There are some fundamental principles of giving effective talks that everyone should learn and try to implement to the best of their ability. Not everybody is going to give great talks, but all of us can give better ones! Towards that end, one of the professional development workshops I organized at the AAS meeting was specifically on giving better presentations. Dr. Jean-Luc Doumont gave a superb 1.5 hour lecture/demonstration on public speaking techniques for scientists. Lucky for us, Vivienne Baldassare summarized the main points of his lecture. You can also buy Dr. Doumont’s book, Trees, Maps, and Theorems (review forthcoming).
Vivienne’s summary of the lecture, while easy to skim, is actually quite dense and includes a ton of important points that are easy to think you understand, but can be quite difficult to figure out how to actually implement. Watching Dr. Doumont demonstrate each technique with his slides, voice, and body was extremely insightful. I am optimistic about bringing Dr. Doumont to future AAS meetings and I hope that many, many more people attend this lecture!
I think if there is one thing that would revolutionize the way many people give talks is learning and embracing the concept of “One message per slide. One slide per message.” Don’t make the audience struggle to figure out what the point of this part of your talk is. Write the message on the slide in one concise sentence. Describe that message verbally. Develop the message visually. Again, easy to say, but not always intuitive to implement.
I think a first step in this direction could be to change our relationship with slide titles. Slide titles should not be what’s on the slide, but the message of the slide. Not, The Distribution of Stars, but, M Dwarfs are the Most Common Type of Star. Not, Observations, but, 100 New High-Resolution Spectra Obtained. This idea is illustrated and described in more detail in the Content Slide section of Dr. Doumont’s
Checklist for Slides.
I have to admit, I was really disappointed with the vast majority of 5 and 10 minute talks I saw at the AAS. How long will it take us as a community to learn how to give better talks? I sure hope it’s in my lifetime, ’cause I don’t know how many more cluttered, text-filled slides I can take!