Public speaking pet peeve

by Eszter Hargittai on March 20, 2006

Today’s Lifehacker special is a piece I wrote on “Public speaking do’s and don’t’s”. I list ways in which one can prepare for a talk and suggestions for how to make the most of a presentation. I welcome additions to the list, in the comments here or to the original post.

Before it seems like CT is becoming nothing but a pointer to content we have posted elsewhere, I thought I’d mention just one of the issues I bring up in the piece. One of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to presentations has to do with most people’s inability to stick to the time they have been alloted for their talk.

Few people are such amazing speakers that the audience can’t get enough of listening to them so it is best to wrap up a speech on time. One of the most common pitfalls is to add “brief” introductory remarks to one’s prepared talk. There is usually nothing brief about such comments. Moreover, given that most conference presentations – the ones with which I tend to be most familiar – are supposed to take about 15 minutes, adding just three minutes of intro uses up 20 percent of the time allocation. However, most people are already short on time so this way they get even more behind.

I have considerably less experience in industry and other realms. Is this better elsewhere?

A related pet peeve concerns moderators who are unable to tell people that it is time to wrap up and give the next person a chance to speak.



Barry 03.20.06 at 4:33 pm

A standard problem, strongly related to people who won’t respect a meeting schedule. I’ve been in a zillion one-hour meetings which were susposed to discuss three equally important topics. Almost without exception, the first topic takes from 30-45 minutes, the second takes almost all of the remaining time, and the third topic gets punted, or dealt with in the 10 minutes that the meeting runs over schedule.


P O'Neill 03.20.06 at 4:37 pm

You could probably do a whole new post on Public Speaking and Powerpoint. While the ubiquity of Powerpoint clearly reveals some demand, it has created a new set of vices: speaker reading out bullet points in monotone; the disappearance of the full English sentence from a presentation, and the seeping-in of corporate terminology even to technical presentations e.g. everyone wants take-aways and they don’t mean vindaloo.


Brendan 03.20.06 at 5:01 pm

If anyone gives a shit: based on extremely limited experience, my own worthless opinions.

1: Keep it short. For the love of Christ and all his holy angels keep it short. No one has ever ever ever ever ever criticised a talk for being too short. Remember the basic rule of teaching: Tell them what you are going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you have told them. Leave.

2: Be funny. This rule should be disregarded if your talk is about ‘The role of the Holocaust in modern Jewish literature’ or ‘Child sex abuse and the state’, but otherwise crack a few jokes. Even if they aren’t really very funny the audience will be so relieved at a break from all tedium they will laugh anyway.

3: Act like you give a shit. Do not recite your lecture notes in a dull monotone. Look up. Try and make eye contact (not with one individual: that makes you a stalker). Move your hands. If you are impersonating anyone or quoting, try and do the accent (this only works if your ability to ‘do’ accents is better than apalling). Smile. Be animated. Try and remember why you got excited in this topic in the first place. If you look like you are interested in your own talk it is more likely that the audience will be.

4: Break up the talk as much as possible. When I saw Simon Schama do his ‘Big Bang’ talk, he played a record backwards and found ‘Satanic messages’ in it and waved one of this big plastic tubes around to illustrate something or other. It broke up the talk and he came across as someone who gave a shit.

5: Never make more than 5 points, and try and build a logical relation between them. In other words, try and have a clear logical structure to your talk. Remember: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Most people are easily bored and have short attention spans. Explain your ideas in the simplest possible terms. Don’t use jargon. Be clear. Build up to a climax. Then stop.

6: Keep it short!!!


Eszter 03.20.06 at 5:05 pm

P O’Neill – Funny you mention it, that’s exactly the plan. I had originally planned on including some tips in this piece, but then realized that you could write a whole separate feature focusing on that particular issue. So I will.:)

Brendan, I think I covered most of this, but I didn’t get to elaborate on a couple of the points that much. I didn’t mention being funny explicitly. I agree that it really helps if you can add something fun somewhere in the talk (except, as you noted, if the talk is on a super-duper serious subject and depending on the context).

