Garland Grit --- The personal side of giving talks

  1. In an oral presentation, remember you are also presenting yourself.
  2. Avoiding mechanical errors.
    1. Body Language. Nervous mannerisms not only call attention to themselves and distract the audience from your words, but they also spread a nervous contagion in the audience. In moments of stress, take a deep breath, grip the sides of the podium, stand firmly on both feet and push ahead with your talk.
    2. Personal Appearance. Play it safe; dress neatly and appropriately. Others will form an impression of you based in part on your appearance.
    3. Visual Aids. Make printing large enough to be seen in the back. Use dark color marking pens; black is always in good taste. Assume control of the room; find light switch, focus control on viewgraph projector, and pointer before your talk begins. Don't stand in front of the viewgraph projector.
    4. Interactions with Your Audience. Maintain eye contact with friendly faces about the room, turning from one to another. They will respond positively, affirming points you have made and increasing your self-assurance.
    5. Speak Clearly. Speak up \-- loudly, clearly and at a reasonable speed. Use a microphone if one is available.
    6. Stick to Time Limit. Never, ever, speak past your allotted time. To do so is extremely egotistical. Even if your audience courteously allows you to continue, they will never forgive your rudeness.
  3. Responding to questions. Position yourself as interested and helpful.
    1. Let your questioner finish the question. Don't jump into the middle of question. Use the time to collect your thoughts.
    2. Be prepared to rephrase the question. Then everyone will understand what the question is and in a succinct rephrasing you will make the questioner seem intelligent and perceptive.
    3. Keep answers short. Try to start with a `yes' or `no' if at all possible.
    4. Confess your ignorance. If you don't know, admit it graciously, and thank the questioner for bringing the point to your attention. Offer to talk later about it.
    5. Deflect hostile questions. Never argue with a questioner. No audience likes a public display of belligerence. So if the questioner attacks, the audience will side with you provided you keep your cool.
  4. Gauging your audience. When faced with an audience with a range of backgrounds, don't play to the experts. The best compromise is to devote the first half (or two-thirds) to a careful and clear introduction to the topic, saving the highly technical material for the last. Everyone will then respect the speaker as an authority on the subject who was attuned to the audience and mindful of their varied needs. Summarize the key points at the end — drawing all pieces of the talk together.
  5. Deciding level of detail. Weed out extraneous material. Narrow the scope of your talk to fit the allotted time. Simple is always better than complicated.
  6. Making equations effective. Use only those equations that are absolutely necessary. Don't do any algebra. Focus instead on the assumptions that lead to the equation, and its relevance to your topic. Finally, talk through the equation (e.g., ``The energy of the particle is equal to its mass multiplied by the square of the speed of light'').
  7. Using transparencies. The general rule is that the text on the transparency should be detailed enough to be self-explanatory but no more than that — clear but concise.
  8. Practicing your talk. Practice both your delivery — what you say and how you say it — and your timing — especially your timing. Say it aloud with your notes and transparencies, preferably in front of colleagues or friends. Unless you say it aloud you won't recognize stumbling blocks — difficult transitions, hard-to-verbalize ideas, convoluted reasoning — that will trip you up later. Practice the talk until you can do it comfortably within the time limit.

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