For a technical talk, you need to be able to get into sufficient
detail that the audience can walk away knowing the subject
moderately well. They won't become specialists, but they should
know what technical challenges there are and how you are
addressing them. If people who attended your talk can summarize
your talk confidently and well, that is the best success you can
- When you are trying to report on other people's work and it was
not clear to you, say what you understood and what was not clear.
Don't dwell on what was not clear unless you can point to what is
missing from the other work. Saying something is not clear is
always tricky, because the authors presumably think it is and
might be offended. If you can raise a technical objection that
is a lot better. To convert a remark about unclarity into a
remark about technical inadequacy, try to give an example. Say
what interpretations are possible in the paper that you are
reviewing. If one of the interpretations is acceptable probe it
further or find another example where it is not acceptable. In
the end, if there is an interpretation that works, then maybe the
shortcoming of the explanation of the paper rather than its basic
- Put your name and the date on each presentation. Number all
pages so I can easily give comments on a draft and the audience
can easily ask questions about specific slides.
- Zero in quickly on the new stuff—that is, have a short
- Give an outline.
- Avoid overly dense figures. If you can eliminate some detail,
- Minimize mathematical symbols. If you need a few symbols,
powerpoint with TexPoint can work. If you need a lot of symbols
(extremely rare case), consider using LaTeX to prepare the
slides. In fact, you can use LaTeX anyway even if powerpoint
- Leave some blank space at the bottom of your slides. Often,
especially in large rooms such as for the major conferences, the
bottom 10–15% of your slides won't be visible to the
audience, especially those sitting at the back.
- While you don't want too much text on your slides, place enough
text that someone reading your slide can hope to guess at your
intended meaning. There are two motivations for this. One, some
people will read your slides, e.g., from handouts or off the Web.
Two, sometimes the audio at a conference can be messed up and you
don't have a chance getting through if your slides are not
- Use a pointer if you can. When you use a laser pointer, don't
let it wander when you aren't using it. People pay a lot of
attention to a pointer, even an erratic one or perhaps especially
an erratic one.
- As for papers, distinguish different kinds of terms with
- Use sentence fragments in bullet items; only rarely are whole
- When giving a talk, repeat any questions that are asked from the
audience. Often, other attendees can't hear the
question—and, you might be the only one with a mic. Plus,
you should paraphrase the question to match more closely what you
are going to answer.
- Know reasonably standard pronunciations of the words that you are
using. (I am beginning to assemble a list of tricky words.)
- It is a good idea to skip over details when giving a
presentation. This is one of the hardest things to carry out,
though. Be careful not to let yourself be drawn into topics you
decided you wouldn't care to present.
- For a time-limited talk (aren't they all?) be aware of the time
you have left. Pay attention to your conference session chair
and request sufficient time warnings so you can be sure to
include your key conclusions and leave time for questions.
- Some people include a slide at the end that says
"Questions?"—I find that quite rude. When you are
addressing your peers or your graduate committee, you don't say
"any questions?" to them. They will ask questions when they want
to. Say nothing or say thanks.
- For slides that are part of a series on a topic, use sequence
numbers in the title, as in "Foo: 1" and so on. If you just say
"Foo" it doesn't tell the audience that more is coming or where
you are in the sequence. And, "...contd" and its variants are