Speaking resources

Giving good talks is an important skill, but doesn’t come naturally to most. I still get nervous giving talks, even after giving a hundred of them. The good news is that it doesn’t seem to show. Smile and be look confident!

Other people’s advice:

Do read the notes by David MacKay, Matt Might, and Jonathan Shewchuk (comments by Sharon Goldwater).

Thing’s I’d like to emphasize:

Don’t turn people off: You will lose your audience if you read text from your slides, are incomprehensible, or say things with zero content. Don’t say: “First I’ll introduce the problem, then I’ll explain our solution, then I’ll give the results, then I’ll give some conclusions”. Boring! Giving an outline can be useful, but put an interesting problem up-front. Then you can tell people where you are going in terms of that problem. Remind the audience what you are arguing, perhaps with a running example. Don’t try to cover everything you know. Finish on time.

Practice out loud by yourself. If your colleagues are good enough to give you their time for a ‘practice talk’, that should not be the first time that you have given your talk! Your first practice talk is usually longer than the future runs. Get the talk within time before giving it to anyone else. When things go wrong, always practice carrying on (without swearing, or looking unhappy), even when by yourself.

Practice slide transitions. It’s annoying when a speaker flicks to the next slide before there has been time to absorb the previous one. Often the speaker is looking at what they need to say next. Instead, know what is on the next slide (using notes if necessary). Change to the next slide at the moment that best helps the audience follow what you are saying.

Don’t worry about pitching too low: make the talk accessible and don’t worry about the minority in the room that (think they) know it all.

Use big fonts, and use thick lines in diagrams, they look better and are essential on bad projectors. Use dark greens: pure green often disappears on LCD projectors. Also avoid cyan and bright yellow.

Make sure you will be able to show your slides well: test your laptop with a projector and remember any required dongles. Bring your talk as a PDF on a USB thumb drive as a backup, and maybe put the PDF in your webspace too. Sometimes movies don’t display even though everything else works (you may need to pick the right mirror mode, or disable hardware acceleration). If showing movies, test them with a projector before the talk and have a backup plan for if they don’t work.

Turn off anything that might disrupt your presentation. Common disruptions include: laptop power-saving, screensavers, Skype, wifi notifications, software updaters, anti-virus scans, and mobile phones.

Avoid clutter: put very little on each slide. When teaching, students appreciate slightly more on the slides for future reference. But people just can’t read dense slides and listen at the same time. Rather than overloading your slides, include extra slides or notes for people to look at later. The notes can summarize what you said and/or give references.

Repeat questions: even if all of the audience can hear, they often appreciate a restating. Also, many talks are now recorded and your microphone probably didn’t pick up the question.