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Colby Liberal Arts Symposium
Tips for Giving a Short Research Talk
I. GOOD PLANNING
1. Short talks must be concise. Take the time limit seriously and plan accordingly. It is inconsiderate to your audience and to other speakers in your session to run over the time allotted to you. Furthermore, a good chairman will cut you off on time, whether or not you have finished. If you haven't planned your talk well, you will have to race through the end of your talk and may even miss the chance to deliver the punch line.
2. To be concise, talks must be carefully planned and rehearsed. It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of rehearsing. No actor would walk onto a stage without having rehearsed; no athlete would play without having practiced. The more times you go over your talk, the more confident you will feel when you stand up in front of an audience, and the more convincing and informative you will sound. Rehearse for your colleagues, your room-mates or friends, your cat or dog, yourself. Rehearse until you are tired of the talk; the adrenaline that comes from standing up in front of a group will make you feel and sound animated when you actually come to deliver your talk, even if numerous repetitions have led you to feel bored by the talk before you actually begin to speak. 3. The most effective talks are conversational, but not colloquial. Talks delivered in very formal language are hard to listen to. Talks that are filled with slang are not taken seriously. And if you sound interested in your work, your audience will be interested, too.4. Don't try to say too much. Think about two or three things that you would like your audience to remember a week from now, and structure your talk around those points. Usually, they are conclusions, but one of them maybe a new technique, or a really exciting result. Heed the old advicetell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them.
5. In planning a talk, it helps to have a general model to follow, and one is described here. It is not the only possible one, but it is one that works. If you follow it, it can help you to make your talk more effective.
II. I. PARTS OF A SHORT RESEARCH TALK
1. A short research talk should tell your audience the same categories of information that a paper would, but it must be in a very concentrated form. Giving short talks is difficult - and so is listening to them - because they must be so compact. The more you can help your audience by making your talk clear and easy to listen to, the more information you will communicate to those listening.
2. Projects in different disciplines might be presented in different formats. A typical format for a science related talk is given below:
a. Introduction: States the question you were addressing and that puts what you did in context, telling your audience why your work interested you and why it will interest them.
b. Methods: This is a brief statement of how you did your experiment or gathered your data. Tell just enough so that a person who is generally informed about the field could understand clearly what you did.
c. Results: This section is the heart of the talk. It is the longest and most important part. In general, a good approach is to state a general result and then give an example to support that generalization.
i. Use TABLES, GRAPHS, AND NUMBERS to illustrate your data. They help your listeners to grasp your data quickly.
ii. Be as quantitative as you can. It is the most concise way to present data.
iii. Be selective about how much data you present. Depending upon the complexity of the figures and tables that you want to show, you should have no more than 6 to 8 figures or tables for an 15-minute talk. Your audience will not be able to absorb more data than that, and both you and they will be frustrated if you try to pack in more.
d. Discussion: a brief interpretation of your results.
i. Were your results what you expected?
ii. Do they confirm or challenge the results that others have previously produced?
iii. Where would they lead next?
iv. Can you draw conclusions about the general question that you stated in your introduction? At the end of your talk, you should come back to the question that you posed in your introduction and consider whether you can answer it based upon your results.
III. SOME GENERAL HINTS
1. Do not to dwell on what did not work. If you have no data at all, you should say what you planned to do, and why it was an interesting idea. Draw any useful information you can from the experience (like how it could be made to work next time).
2. Humor can be refreshing but also can be distracting. Humor works best in moderation.
3. Think about how to present your ideas clearly. The order in which you did the experiments is not always the best order for presentation. Keep in mind that others may be completely unfamiliar with your work.