Tips for seminar presentations (Ulrike von Luxburg)

This page is permanently under construction and not exhaustive. Whenever an important point occurs to me I am going to add it.

Tips for preparing:

  • For seminar presentations, the most important tip is: practice, practice, practice. It is not embarassing to practice a talk! To the contrary, most of the very good speakers practice and polish important presentations again and again (and I do the same).
    Once you have a first version of your presentation, lock yourself into an empty room and practice it aloud to yourself. You will see that you will want to change many of the slides. Iterate until you are satisfied with your slides and the timing is correct. Then practice with a fellow student, friend, etc.

Tips for the slides:

  • My general rule of thumb: 1 slide for 2 minutes talk (15 slides for a talk of 30 min). Really! Do not use more of them, but make sure you explain the few slides you have.
  • Forget about the "outline" slide in the beginning, it is a waste of time.
  • Slides should have few text. Never use complete sentences (people cannot read and listen at the same time), just use short keywords.
  • Use little mathematical notation: if you need a full slide to introduce notation, then something is wrong. Nobody in the audience can remember it. Try to reduce the complexity of the notation (by simplifying formulas and results). Drop stuff that is not necessary.
  • Never just flash formulas at your audience. If you show a formula, explain it to the audience step by step, each individual letter
  • Use many figures for illustrations. Use hand-drawn figures (scanned), then it does not take so much time to generate them. Better many hand-drawn figures instead of one great power point figure that takes you half a day to produce.
  • When you present plots of numerical results: explain everything ("on the x-axis you see.... on the y-axis you see ... the three functions in this plot correspond to .... they behave as we expect because what they show is ... they do not behave as expected because ... ")

Tips for the actual presentation:

  • Check out the room and the equipment way before your talk (is there a projector, a whiteboard, etc).
  • On the day of your presentation, be there early (15 min) to set up your laptop, have a backup USB stick in case it does not work.
  • Before your talk starts, think about where you actually want to stand (try different positions, give it some active thought).
  • Many people are nervous in the beginning, this is normal. Typically, once you survived the first couple of minutes, you will be fine. To help you survive those minutes, make sure you know the contents of those minutes by heart (practice the beginning of your talk very often).