Barry, I hear ya! It probably relates most to the issue about moderator function.


joel turnipseed 03.20.06 at 5:08 pm

One quick thing to add, regarding “Q&A” sessions after talks, that I learned the hard way doing media interviews: create a sort of “answer jukebox” in your head (as varied as you can a) remember and b) practice relentlessly) and learn not to answer questions asked of you but to register questions as your interlocutor having pressed button “A7.”

Now, this sounds like giving short shrift, but even at something as informal as a seminar or book reading, people really don’t want to wait around for you to hem and haw while finding your way to an answer (hell, for that matter–they don’t really want the answer to their question in many cases–they just want you to say something interesting, preferably something that heightens the value they got from coming to see you).


Doug T 03.20.06 at 5:09 pm

I’d agree with the original article and all comments so far (especially the one about the sad doom awaiting anyone presenting at the end of a scheduled meeting.)

I’d add that chartsmanship is very important. Do not try to cram too much onto one chart, it’s just confusing. Related point–the rule of thumb of 1-2 minutes per slide is accurate. But if you combine 4 slides of material onto 1 slide, that doesn’t mean you can cover it in one quarter of the time. (This tends to be a problem in overview talks developed by committee in which each area is allotted a certain number of slides, using the slides to minutes rule of thumb.)

If you’re going to use bullet points, make them bullet points, not full sentences and paragraphs. Make sure all figures and graphs are well enough labelled (and well enough conceived) that they would be understandable even if you weren’t there to talk to them. Etc.

Essentially, good and well conceived charts make your talk easier and do a lot of your work for you. Poorly designed charts make your job harder by confusing the listener and requiring additional explanation.


joel turnipseed 03.20.06 at 5:14 pm

Also, and I know you emphasized it in your piece, Eszter, but it can’t be stated strongly enough: PRACTICE. What was it Twain said? “It takes about three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.”


Amanda 03.20.06 at 5:16 pm

Re: Moderators.

I don’t think there is a shared understanding of what a moderator is supposed to do. Three possible roles:

1) Referee only (stay out of the discussion entirely unless a panelist/audience member drags it way off topic or engages in outright attack).

2) Gentle overseer (make sure that all panelists get a chance to talk, cut off questioners if they go on too long)

3) Discussion-shaper (keep panelists themselves on track, reframe questioners’ remarks to make them more pointed and direct questions, keep things moving, time-wise)

Beyond these, some folks see their role as PURELY timekeepers and others think they’re responsible for prepping panelists on the topic slant beforehand (often with very good results, especially if panelists aren’t familiar with their audience’s level/background).

Horrible moderation usually stems from a clash of expectations. Audience is hoping for a #3, and moderator is too intimidated/lazy/confused to be anything except #1.

Just my experience.


ben alpers 03.20.06 at 5:21 pm

Amen, eszter!

I’m simply amazed at the inability unwillingness of academics to keep within the allotted time for conference papers.

I’ve had countless conversations with other academics about this phenomenon. Nobody (and I mean literally nobody) enjoys paper givers’ going overtime. Yet, my experience is that 75% or 80% of conference papers run significantly long (i.e. five minutes on a fifteen or twenty page paper).

Timing one’s presentation isn’t rocket science. My sense is that the vast majority of the overtime paper givers not only know they’re going overtime…they know in advance that they will go overtime. But they don’t care.

The best explanation I can come up with for this phenomenon is simple narcissism. We all hate it when others go over. But our own work is so extra special good that it ought to be the one exception to the rule.


Brendan 03.20.06 at 5:37 pm

‘The best explanation I can come up with for this phenomenon is simple narcissism. We all hate it when others go over. But our own work is so extra special good that it ought to be the one exception to the rule.’

