July 14, 2010

Academic Presentation Hints

At some point, academics have to give presentations to classes, as students, lecturers, or just simply trying to raise interest in our work. Here's a couple of notes for those terrified of the day they are presenting their research.

If using a slide presentation program, have a backup copy on a USB stick. At least with a math audience, there's going to be another working computer in the room. It might not be running the same system, so a PDF based backup is recommended - almost every laptop you meet will have a pdf reader that can be set to full screen to PDF display slides.

Find out the location, and check the room before you present. This way you can make certain to have the right "dongle" for your computer that day. And even though it seems like half of the time the room is changed at the last minute, usually the new room has a similar technical setup.

Avoid ever giving a speech using new software or a new computer.

Try to give your speech to an empty room at least once before you "go public". You'll unconsciously improve your presentation, which is great. But the main thing you want to do is time how long it is - for most people, it's longer than the time allotted. Now you can cut out the less important bits instead of chopping off the end of the speech. The end is usually where you put what you want people to remember walking out, making that a particularly painful thing to have to do.

There is always a chance that this will be the day that a virus swarm takes down all the department computers, the microphone fails, and the power goes out halfway through your talk. Practice your material enough that you don't have to see the slides, or have a printout with you if you do have to see them.

If you know this will be central to your career - either you will be teaching, or the job postings you apply to mention "PowerPoint skills desired", then get substantial practice. Take a public speaking class, join Toastmasters, give presentation at schools/libraries/where ever, take a Carnegie class, join an improv theater... *something* to give you some comfort in front of an audience, because that little bit more comfort will make you look a LOT better to the audience.

Links to relevant free downloads:

Toastmasters "ten tips for public speaking"

"How to Give an Academic Talk" - from a humanities prof, but relevant points for all academia.

"The Art of Public Speaking" by J. Esenwein and Dale Carnegie
- Google book
- eBook formats, at manybooks.net
- Gutenberg project (text, good source for test-to-speech):

The 7 Easy Steps to Becoming a Public Speaking Failure, because not everyone has the same goals.

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