Giving A Good Talk


Many of us, being engineers, researchers, students, or professors at some stage of our careers need to give a talk. Giving an interesting, informative, and well-presented talk can be the difference between getting hired, promoted, graduated, appreciated, or simply being understood. As this is a well-studied subject, we have found some great references, that we will summarize and refer you to the original documents or web pages.

What do the experts say?

In this section we have summarized suggestions from some experts in giving a good talk.

Frank R. Kscischang
Distinguished Professor of Digital Communication at the Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering of the University of Toronto.

On his website, he has a very nice and interesting note about “Giving a Talk”. In his note, he says that there are three main considerations to prepare a great talk:

Know Your Audience

After preparing great and relevant material to talk about, the next step is how to effectively deliver your message. Again he mentions three sections for a good presentation:

As you need some slides for the presentation, he suggests:

He then goes into the details on each of the above tips. You can find his notes here.

Bruce Donald
James B. Duke Professor of Computer Science, Mathematics, and Chemistry at Duke University, and Professor of Biochemistry in the Duke University Medical Center. He is also a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Duke Pratt School of Engineering.

Professor Donald has some very useful suggestions on giving a good talk, one of them is to “watch other speakers. Figure out what you like and what you don’t like about what they do and then try to do or not do those things”.

Watch Other Speakers

He then has some hints for a good presentation:

For all of the above hints, Professor Donald goes to some details. His article can be found here.

Chris Anderson
Head of TED, a non-profit organization that provides idea-based talks and hosts an annual conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

In an interesting and insightful article on the Harvard Business Review (HBR), Chris wrote an article entitled “How to Give a Killer Presentation”. In this article he says: “I’m convinced that giving a good talk is highly coachable. In a matter of hours, a speaker’s content and delivery can be transformed from muddled to mesmerizing.”

Giving a Good Talk is Highly Coachable

According to Chris here are some essential steps to giving an amazing talk:

You can find a detailed explanation of all the above points here.

Michael Ernst
Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington.

Professor Ernst has some general suggestions: “Get feedback by giving a practice talk! One of the most effective ways to improve your work is to see the reactions of others and get their ideas and advice.”

Get Feedback

He also suggests to think about the presentations/talks you have attended and what you have found interesting about them. Then use the same methods in your presentations. Then he talks about some main considerations as follows:

The Content

Before you start preparing a talk, you need to know your goal and know your audience. You will have to customize your presentation to its purpose. The goal of a talk you give to your research group is to get feedback to help you improve your research and your understanding of it, so you should plan for a very interactive style, with lots of questions throughout. In a conference talk, questions during the talk are extremely unlikely, and you have much less time; your chief goal is to get people to read the paper or ask questions afterward. In a seminar or invited talk at a university, you want to encourage questions, you have more time, and you should plan to give more of the big picture.

When you give a talk, ask yourself, “What are the key points that my audience should take away from the talk?” Then, elide everything that does not support those points.

A good way to determine what your talk should say is to explain your ideas verbally to someone who does not already understand them. Do this before you have tried to create slides (you may use a blank whiteboard, but that often is not necessary).

Do not try to fit too much material in a talk. About one slide per minute is a good pace (if lots of your slides are animations that take only moments to present, you can have more slides). Remember what your key points are, and focus on those.

The Slides

The Presentation

Professor Ernst has much more details about these points and more here.

Please spread the word by sharing on social media:

Share on FacebookTweetShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Submit to RedditPin itAdd to Pocket