Rules for Preparing a Talk
These rules are time-tested.
So even if you do not believe them, use them anyway.
- In a talk,
- tell the audience what you are going to tell them,
- then tell them, and finally
- tell them what you told them.
(In a paper these
three items are the introduction, body of paper, and conclusions.) If
the audience is to follow your presentation critically, they must know
where you are going. Do not spring any surprises.
- Carefully prepare those pictures or diagrams you want the audience
to take away from your talk or, at the very least, to understand while
you are talking. Devote the whole talk to explaining these; discard
any material unnecessary to this task.
- Do not say anything essential to your talk that is not on one
of your viewgraphs. In other words, assume the audience will miss
everything you say and see only the viewgraphs. These must carry the
central message. (A very common mistake is to purposely omit the main
point of a viewgraph. This tactic has two dangers: you may forget to
say the point or the listener may not hear it. Your talk could consist
of only buildups, with no punch lines!)
- Do not use any important symbol (on a graph or in an equation) that
is not defined on a viewgraph. If it is a symbol unfamiliar to most of
the audience, define it on every viewgraph where it is used. In
addition, avoid reduced variables. (For example, don't use t
when you mean T/T_c.)
- Be specific. Whenever possible use sentences, not ambiguous
phrases. Number or, in some other way, clearly delineate your main
points or conclusions.
- As a rough guide, a 30-minute talk should fit on 6 viewgraphs (and
a 10-minute talk on 3!) and have no more than 10 equations. This is
the toughest rule but sticking to it will force you to remove material
not essential to the central points of the talk.
- If you have not given many talks before,
write out the talk . Practice it at least once in front of colleagues
who will tell you what is unclear. Revise the talk if it is too long;
do not just talk faster.
- You can never underestimate the attentiveness of your audience.
You may have heard this with "attentiveness" replaced by
"intelligence" but I think that is incorrect. No audience has ever
been insulted by a clear talk.
Some prejudices about viewgraphs
- PRINT, don't use handwriting. With the ready
availability of word processors, MACs, etc., it is easy to produce
clear lettering in large, easily readible type.
- BLACK is the easiest color to read. And red is generally the
hardest. So far, red viewgraph pens do not make a dark and long
lasting mark. Use red, orange, pink, and yellow only to underline or
highlight. Many different colors on the same viewgraph make it hard to
read -- the reverse of what you might think.
- MORE material on a viewgraph is better than less. Talks
that consists of many viewgraphs each with a single image are hard to
follow. Every time you switch viewgraphs you risk losing the
listener. With effort you can squeeze a lot on one viewgraph. Then
you can spend many minutes on it; the listener has a chance to catch
things missed the first time; connections between the material can be
discerned in a glance.
Your comments and
suggestions are appreciated.
[Onepager Home Page]
[Writing Handouts Home Page]
Edited by: firstname.lastname@example.org [August 1997]