The other really embarassing thing is someone zooming through about ten power point slides while mumbling ‘hmmm….sorry about this…thought I was going to have more time….em….sorry…anyway as I was saying…’ while slides with titles like ‘the meaning of life, proved’, ‘chemical formula for the cure of cancer’ and ‘scientifically proven solution for situation in the middle east’ are brought up on screen for under half a second, given you just enough time to clock the titles, and nothing else. Very embarassing.

What is the solution? As a poster above said: practice. Run through your talk WITH an audience of bribed workmates and embarassed friends, WITH a stopwatch. (get them to ask obvious questions as well: this will give you practice at that, too). Your talk (at a conference) should clock in at 25 minutes absolute maximum, and 20 is better. Rememeber: every one else will zoom over their allotted time, and people will love you for keeping to the timetable, even if they don’t remember anything else about you.

Also: a shorter talk means more questions, which other academics love as it gives them another chance to hear the sound of their own voices.

For an ‘hour’ long presentation, try and make it such that you can do it all relatively easily in 45 minutes. Never ever ever ever ever run over your time: regardless of situation, audience, or how important you are. After an hour nobody cares that you are a greater physicist than Einstein and Newton put together: after an hour all they are thinking is about is how long the queue for the toilet might be.


American in London 03.20.06 at 6:12 pm

Brendan: That first post was brilliant and concise. But then you couldn’t resist a second helping, which went on for too long.


Maynard Handley 03.20.06 at 6:14 pm

(1) Funny: It’s OK to be funny if you actually are a funny person, and your sense of humor is shared by 95% of the population. Since people like this are rare, I’d go light on the funniness. If you happen to have an appropriate joke, use it, but oh god, few things are less painful than hearing poorly delivered lines that wouldn’t be funny even if delivered by a professional comedian.

(2) Insider jokes and reminiscences: No-one gives a damn about the fact that you were last at this convention center 8 yrs ago with your first wife, or that you and the moderator used to play tennis together.

(3) Introductions by the moderator. One minute on who this person is and why we might want to trust what they say is fine. Five minutes (and more!) going on about how this guy is the greatest scholar in this field in the western hemisphere and listing every one of his publications, positions and prizes simply makes it very very clear to the audience what an ass-kissing twit you are.


Richard 03.20.06 at 6:17 pm

Practice! Also, a lot of presenters have absolutely no idea what to do if the computer crashes and they can’t use their slideshow as a crutch.


PP 03.20.06 at 6:18 pm

In the business world it goes back to the paper cup analogy. A paper cup only holds so much (we figure 10-15 minutes of information). Any pitch thereafter is pretty much just the info spilling over the top of the cup. Make your points early and simple.
Same with blog comments, too.


Brendan 03.20.06 at 6:52 pm

Are there any questions?


Simstim 03.20.06 at 6:57 pm

I can only chip in with the academic side of things, and indeed can only repeat what’s already been said (yes, yes, I know). I’m not sure which annoys me more, presenters who knowingly overrun or moderators/chairs who let them. I also agree with the narcissism theory. This can also be found in Q&As where the questions always seem to come round to the questioners little niche/obsession, regardless of its relevance to the paper. All the points regarding presentations apply thrice-over to asking a question.


JR 03.20.06 at 6:59 pm

If you don’t know the answer to a question, say “I don’t know- give me your email address after the talk and I’ll find out for you.” Or you can (a) lie; or (b) waffle pathetically. You’d be amazed how many people do (a) or (b).


Ozma 03.20.06 at 7:31 pm

This is huge huge problem in academia, and especially irritating as the solution is so obvious: if every moderator cut people off smack at 15 minutes (or 20, or whatever the alloted time was) at every academic panel/conference/event out there, people would learn to accomodate their time frames. It would become obvious that the “oh, if I’d only had a few more minutes this would have been a GREAT talk” approach is (as it always has been) a cop-out, and within a year this problem could be solved forever. I just don’t understand why it hasn’t already happened.


harry b 03.20.06 at 7:40 pm

The moderator is always the person who bears most of the blame, UNLESS she has very clearly and obviously made a clear and good faith effort to stop the speaker dead. Moderating a session, like chairing a meeting (as in barry’s comment #1), gives you control of other people’s time. You have discretion over the use of that time for THEIR benefit and nothing else. Too many people think that chairing a meeting and moderating a session are things that anyone can do and require no skill or responsibility.

