Giving my first academic talk - suggestions?

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Giving my first academic "talk" -- suggestions?

This Wednesday I'm going to be giving my first academic talk to the nuclear group here at my University. The nuclear faculty, postdocs, and graduate students will be in attendance and I'm expected to give a presentation over my current research: motivation, goals, established results and future.

I'm just an undergraduate and to be giving a presentation like this to a group of professional nuclear physicists is rather nerve wracking I must say. What are some things that I should keep in mind or any tips that you have for me?

Thanks.
 

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  • #2
ZapperZ
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This Wednesday I'm going to be giving my first academic talk to the nuclear group here at my University. The nuclear faculty, postdocs, and graduate students will be in attendance and I'm expected to give a presentation over my current research: motivation, goals, established results and future.

I'm just an undergraduate and to be giving a presentation like this to a group of professional nuclear physicists is rather nerve wracking I must say. What are some things that I should keep in mind or any tips that you have for me?

Thanks.

1. Have you given a practice talk in front of your supervisor and other members of your group? If you haven't, that is always a good thing to do and get their feedback and criticism.

2. Keep in mind that the only way to be good and comfortable at doing this is by doing it a few times. So consider this as a training ground. Giving a speech or presenting a talk is not something we can be good at automatically, or simply by reading about it. It is a skill that you can only acquire via doing it repeatedly. So if you keep in mind that this is simply part of your learning process, then all you can do is simply learn from it and try to do it better next time.

3. I always tell the graduate students around here that while you will be doing most of the talking, it really is a 2-way communication. Look at your audience. Don't just show them your back while you spend most of your time reading and pointing at the viewgraphs (this, to me, is one of the most annoying habits of many presenters). When you're describing something, look at the expression on their faces. Do you see a bored, glazed look, or a puzzled look, or an approval, attentive look? If half of the people are falling asleep, then your talk may have problems in terms of getting people to understand what you are trying to say. After you have gained enough of a skill at doing your presentation, you will learn to adjust your talk on the fly based on the reaction you get with your audience. I've often went back over points that I've already mentioned if I gauged that the audience didn't quite understood some of the latter points. But this requires that you're already comfortable with doing this in front of people.

4. Look at your viewgraphs and figure out if no one is listening to what you are saying, can they still get the gist of the point you are trying to make simply by looking and reading the page you are showing? This means asking the question to see if your that page of the viewgraph is clearly titled, adequately annotated, and has clear, concise comments.

If you wish, you may want to read Chapter 14 of my essay that has a more detailed suggestion. Whatever the outcome, consider yourself lucky that someone has thought that this part of the process is important enough that you get to gain this valuable skill at being able to present a technical talk. It is a great opportunity to learn from it.

Zz.
 
  • #3
mathwonk
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I always offer my student presenters the chance to practice the talk in front me privately, both so they can practice the talk, and so I can get my criticisms out of the way in advance, and in private.

So I also encourage you to ask until you find a supervisor willing to do this.
 
  • #5
mathwonk
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oh yes, as the cartoon, says, do not go overtime. i think i almost lost my first job offer for that sin. similarly do not show up late to begin. once i announced a talk to begin at 3:30, but the person writing the announcement changed it to 3:25 without my knowledge, since that was the starting time of classes for that period. when i showed up at 3:30 they were already in a mood to hang me. it was expected that i had checked the written announcement to make sure it was correct.
 
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Thanks everyone, these all seem like great resources.

Sadly I was just informed of the opportunity to give this talk late last week, and it really came at a busy time for me, but I took the opportunity anyways. I doubt that between now and Wednesday I could find the time to rehearse the entire talk with a faculty member, but we'll see.

Luckily I'm pretty familiar with a few of the nuclear faculty, so having a few friendly faces in the audience will help greatly I think.

Again, thanks.
 
  • #8
mathwonk
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try to find time, or use a student, youll be glad you did.
 
  • #9
Gokul43201
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Hello EricVT,

here is an excellent article by James C. Garland (from Physics Today, July 1999):
Advice to beginning physics speakers
Garland used to work in the lab next door to ours.

It seems that giving talks here is a bigger deal than most other places. Here's more notes from another member of our faculty:
http://www.physics.ohio-state.edu/~wilkins/onepage/
http://www.physics.ohio-state.edu/~wilkins/group/brief_writ_speak.html
http://www.physics.ohio-state.edu/~wilkins/writing/Supp/dazzle.html

If you can't find your advisor, try and get a grad student (or more) from your group to do a practice talk.
 
  • #10
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Well I don't know any of the graduate students here really, just the faculty.

Like I said, I'm just an undergraduate. I don't think many of my undergraduate friends would be keen on the idea of sitting and listening to me bore them to tears with nuclear physics during midterm week :p

But I will try and find someone, and thanks for the additional resources.
 
  • #11
robphy
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Well I don't know any of the graduate students here really, just the faculty.

Like I said, I'm just an undergraduate. I don't think many of my undergraduate friends would be keen on the idea of sitting and listening to me bore them to tears with nuclear physics during midterm week :p

But I will try and find someone, and thanks for the additional resources.

If you are planning to go on to graduate school, it's a good idea to get to know some grad students at some point.
In preparing for your talk, you don't need many listeners... just one good one.
 
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Remember to be loud, I gave my first academic talk last week, I think it went well except for the volume issue...
 
  • #13
mathwonk
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practice it on anyone at all, but practice it .
 
  • #14
mathwonk
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and please let us know how it went, whaT YOU LEARNED FROM THE ExPERIENCE, etc..
 
  • #15
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It went very well, thanks for the help everyone. I took a lot of the advice in this thread to heart and it really helped.

#1 thing to remember IMO:

-Bring water! I guess I should have known that an hour of talking would make me parched.

=P
 

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