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Notes on public talks

July 16th, 2014

Massimo and I worked together on two posters about automatic provenance capturing for research publications and we won the ESIP FUNding Friday award. What left unforgettable to me, however, is the great lesson I learnt from giving the 2 minute pitch in front of the ESIP folks.

During the 2 minutes talk, I just could not help staring at the two posters we printed and made on the day before and that morning. Now I know the reason — it’s because I only practiced my speech with one of the posters displayed on my laptop. For the other poster, I have no chance to practice talking about it at all. I became dependent on the presence of the posters in front of me and cannot make the talk in front of people, instead of posters.

Possible solutions to make my eyes move away from the posters when talking? The best I thought of is to get REALLY familiar with the topic I’m gonna present — at least so familiar that I don’t need to look at any auxiliary facility such as a poster to remind myself what to say, better if being able to save some spare attention for the audience — to receive their feedback and adjust accordingly in real time. The need to ignore the audience for a while to concentrate on “what should I say here?” indicates that I’m not familiar enough with the topic.

In addition to the content, presenters also need to get familiar with the way of presenting the content. This could include scrutinizing the practice talk sentence by sentence to make sure “I said what I meant and I meant what I said”. Not until such clarity and confidence are reached can one start thinking about all the fancy stuff like speaking pace, volume variations and eye contacts with audience. Well, those are fancy to me, not necessarily for good speakers.

So there is really a lot to work on for a public talk, especially if it’s the first time for the presenter to talk about the idea. The work is so much that it cannot be done over the night before the talk. We need to work on the familiarity, clarity and confidence of our ideas on a daily basis. It helps to write down what we mean and talk about it often.


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