494, Autumn 2015
a talk is a skill that will be useful in any type of career. Fortunately, how to give a good talk is a
skill that can be learned and this is part of why you are taking this
following contains a recipe and few simple guidelines that should be applicable
to most type of talks you will be giving
this class the talks for Phys494 are 15 minutes long followed by a 5 minute
question section at the end.
Select concepts/key points you
want the audience to get
make a list of a few (three or less) most important and interesting key points
you really want to convey to the audience. For example, in a talk for physicists,
these central points may include the nature and purpose of a single device,
the general idea, key result and implications of one experiment, or the
highlights and consequences of one particular discovery or idea, etc. Fewer
than three points is better for a short talk. Around these points you will build your PowerPoint
(or similar) deck.
Building the talk around the selected
Introduction: (~3 min) Explain the big picture and build the background so
that your central point(s) are put into context.
State the goals or purpose of your project/research.
Set up your key point in the introduction to your talk.
Body: (~10 min) Explain your key points in the body of your talk. Here's
where you use most of your slides. In the body of your talk, you take your
audience (in steps that flow together logically) from their state of
knowledge before your talk to an understanding of your key points.
Conclusion/Summary: (~2 min) Recap your key points at the end of your talk. (Repetition
is a fundamental concept of learning.)
spice up your conclusion you may want to leave your audience with a
provocative question or bit of information beyond what you've already told
may find it helpful to develop the talk from the inside out: write the talk’s
body first, then the conclusion, and last the introduction.
Preparing the PowerPoint slides.
Most importantly your talk must be
clear and understandable. Taylor the talk to the audience: consider the audience’s
background and their interests. People like what they understand.
Make slides in landscape aspect
Try to use the same layout, background
(and logo) on all slides. No background (i.e. white) and no logo is fine.
The first slide should just
contain the title of your talk, your name (and the name of collaborators) and
your association (e.g. University of Washington or so). You can also put a
catchy picture that has something to do with the talk on the slide. This
slide will be up when you get introduced. If no one introduces you then you
would have to read it off. (I will introduce you.)
A PowerPoint slide that has just
about the right information content takes about 1.5 minutes per slide.
Every slide should have a headline
explaining what is on the slide. The last slide’s headline invariably is the
Summary or Conclusion.
Keep slides simple, Transparencies
should not contain anything other than what you want your audience to pay
Slides must be readable. The
oldest person in the back of the room must be able to read every word. àUse
28pt or larger characters. The best character type is Arial.
Use simple PowerPoint animation if
you want to build up a point one a slide.
Do not try to impress the audience
with complicated words (in the slides and in your speech)
Simple text and sentence structure
is most effective.
Slides should contain no long text.
Bullet points are effective. Bullets should be one-line statements; long
sentences are very undesirable.
Use color (never more than 3
different text colors), bold style, underline to emphasize
Use either a white or a black background.
Generally a black background is good, but most figures/graphs that you find
are on a white background; these figures will be very bright and text near will
be hard to see.
Do not overload the audience with
information. Omit technical details.
Figures and pictures convey more information
than textà most of the area
on each slide should be figures/pictures/graphs. Make sure all figures have
On graphs, make sure the axis are labeled
and have units. If the labels are too small use PowerPoint to paste bigger labels
over the too small ones. Make sure the graph is big enough. This gives the
listener more time to understand the graph. At the bottom of a slide with a
graph you should list the take-home message preferably in one sentence.
Use movies only if they are short
If possible avoid complicated
equations. Never more than one simple equation on a slide. Explain what the symbols
in the equation are. Never show a derivation. Emphasize concepts and results,
not details and mathematics.
Cite important papers at the
bottom of your slide. Its best to just keep the first author’s name (e.g.
Smith et al, Nature, (2015))
Rule of thumb: no slide should
contain more than 10 separate items of information.
Never put anything on a
transparency that you will not talk about.
How to give the talk:
practice, practice.... makes perfect.
You can give the first few practice
talks to yourself. It is important that you speak the words out loudly and
not just run the talk in your head. (There are neurons in your brain that will
have to connect to the speech center in your head to where the information of
your talk is stored) àThe more
often you practice a talk the more efficient you will be at selecting the
Repeat words that are difficult
for you to pronounce 20 times or more (to yourself)
Practice in front of a mirror or
record a video of your presentation.
