A Guideline for Giving a Good Talk
*This write-up is a compilation of experiences and wisdom shared by many, with the final touch by Professor Baoquan Chen, executive director of CFCS, Peking University.
Below are what I believe to be useful guidelines for a talk. None of them are cast in stone, but it is my contention that the less skilled the speaker, the more useful these guidelines will be. Some people will disagree with specific points below, as there is more than one school of thought on this subject, but I expect you will have success if you follow them anyway.
Write a talk
- Decide the ideas you want to convey; in a technical talk, these are typically the novelty and strengths of your work.
2. Consider the time limit carefully. Ensure you don’t have too many points to make.
3. Outline the talk in a very straight-forward way; don’t make your points indirectly.
4. Decide exactly what you will say ahead of time. Memorize catch phrases. They won’t come to you when you are in front of the audience.
5. Always include a conclusion.
Practice Practice Practice!
1. Practice with slides; gives you familiarity with your talk and helps create mental cues.
2. Practice with an audience, after you have learned the words.
3. Practice more.
4. Make sure your first 5 minutes and last 2 minutes are perfect.
1. Remember, the slides are not the talk, you are the talk.
2. Avoid text passages on slides. They can’t read it. You shouldn’t be reading it. Keep text to bullets, with about 5 words or less.
3. Try to keep the amount of time spent on a slide short. People like to see progress.
4. Use multiples of the same slide rather than fumbling to find one that is already past. This is especially useful for outlines.
5. I personally don’t like too fancy slides. But you can develop your own style.
1. Avoid barriers, don’t hide behind the projector.
2. Point to slides on the screen, not the computer screen.
3. Face the audience and talk to them. You may look away from time to time.
4. Make eye contact. Include everyone, sleepers are distracting.
5. Motion is important. Don’t rock or pace, but be animate. Move around, gesture; be natural but perhaps a little more enthusiastic than normal.
6. Sign post. Tell them what you are about to tell them, tell it to them, and tell them again what the salient points were. This can be overdone, but usually isn’t.
7. Leave the room lights on. Remember, you are the talk.
8. Ask for questions occasionally. This is just polite in a technical talk.
9. Being nervous is part of the deal.
1. A pause, in which you simply look at the audience, can do wonders for getting the audience’s attention.
2. Repeat audience questions in your own words. It helps you to avoid misunderstanding the question, and gives you a few seconds to think. Don’t do this with trivial, clear questions.
3. If your audience looks particularly bored or lost, do something dramatic. For example, turn off the projector, step out in front of it, and gives 45 second summary of what you’ve said so far and where you are going next. Another example: Walk away from the projector, sit down on a table, and talk directly to the person at the end of the front row.
In the end, there is no substitute for having good material and knowing it well, but I think you will find that those are necessary, not sufficient conditions for a good talk.