How to Give
a Talk
S. Biller, Oxford
Step 1:
Make a Formal Outline!
I. The Importance of Outlines
1) Forms a clear, coherent structure
2) See the “Big Picture” early on in the process.
3) Focuses where time should be spent in preparation.
4) Easy to re-organise so as to improve clarity.
II. Outline Formalism
1) Numbered sub-headings below each major section heading.
a) Lettered sub-sub-headings go beneath these.
b) Further nestings alternate between numbers and letters.
1. Each nesting should be further indented as well.
2. These are used to fill in more details as research progresses.
2) Multiple sub-headings stake out organisation of principle points.
III. Application of the Outline
1) Extremely useful for both talks and papers.
2) If formalised in sufficient detail, it makes the rest a dawdle.
Basic Structure to Guide the Reader:
General Motivation for Study
Overall Context of Result
Another look at Structure:
1. Briefly, this is what it’s about (abstract)
1. This is why I want to do this (preface)
2. This is what I’m going to do (introduction)
3. Look, I’m doing it (body)
4. See, I’ve done it, just like I said! (summary)
5. ...and this is why I did it! (conclusions)
A Few Golden Rules
Good grammar
and correct
punctuation etc.
lead to good
(there really is
a point to it!)
Make simple, clear statements
Unfortunately, although the
answer was indeed clear, simple and straightforward,
there is some difficulty in justifiably assigning to it the fourth
of the epithets you applied to the statement inasmuch as the
precise correlation between the information you communicated and
the facts insofar as they can be determined and demonstrated is
such as to cause epistemological problems of sufficient magnitude
as to lay upon the logical and semantic resources of the
English language a heavier burden than they can
reasonably be expected to bear.
What are you talking about?
Avoid jargon
You told a lie.
Carefully define all terms
Whenever possible, distill from multiple sources.
Neither Terry Wogan nor Graham Norton
take Eurovision very seriously as a competition.
When appropriate, paraphrase individual sources:
As noted by Einstein, Eurovision scoring
does not obey the normal laws of statistics.
If necessary, explicitly quote individual sources:
As Einstein himself stated,
“Who ist dis ‘Jedward’ anyvay?”
Common knowledge does not require a reference:
Portugal will always vote for Spain;
Belgium for France; Norway for Sweden...
(But, if in any doubt, quote one)
“Is that STRICTLY true??”
(there are few absolutes in life!)
Clearly state what you know.
Clearly state what you do not know.
(Show no mercy!)
Preparing to Talk
A simplified outline presented near the
beginning of the talk can be a useful way
to tell the audience where you are going:
Outline of Talk:
• Preparation
• Focus
• Presentation
But not always…
Outline of Talk:
• Introduction
• Middle bit
• Conclusions
You cannot say everything and cannot show all the
details of the work you’ve done… DON’T EVEN TRY!
Pick, at most, 2 or 3 important points to get across
and concentrate on communicating them clearly.
Give yourself plenty of time by streamlining the
presentation to this end.
My 3 points:
1) Make an outline
2) Focus on just a few points
3) Keep the style simple
Simple transition slides can be a useful way
to reinforce the structure of the talk
Slide Backgrounds
Might seem cool
(in a geeky kind of way)
Or just pleasant to have around
But are often distracting
And can make things difficult to read
F onts:
Use a consistent set of easy-to-read fonts.
Colour is useful to emphacise points
and to visually break things up.
There are additional ways to do this as well,
but don’t go overboard.
And remember that if you try to
emphacise everything that you have
to say, then nothing is actually
emphacised at the end of the day
and it completely defeats the whole
object you are trying to accomplish.
It’s much better if you just try to emphacise
a few well-chosen points.
Speaking of colours, just use a few well-chosen ones:
The basics of red, green and blue in addition
to black provides a pretty good guide
Remember that not all colours show up well
when projected, even if you can see them
easily enough on your computer screen
For different backgrounds, this set can change.
You can put an awful lot on one slide by choosing small fonts and squeezing various different figures into different parts
of the page. Some of these can even slide and zoom in, adding more and more to the page. You can also detail complex
derivations. In fact, you could write down everything you are going to say and, if you like, even simply read it off the
slide word for word. However, if you think about it, who honestly wants to sit through all of that? I mean, it would seem
that either there’s no point listening to the speaker or no point trying to read the slide… or perhaps both! And how much
can the audience really be expected to take in and genuinely comprehend, especially when they are supposed to be
listening to you while reading the slide? Little information gets transferred by loading slides with too many details. It
becomes impossible to see the forest for the trees and this can have a negative impact on the whole of your talk. A few
slides like this and the audience will just give up and use the time to catch up on some sleep. Could you really blame them?
Tricks to help
avoid clutter:
Use large fonts.
I generally try to use fonts no smaller than 24 pt,
although I think 32pt is usually better.
Of course, you can emphacise
things with even larger fonts.
And space things out.
This generally forces you not to put too much on one
page… which is a good thing!
If you must derive something,
one trick is to visually break up the steps:
(c Dt )2 = d2 + (Dx )2
d2 = (c Dt )2 - (Dx )2
or, more generally,
choose frame
''at rest”
S2 = (c Dt )2 - [(Dx )2+ (Dy )2+ (Dz )2 ]
= (c Dt)2
''Invariant Interval”
“Proper Time”
While you can display relevant graphs like this:
0n: 1000 events per
year with 1% natural
Nd-loaded liquid
scintillator in SNO+
one year of data
maximum likelihood statistical test of the shape to extract
0n and 2n components…~240 units of Dc2 significance after only 1 year!
Test <mn> = 0.150 eV
Klapdor-Kleingrothaus et al.,
Phys. Lett. B 586, 198, (2004)
It’s sometimes better to just talk to a picture on it’s own
one year of data
To Avoid Clutter:
Don’t put too much on page
Use large fonts
Break up derivations
Visually simplify
Use bullet points to summarise
More distractions to avoid:
There are many text animation and
are ultimately distracting
and incredibly annoying!!!
(“Simple” doesn’t mean “boring”)
Rehearse your talk!
• At least initially, do this on your own
• Take all the time necessary to think carefully
about what to say for each slide
(don’t worry about details of talk length)
• Prune and iterate
• Run through final version at least 2-3 times
Speak to and engage
with your audience…
they are your friends!
Make the transition to “Conclusions” clear
Try to keep summary to one page
Tie things together coherently
Reiterate the major points clearly
1) Make an outline
2) Focus on just a few points
3) Keep the style simple
• Briefly make any additional observations
• Don’t be defensive about questions
• Leave yourself plenty of time