Give a practice talk to another
person(s). That person should time you and should be nice enough to give you
honest feedback. Run through the entire talk with no interruptions, while
your friend scribbles down notes. Turn on page numbers in your PowerPoint
deck so your friend can critique every slide. Then sit down with your friend
and go through every slide.
When you give a talk in front of a
big audience it may run 10-20% faster because of the adrenaline that you will
have flowing. (Adrenaline makes most people think faster.)
If your talk is still too long you
must remove some content
Technical issues you have to clear
up before you give the presentation:
Have a good pointer ready and know
how to operate it (we’ll have one in class). Green laser pointers are better
than red laser pointers. An old fashioned pointer (stick) is often most
effective and does not run out of battery. If the screen is nearby, walk up to
the screen and point at it with your hand. This makes for a more engaging
talk. (Laser pointers amplify shaking of your hand and show that you are
Test automatic slide advance clickers,
if possible practice with them.
Know how to operate the computer
you are giving the presentation with. Know how to make the computer display
slides in presentation mode. Turn
off your laptop's screen saver, turn off Skype, messaging, or other software
that may produce pop ups.
If the computer is not your own
computer, test in advance that it can display your flavor of PowerPoint
(fonts may be different, movie drivers may not be installed, etc.).
If you use your own computer make
sure you have the proper adapter. To date, the VGA-D-connector is most common
input. You should bring the appropriate adapter/dongle.
Make sure images are embedded in
the PowerPoint file and not just the links.
Make sure the computer has enough
charge (or preferably is plugged into AC).
If you use a microphone/speaker
system, test it before the talk. Know where the on-switch is. Many microphones
are very directional: a podium microphone will work really poorly if you do
not speak at it; a microphone clipped onto your cloths will not work well if
you turn your head.
Presenting the talk
loudly and articulately.
self-confidence. Stand up straight, smile.
excitement about your chosen research topic.
real and rhetorical questions to keep people actively engaged.
towards the audience. If you speak towards the screen people cannot hear you
may help you getting started with your talk if you write out the first few
lines of your talk (PowerPoint notes). You get eased into giving your talk by
simply reading these notes off.
never read the whole talk off. Try not to read your slides verbatim. Do not
write out your talk up and read it to you audience.
oriented about your own slides from the screen and not from the computer in
front of you.
towards the audience most of the time. Try to make eye contact with people in
the audience. If that makes you too nervous, then look at the projection
track of the time: find the clock in the room. Most seminar rooms or class
rooms have a clock in the back of the room exactly for that purpose. Of course
every computer has a clock. Do not check your wristwatch, unless you have it
sitting on the podium..
not block the audience's view of the screen. Position yourself to one side of
the projector screen (unless you are walking to the screen to point at it by
graphs you should explain the axis. For example: “...this graph shows how distance,
d, depends on time, t. On the vertical
axis I plot distance in meters and on the x-axis shows time in hours....”.
This gives the listener some time to digest the graph.
Do not meta-comment
on your speaking, e.g. avoid phrases such as, “I guess I'm running out of
time; I'll just go through this quickly”.
talk beyond your allotted time. Do not take make your talk go
into the question section, this is considered to be a faux pas.
to the beginning, plan the words at the end of your talk carefully. End your
talk with “thank you”, this is the cue for the
audience to applaud.
The question and answer section:
question section is 5 minutes. You can find out by the number of questions
that are being asked how understandable and interesting your talk was. Getting
many questions usually reflects positively on your talk.
the person that asks a question does you a favor; make them feel good (as
well as your audience); you can do this by saying “this is a good question”
(even though the questing may reflect that the asker did not understand something...).
not worry about “difficult” questions. It is unlikely to get really difficult
questions, since you are probably have more knowledgeable about the topic
than any other person in the room.
you do not understand a question you may want to rephrase in your words and
then attempt to answer the latter. You may also state that a question is
difficult to answer. Indicate if you are guessing/speculate about the answer.
not get into an argument with the questioner.
can be embarrassing if there are no questions. (You can avoid that by having
a friend in the audience asking a question you told your friend to ask...)
You can also, somewhere in the middle of your talk, leave a question and say:
“ you can ask me about that later”.
possible questions and prepare some backup
slides that you place in the same PowerPoint-file past your summary slide.
How to handle stage fright:
gets this. It is a physiological reaction and may even help you (remember the
adrenaline helps you think...).
Relax, if you have done all above preparation
you are on autopilot.
Rehearsing your talk is the best
way to reduce this anxiety.
Breathe deeply, it calms you down.