I try not to overrun when I speak, but I always ask the moderator, politely, to manage the time for me, and to be clear about the when the cut off time is approaching, and when it has passed, so that I can focus more on what I am saying than on whether I am running out of time.


Randy Paul 03.20.06 at 8:09 pm

At another job we had a Toastmaster’s Club. It was invaluable for learning to use your time well as each speech was timed.


Bro. Bartleby 03.20.06 at 8:21 pm

At the monastery all speaking is done around a rather large wooden dining table during either break fast or final meal. Years ago Abbot Eastley start the tradition of ‘passing the megaphone’ which allows all brothers to voice their opinions, but only when they are holders of the megaphone (the megaphone a gift from the dear abbot, it has painted on the side “YALE” — his alma mater, of course that from his former life). When one is ‘holder of the megaphone’ one is allowed to speak, and all other brothers must remain silent, that is, we are allowed to chalk retorts on our small portable chalkboards (that we carry during vows of silence). Frequently the retorts are hot and heavy, with many brothers waving their retorts above their heads, but still, the ‘holder of the megaphone’ commands the air, but if the biscuits begin flying, and many fingers are pointed to particular clever chalked retort, then the ‘holder of the megaphone’ must past the megaphone to that brother. This ‘passing of the megaphone’ normally is done without incident, but at times the holder simply talks on. At this point it becomes obvious that said brother is a ‘refusee’. If further chalked retorts do not solve the matter, then Bro. Sedwick, a rather large and dour brother, manhandles the megaphone from the hands of the ‘refusee’. Thus the megaphone is passed. I should add, usually the ‘refusee’ is pelted with biscuits, and it is a sad sight if this happens during break fast when the morning fare includes biscuits and gravy.


Chuchundra 03.20.06 at 8:35 pm

I went to a conference last year where the organizers had build a gizmo they called The Tower of Light. It had red, yellow and green lights like a stop light.

At the beginning of your talk, the light would be green. When you had less than five minutes to go, the light would turn yellow and when you had less than a minute, it would turn red. If you went over your alloted time, the red light would flash on and off.


Brett 03.20.06 at 8:50 pm

Good tips here. Thanks.


Start with a smile and memorize your first sentence. Getting something right will jar your memory and put you at ease.

Time: Be a few minutes under the alloted time. Never ask how much time you have left, unless you want your audience to think that you don’t care about the fact that you’re taking up their time.



Timothy Burke 03.20.06 at 9:05 pm

If we’re talking your average major professional association conference panel in academia in the social sciences and the humanities, the reason that few people time themselves, practice or take any of this good advice is that the average professional association conference panel is inconsequential in the extreme and the panelists know it and the audience knows it. The average panel audience is friends and possibly colleagues of the panelist and a smattering of people who think the topic might be slightly interesting, a number which goes up if the conference is being held in a city that none of the attendees likes that much. A great many panels at such events serve other functions: they allow people from universities and colleges that require a paper to be given in order to have their costs covered to have their costs covered; they are professionalization events for ABD/newly minted PhDs where they can communicate something of what they’re doing to potentially interested senior people; they’re a compulsion for completion of a paper that might serve for later publication. They’re not, generally, for entertainingly or engagingly communicating anything to an audience. As a result, folks don’t necessarily put a lot into preparation. It’s hard to think why they should, because the best-practiced, best-edited short professional conference presentation is worth exactly jack and shit in most professional contexts: it’s heard by about ten people and it’s unpublishable in the form you give at the panel.

