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10 tips on giving a great talk

Getting ready to give your first talk? Or just looking to improve your game a bit? I have compiled 10 tips in this post :)

london stage st martins theater performance photo by oindree banerjee, used in blog how to phd, tips on giving a great talk

We can ALL do better at giving talks. 

Talks are tricky and there is a great variety of them too: 

--talks given to your research group

--talks given to your collaborators at a telecon

--talks at a conference

--talks at a poster session

--talks at an outreach event

--talks at a job interview

Although these are distinct from each other they can be improved by following these tips.

Here goes!

1. Understand your audience and what ONE THING you want them to take away from your talk.

2. It’s a performance! 

  • Start with something that blows their mind!
  • Motivate your talk -- Why should anyone care about what you're about to say!
  • Hold the audience's attention by 
    • sounding excited about your work
    • making eye-contact with your audience members
    • using voice modulations, avoid the monotone!
    • using dramatic pauses! Sometimes, the best thing is to just stop talking for a second and let the awesomeness sink in.. 
  • Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. But not so much that you sound like a machine at the talk. Retain spontaneity. 
  • Dress up! I say, at least, business casuals. 

3. Repeat yourself. 

One of my favorite undergrad Physics professors, Prof. David Haase (NCSU) used to say:

“Tell ‘em what you are going to tell ‘em
Tell ‘em
Tell ‘em what you told ‘em”

4. Always tell them something they know already!! 

This is muy importante.

5. Never undersell your work or your contribution to the work


Do not talk so fast that everyone including you gets overwhelmed and you faint from not having a chance to breathe in between talking! I am serious.

7. Don’t information overload

  • Avoid too many words in one slide, use visuals, have enough white space.
  • Remember a “Picture speaks a thousand words.” 
    • So don't put more than one or two pictures in a slide either!

8. Be clear

  • Make words readable
  • Make font big enough
  • Remember when picking the font colors that it may not show up on the screen as you expect 
  • Label axes of plots! 
  • Break down complexity

9. Don’t run over. 

This is especially important at a job talk!! Run over to automatically get rejected.

10. Take questions like a pro:

  • Don’t lose your cool - if the question-asker is being mean, the audience will sympathize with you, I promise. Unless you react like a jerk. 
  • If you don’t know, say you don’t know. Plain and simple. 
  • Repeat the question for the audience. Then answer it.
  • Relax, make sure you understand the question first before attempting to answer it. 

Special thanks to Prof. Todd Thompson (OSU) for sharing tips on giving great talks.

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