the same day. Being clear is particularly important if the audience can't ask questions during the talk. There are two well-know ways to communicate your points effectively. The first is to K.I.S.S. (keep it simple stupid). Focus on getting one to three key points across. Think about how much you remember from a talk last week. Second, repeat key insights: tell them what you're going to tell them (Forecast), tell them, and tell them what you told them (Summary).
Most audiences should be addressed in layers: some are experts in your sub-area, some are experts in the general area, and others know little or nothing. Who is most important to you? Can you still leave others with something? For example, pitch the body to experts, but make the forecast and summary accessible to all.
For conference talks, for example, I recommend two rhetorical goals: leave your audience with a clear picture of the gist of your contribution, and make them want to read your paper. Your presentation should not replace your paper, but rather whet the audience appetite for it. Thus, it is commonly useful to allude to information in the paper that can't be covered adequately in the presentation. Below I consider goals for academic interview talks and class presentations.
It is hard distilling work down to 20 or 30 minutes.
See David Patterson's How to Give a Bad Talk
This conference talk outline is a starting point, not a rigid template. Most good speakers average two minutes per slide (not counting title and outline slides), and thus use about a dozen slides for a twenty minute presentation.
The rhetorical goal for any interview talk is very different than a conference talk. The goal of a conference talk is to get people interested in your paper and your work. The goal of an interview talk is to get a job, for which interest in your work is one part.
There are two key audiences for an academic interview talk, and you have to reach both. One is the people in your sub-area, who you must impress with the depth of your contribution. The other is the rest of the department, who you must get to understand your problem, why it is important, and a hand-wave at what you did. Both audiences will evaluate how well you speak as an approximation of how well you can teach.
David A. Patterson
Computer Science Division Circa 1983
University of California-Berkeley
Computer Science Division
Ten commandments (with annotations gleaned from Patterson's talk by Mark D. Hill):
Why waste research time preparing slides? Ignore spelling, grammar and legibility. Who cares what 50 people think?
Transparencies are expensive. If you can save five slides in each of four talks per year, you save $7.00/year!
Do you want to continue the stereotype that engineers can't write? Always use complete sentences, never just key words. If possible, use whole paragraphs and read every word.
You need the suspense! Overlays are too flashy.
Be humble -- use a small font. Important people sit in front. Who cares about the riff-raff?
Flagrant use of color indicates uncareful research. It's also unfair to emphasize some words over others.
Confucius says ``A picture = 10K words,'' but Dijkstra says ``Pictures are for weak minds.'' Who are you going to believe? Wisdom from the ages or the person who first counted goto's?
You should avert eyes to show respect. Blocking screen can also add mystery.
You prepared the slides; people came for your whole talk; so just talk faster. Skip your summary and conclusions if necessary.
Why waste research time practicing a talk? It could take several hours out of your two years of research. How can you appear spontaneous if you practice? If you do practice, argue with any suggestions you get and make sure your talk is longer than the time you have to present it.
Commandment X is most important. Even if you break the other nine, this one can save you.