Hints for Giving Technical Talks
- Speak slower than you think you have to.
- Pauses are better than "ahm", "ok", "you know".
- Any sentence that includes "I don't know, but..." is better left
- Figure on roughly 2 minutes/slide.
- A slide should have no more than six to seven lines of text or
- A blind person should be able to listen to your talk and get a
reasonably good idea of what the talk is about.
- The introduction should be something like "I will be presenting
title of talk. This is joint work with your colleagues or
advisor at institution." Depending on custom in your field or
conference, you may mention sponsorship, however, I don't think that
this is common. Including it on the a slide after the summary may be
appropriate if the slides are part of workshop proceedings.
- If the moderator introduced you with your background, thank him/her.
- Don't stand next to the projector like somebody put superglue on
your shoes. Walk back and forth if you are spending some time on a
slide. Look in the direction of different people. Make "rough" eye
contact, but not for too long.
- If at all possible, don't try to squeeze the last few slides into
your question time. Flipping through slides at 10 slides/minute is a
waste. If you are running out of time, just pick one or two highlights.
- The overview should give a real overview, not a generic
"introduction, experiments, summary, future work". If the audience
doesn't know after the second or third slide why they should care about
your work and what general topic area your paper belongs in, you've lost
- A good layout for slides is to use the left for bulleted text and
the right half for a figure. This avoids splitting the two across two
slides, which tempts you to say things twice.
- When presenting a graph, be sure to identify the axes and the rough
number range, as these are often not readable. For example: "In this
graph [pointing], we show how the yield [pointing to the y-axis],
changes as a function of die size [pointing to x-axis]. The yield
ranges from 10 to 90%, the die size from 6 to 8 inches."
- Do not read from the slide. This makes it look like you are seeing
them for the first time.
- Do not skip slides (except when you are about to be yanked off the
stage) or go backwards. If you need a picture twice in the talk,
include it again, rather than skipping back. A good idea is to have the
same architecture picture several times, for example, but with
increasing amount of detail or showing different aspects. Otherwise,
you end up explaining lots of minutiae and abbreviations in the first
slide or two. (Skipping slides is a particularly bad idea if your talk
is being recorded on RealAudio or sent across the Internet.)
- Don't overload your pictures. People won't be able to read the fine
print. This means that it is often not a good idea to just reuse the
figures from the paper, where you may be space-constrained.
- Don't force the audience to read your slides to save time, i.e.,
don't say "these are the important points, [but I don't have time to
cover them, so please read them quickly]" (pointing to some text).
- "Glance and turn": for each slide, take a quick glance at the slide,
then speak to the audience as much as you can. If you need a
"teleprompter", position your laptop accordingly, although people will
still be able to tell that you are looking down.
- If you present equations, think twice for almost all audiences.
Present the simplest form you can. Anything with more than three terms
is a waste of time. Showing an integral or sum of some important
variables is fine - and certainly easier to grasp than writing "the
integral of" or "sum of".
- If you do present equations, be sure to explain the symbols. People
won't remember if you present them all at the beginning. Instead of
saying "we add sigma and rho", say "we add the standard deviation sigma
and the correlation coefficient rho".
- On laptops, be sure to set your screen blanker to a very long time.
You don't want to have to keep hitting the space bar to keep the picture
alive. (Speaking from experience...)
- Don't rely on the battery in your laptop if you can help it.
- Keep a backup copy of your slides on a USB memory
stick and a web page so that you can borrow somebody else's laptop if
disaster strikes or you forgot to bring the power adaptor plug to a
foreign country. For short presentations, make transparencies, just in
case. If you are paranoid or unfamiliar with the arrangements in the
presentation location, you might also want to create both PowerPoint and
- Include the conference or workshop name, location and date on the
cover slide. Google may find your slides and it might otherwise be
difficult for others to know where to look up more information or what
- Only use Courier for commandline examples, API documentation, terminal
screen dumps and similar computer output. Courier is a mono-spaced font,
i.e., all letters have the same width, and is thus harder to read than
regular, proportional fonts. Common slide fonts are Tahoma, Verdana and
Arial. Use of Times Roman also looks somewhat odd as it is more suited for
flowing, continuous text.
- Use the summary as your last slide, while you are taking questions.
That way, the audience gets to absorb the main points of your talk again
and may be reminded of topics to ask about. Do not use a "Thank you" or
"Questions" slide, as that's generally considered tacky, particularly if
they involve squirling question marks, guys with targets painted on
their heads or other cutesy stock clip-art.
- Number slides.
- Avoid long paragraphs of text; instead, use bullets to highlight the
important parts, as otherwise your audience will be reading slides
instead of listening to you. Use bold font and colors, within tasteful
limits, to highlight key concepts.
- For longer presentations, intermediate chapter headings can help
structure the presentation.
Things to Avoid
- Full sentences in bullets.
- Period at the end of bullets.
- Unreadable type (less than 16 pt)
by Henning Schulzrinne