Presenting skills
Kay Kirkpatrick

Why work on presenting?

I think that success in any career depends in part on how well you communicate your ideas and persuade other people. Below are some exercises to do in preparation for a presentation, which help increase your impact and improve your presenting skills. This will make your ideas more clear and persuasive--and help you succeed.

"Ask yourself: If I had only sixty seconds on the stage, what would I absolutely have to say to get my message across?" --Jeff Dewar


Some resources:

Academic talk advice from a Berkeley CS prof
Public-Speaking Lessons from TED Talks
Hans Rosling on effective data presentation
Math job talk advice by Eugene Lerman
Speaking tips organized in categories by William Steele that includes this great but little-known tip about graphs on slides
"How to give a good colloquium" by John McCarthy
"How to talk Mathematics" by Paul Halmos
Downloadable booklet on slide design for scientific talks and "Slides are not all evil"--both by Jean-luc Doumont.
"How to give a good 20-minute math talk" by William Ross


HW1:
1. Read "How to give a good colloquium" by John McCarthy.
2. Attend a talk: e.g., the colloquium (see the bottom of this page) at 4pm on Thursday, Sept 25 in AH 245. Write a few sentences describing a) one slide or section of the talk that you thought worked well, and b) how you would improve another part, especially with the McCarthy reading in mind.

HW2: Read "How to talk Mathematics" by Paul Halmos, which includes advice on short talks, and start to prepare (importantly, before working on slides!) by writing a paragraph for each of the following three prompts.
1. What is your topic and your main message? You should be able to say it in about 60 seconds, an "elevator speech."
2. Think about your audience: e.g., people in STEM, graduate students, general mathematicians, etc. Write a paragraph addressing some or all of the following questions: Why should they care? Why are you the right person to present this topic? What do you want them to do after your presentation? What do you want them to take away from your presentation? How can you make the benefits to your audience clear?
3. Specifics: What kinds of audiovisual aids will you use? Chalkboard, powerpoint, beamer, poster? When will you take questions: during or after? Which two or three definitions or key ideas will you introduce to your audience? What is a good example (think n=2) that illustrates the main point of your presentation? Can you think of a story to tell that's related to your topic?

HW3: Slide revision. Example.
1. Read this downloadable booklet on slide design for scientific talks and "Slides are not all evil," both by Jean-luc Doumont.
2. Attend a talk and ask the speaker for the slides or slide code. Or you can work from the slides for my talk on the mean-field Heisenberg model with beamer tex code available here.
3. Pick two slides, a) one that you think needs improvement, and b) one that you really like. Revise both slides a) and b) according to the principles that you've learned, drawing or texing up your suggested changes. This may include finding or drawing a picture to illustrate the main point, or making the wording more efficient. Improve the better slide in at least two small ways.

HW4: If you're doing a poster, here are links with poster advice and a sample poster.
If you're doing a talk, read "How to give a good 20-minute math talk" by William Ross.
1. You will give your "elevator speech" to some people. This will be your main message in 60 seconds, much like an abstract. You may get some questions, and you can also poll your audience to see how many people know a particular concept. P.S. A version of your elevator speech is a good way to end your talk.
2. Make rough draft slides or poster. "Rough" means the whole presentation should be done at least in outline (but remember no outline slide, like Ross says), and at least four slides/sections (or in the case of a chalkboard talk, one board) should be in complete form. You'll want a good title too, so include your thoughts on that.

HW5: Prepare a complete second draft or slides or poster, and practice your presentation for someone a couple days before your talk, or walk them through your poster in 5-10 minutes. Specific feedback you should ask for includes:
a) timing information (minutes and seconds recorded at each new slide/section)
b) a few questions that are natural for the audience to ask
c) a few suggestions for improvement.

TIPS: You can build flexibility into the timing of your talk with a slide near the end to skip if necessary. Echoing the talk advice above, aim to use only 95% of the time given to you. Dressing up (e.g., business casual or business formal, according to your intended career) is recommended because it affects how your audience treats you.



"It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech." --Mark Twain