- Oral Communication is different from written communication
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).
- Think about your audience
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.
- Think about your rhetorical goals
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.
- Practice in public
It is hard distilling work down to 20 or 30 minutes.
See David Patterson's How to Give a Bad Talk
How to Give a Bad Talk
David A. Patterson
Computer Science Division
University of California-Berkeley
Ten commandments (with annotations gleaned from Patterson's talk by Mark D.
- Thou shalt not be neat
Why waste research time preparing slides? Ignore spelling, grammar and
legibility. Who cares what 50 people think?
- Thou shalt not waste space
Transparencies are expensive. If you can save five slides in each of four
talks per year, you save $7.00/year!
- Thou shalt not covet brevity
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.
- Thou shalt cover thy naked slides
You need the suspense! Overlays are too flashy.
- Thou shalt not write large
Be humble -- use a small font. Important people sit in front. Who cares
about the riff-raff?
- Thou shalt not use color
Flagrant use of color indicates uncareful research. It's also unfair to
emphasize some words over others.
- Thou shalt not illustrate
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?
- Thou shalt not make eye contact
You should avert eyes to show respect. Blocking screen can also add
- Thou shalt not skip slides in a long talk
You prepared the slides; people came for your whole talk; so just talk
faster. Skip your summary and conclusions if necessary.
- Thou shalt not practice
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.