Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Giving an Academic Talk

I can count the number of really good (i.e. memorable) academic presentations I've seen on one hand. If I lower the bar to "pretty good", there's still only a limited list.

If you want to improve your presentation skills, here's a very good collection of advice on how to give an academic presentation from Jonathan Shewchuck, a Computer Science professor at Berkeley. Even if you're not a CS guy, read it anyway - most of what he discusses is relevent to almost any presentation. He breaks down just about everything you need to know:
  • How to make sure your slides are clean and crisp (less is more)
  • How to organize the presentation (more time on motivation and less on technical details)
  • Helpful advice on actually giving the talk (be aware of nonverbal communication).
I'd argue that even most experienced presenters can pick up a tip or two from his piece. Once a given bit of research is completed, it's very hard to improve its quality without significant cost. On the other hand, it's relatively easy to improve your ability to present your research. And the marginal payoff to increased presentation skills is pretty big -- conference presentations are a critical part of building your academic and professional reputation, and if you're on a campus visit, your research presentation is one of the most important factors in determining whether you'll get an offer.

So read Shewchuck's list here before your next presentation.

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