And yes, I’ve heard people mutter that a paper was too short–that’s another problem you run into that pushes presentations up–the insane asshole senior person who associates gravitas with length, density and boringness of someone’s presentation. I’ve actually heard a colleague say of a paper given by a junior scholar that was short and entertaining that it was “without substance”, when in fact the paper was quite substantive, just short and entertaining. It was quite clear to me that this judgement got passed precisely because the presentation was fun to listen to.

There are exceptions, of course. I’ve been in the audience for panels where the papers or presentations are all really interesting, occasionally even a really interesting paper that goes long. I’ve seen quite a few roundtables with sufficiently compelling people that were really impressive. There are people who are always pretty good in these contexts even when they’re just reading a paper that they’ve edited on the fly for presentation.

A lot of this doesn’t apply to many of the sciences, where peer review operates in a different way prior to conference meetings, and where what is done at conferences is often the heart and soul of knowledge dissemination in a particular field of research.


Matilde 03.20.06 at 9:15 pm

My tips:

Do at least one dry run of your talk before giving it. Your talk improves, and you become much calmer when in front of the audience.
Work hardest on your introduction and motivation. Memorize your opening and first few lines of your talk.
If you are in a mathematical or empirical field, keep equations and tables as simple as possible. Don’t use notation without defining it, and use intuitive notation. Don’t pull a large table out of your paper and spray it onto the slide.
Prepare for technological breakdowns that could occur. At the very least, have overheads as a backup in case a laptop and projector can’t be provided.
A good outline for an academic talk is: (a) What I am doing (b) Why it is important (cc) What others have done (d) What is unique about my contribution (e) How I did what I did (f) What I found (g) Recap, conclusions, implications, questions for future research.


Tom T. 03.20.06 at 9:37 pm

Re: 22. Some variation of that system of such lights is used at oral argument in most US appellate courts. Suffice it to say that the moderators in that setting are generally quite firm about enforcing time limits.


jerry 03.20.06 at 11:02 pm

Your post goes triple for panel discussions. It used to be that an hour long panel discussion had time for something like 45-50 minutes of Q&A from the floor, where all of the interesting questions are asked.

Today’s 60 minute panel discussion goes like this: 50 minutes are divided into each panel asshole giving his mini-talk, then the moderator asks two completely shitty questions, then there is time for one question from the floor. Alternatively, instead of one question from the floor, we might get to hear and watch the blowhards on the panel fluff each other.


sober since 1987 03.20.06 at 11:43 pm

As the secretary of an Alcoholics Anonymous group, I hear people speak before a group at least once a week. Of course, most of these people are not public speakers, except during the time they lead a meeting of AA, so it’s probably more than a little churlish to take offense at this–but it’s amazing how many of the speakers I hear say the words “you know” or “y’know” pretty much CONSTANTLY during their leads. Some people say it as many as twelve or fifteen times a minute.

Since the purpose of attending an AA meeting is to learn how to stay sober and how to live a sober life, and not to critique the speech habits of the people who lead the meetings, it would be incredibly rude for me to point this out to the speakers. But that doesn’t mean I can’t beseech the readers of this blog to try to avoid this nasty habit when they speak in public.

When you practice your speech, ask a friend to keep track of how many times you say “you know” or “y’know.” If you do it more than once every two or three minutes, then you have a problem, but you can learn to avoid it. I’m no great shakes as a public speaker myself, but thanks to my hyper-awareness of this verbal tic, I very seldom say “you know” during my own leads, as far as I know, anyway.


Ray 03.21.06 at 12:50 am

It’s the same everywhere. My opinion is that it happens for one of two basic reasons. Either it’s a release of nervous energy, or they just love to hear themselves talk.

The man I work for can make the simplest of meetings into the dullest, grinding drudgery because he doesn’t know how to shut up. Simple as that.

In my limited freelance writing for the local paper though, I’ve found the perfect method for limiting my own talk time. Whenever I’m writing, I impose a word limit more restrictive than what is even called for. This forces me to distill out the repetitive, and superfluous, and eventually I can put much more pertinent info into the piece because I’ve forced an economy of sorts on to the work.


derrida derider 03.21.06 at 5:37 am

There’s one really important tip you’ve left out: watch other speakers closely. Analyse what they do that works, and what doesn’t.

Doing that, I cottoned on to one really important point that I’d always taken for granted: put your points into the form of a story. Human minds are hardwired to absorb info in the form of narratives.

I learnt lots of other things too, but they’ve already been covered here. Lets just say that I’m quite a fascist when I’m moderating – I think stealing other’s time is selfishness.


Tom Hudson 03.21.06 at 6:30 am

I need to completely disagree with Joel Turnipseed in #5: speakers who don’t respond to the questions asked are one of my biggest peeves, and also apparently a big peeve of many of my students. “Don’t hire this applicant, regardless”-sized peeve.


Tracy W 03.21.06 at 6:53 am

From a recent (business, not academic) conference I attended:

1. If you want to persuade someone to change a decision they’ve just made, do not call the decision wrong and do not state frequently how you are amazed that the decision-makers could arrive at such a stunningly wrong decision.

2. Unless you’re with an audience that you know already knows your credentials, take a moment to state them. (I spend a lot of time talking to engineers, and the conversation goes much better when they know I have an engineering degree.)

3. If you get a hostile question, do the three Rs:
– Reflect the question. Repeat it back rephrased and check that you’ve got the question right.
– Respect the question. Say something like “Yes, many other people have said similar things.”
– Respond to the question.
If you think you’re likely to get hostile questions, practice this method with a friend beforehand.


Tracy W 03.21.06 at 7:02 am

On comment 28: when it comes to “you know” and “umms”, years ago I read an article in the New Scientist that discussed some research that indicated a way of reducing those filler words.

Unfortunately, the finding was that there was an inverse relationship between alcohol and filler words. The more alcohol the subjects had had to drink, the fewer filler words they used.


Randy Paul 03.21.06 at 7:21 am


That’s something one also works on at Toastmasters. seeking to focus on exactly what you’re saying makes to lose the filler words.


Doug T 03.21.06 at 8:59 am

“If you don’t know the answer to a question, say “I don’t know- give me your email address after the talk and I’ll find out for you.” Or you can (a) lie; or (b) waffle pathetically. You’d be amazed how many people do (a) or (b).”

In my experience, your suggested course of action is very often just an example of (a).
However, I agree with you basic point, that admitting you don’t know the answer is better than trying to BS. There are probably people as smart or smarter than you in the audience, and if they’re paying attention, they probably will be able to tell that you’re just blowing smoke.

It’s also often a good idea to tell the questioner that “that’s a good point,” at least in the cases when it is, or at least when it’s not a bad point. A little praise will usually make the questioner more pleasantly inclined towards you and avoid hostile follow-ups. A related point is to avoid getting defensive about questions. That never looks good, even if you’re in the right.


Lorna 03.21.06 at 9:10 am

I had the joyful experience of being ‘taught’ how to give presentations by someone who showed up late, patronised and infuriated her audience, repeated herself, ran over time, and couldn’t work the technology she was using as a visual aid. This took over two hours. If anyone doubts that students have proper respect for their professors any more, bear in mind that I did not bang my head against the desk or yell, “For Christ’s sake, woman, shut up already!”


Lorna 03.21.06 at 9:14 am

Incidentally, people like that professor need to learn that telling people “do as I say, not as I do” in an amusingly self-depracatory tone is neither funny nor good advice. It’s just hypocrisy.


joel turnipseed 03.21.06 at 10:36 am

Tom (31)–

I think context here, is important (and maybe we’re misunderstanding each other). I’m not saying you shouldn’t answer questions–I’m saying you should think, in the context of your presentation, of likely questions and come up with well-thought out answers before you speak.

Everyone who’s ever given a paper/talk/interview knows the things they didn’t get to in the main body (that proleptic parenthetical that grew to a whole paragraph, etc.): that’s the stuff I’m talking about. If you come up with a nice mix of long and short answers, then try to fit what you’ve rehearsed to the questions asked you–with appropriate reframing, you’re just going to come off as a lot more professional (and, I’d say, give your audience a better experience).

I was initially horrified by this proposition, thinking, as you seem to be, that it amounted to a lot of empty spin. No such thing. It’s really the difference between being capable of giving articulate, well-calibrated answers to questions and spending more time than necessary fumbling for answers.

This takes a lot of work, no doubt–and there are times when it doesn’t make sense (but then: even attorneys spend a lot of time coaching their witnesses). My experience is as visiting lecturer/tv/radio interviewee (and, before that, as a software executive)–in all of these instances, the latter especially, you’re given a fairly limited time to make as much impact as you can. The more you practice all the elements of your performance, the better it will be.


JR 03.21.06 at 11:35 am

Doug T= Well, obviously, if by saying “I don’t know” you appear to be admitting that your entire theoretical construct is hopelessly compromised, then you’re not going to baldly say “I don’t know.” You might say, “that’s an interesting issue, but not one that bears directly on our results. You might look at the paper published by Humdrum and Boring in 1983.”

One of the most important things to do in preparing for a talk is to say, “If I were my audience, what might I ask after hearing this talk”- and then know the answers.


marek 03.21.06 at 7:17 pm

Way back up at #7, Doug T said that “the rule of thumb of 1-2 minutes per slide is accurate” and “Make sure all figures and graphs are well enough labelled … that they would be understandable even if you weren’t there to talk to them.”

My approach in giving presentations is almost the opposite in both cases. First, variation of pace is as important in a presentation as in any other medium – I have slides which stay on screen for 15 seconds and (admittedly more rarely) slides which I can talk to for ten minutes (and that’s not because they are visually cluttered). That’s closely related to the second point: for almost all my presentations, the innocent reader couldn’t work out the narrative just by looking at the slides. I can read bullet points faster than any speaker can read them out, and I assume that everybody to whom I am presenting can do the same. The purpose of slides is to illustrate, to emphasise, to make it easier for the audience to remember. The most common and most devastating error I see is the extraordinary number of presenters whose slides are clearly there as props for the speaker and not for the benefit of the audience at all.

I have absolutely no experience of presenting to academic audiences, so can’t speak directly to the applicability of this. But aren’t academics human too? And for a bravura disply of all the above, watch Dick Hardt in action (and no, I know nothing about him beyond that presentation – but I wish I could do that).


Eszter 03.22.06 at 4:24 am

Marek, it’s important to give credit to Larry Lessig when it comes to the presentation style to which you link. Here is an example. (To be sure, Dick Hardt does acknowledge Larry’s influence with a note on his last slide.)

I have spent some time thinking about how that style might work with certain academic presentations, but I haven’t yet figured it out. I think it is definitely conducive to something like a class lecture. I’ve tried to incorporate elements here and there, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten so far.

As to your point about whether academics are human, too. Precisely. They are, so they shouldn’t have to sit through horrible talks that have no end in sight.


Jackmormon 03.22.06 at 12:48 pm

This thread is probably dead, but I see a variation of Marek’s peeve all the time from inexperienced students: They’ll distribute a handout and then simply speak to what we can all simply read. I’m willing to guess that a lot of PowerPoint presentations have the same flaw.

So: We can read faster than you can speak; don’t give us a reason not to listen to you.

As for using visuals as signposts for the presentation’s organizational structure, I’d say that if the structure isn’t logical, no amount of external prompting will make it so.


Doug K 03.22.06 at 4:07 pm

similarly to Marek, I have little experience with academic presentations, but do technical presentations vaguely related to computer science quite often. I’ve attempted the Lessig style in every presentation done since I first heard about it. The powerpoint bullets show the code/command/provocative statements, the talk explains it, and it’s all written down in the notes so the ppt is self-documenting for later distribution.

the situation is the same in the computer industry as everywhere else – talks run long, often mere narration of slides, etcetera.

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