5 ways to screw up your talk

ra-ra-ra.jpgSo, bubby, you’ve been tagged to give a seminar. How often do colleagues turn their undivided attention for one hour to your view of the world? What an opportunity to talk about your work and polish your personal brand!What can you do to impress your audience and leave them wanting more?

Well, it’s Friday night, a martini awaits, so I’m turning this one over to Dr. Mephisto…

1. They’ve given you 50 minutes. Fill’er up!
All talks are somehow constrained by time. Make sure that you use every minute. Better yet, it’s OK to run over a bit into the question period. If you don’t make up the time by talking faster, you can always watch the clock and, if you find yourself running short, just advance–click click click (damn those builds!)–to the final conclusions slide. Or, just pause for a moment, and let everybody “who has some place to go” leave the room.

After all, it’s your time, isn’t it?

2. You’re doing so much interesting stuff–everything goes in.
You’ve got projects you’ve finished, projects your doing, projects that are just a gleam in your eye. Put them in! Your audience will be impressed by your breadth. It’s OK if you spend only a few minutes on one or two of them. If it’s even tangentially related to what went before, that’s enough.

Work the ADHD. Embrace the ADHD.

3. They already know why it’s important. That’s why they’re there.
Why in the world would you insult your audience’s intelligence by opening your seminar with five minutes straight out of an Intro textbook? They’ve been ruminating over your title all morning. If it intimidated them at all, they’ve spent some time in the literature catching up.

Your audience is ready. Hit the ground running.

4. It’s a big screen. Use it.
Yeah yeah, I know. “The secret of design is leaving stuff out.” Rubbish. Your audience wants content. Arrows. Colors. Clip-art. Explanatory text. Footnotes. It is so boring to contemplate a lonely graph while listening to the speaker drone on about it.


If it wasn’t meant to be on your slide, why is there a button for it in PowerPoint?

5. Why memorize your talk when you can read it?
Everybody is busy. Practicing your talk takes time away from making cool slides. Just transfer your outline to bullet points, slap about 5 bullets per slide, then read them aloud with your audience.

So take this advice from Dr. Mephisto and I guarantee you will make one helluva impression.

Any other great advice? Burn off some of that good karma and leave ’em in the comments.

See also: 5 steps to writing your talk (a graphic designer’s perspective)


15 Responses to 5 ways to screw up your talk

  1. Michael Clemens says:

    Every time someone asks a question, be sure to try to answer it. In full. Even if you’re not certain how. And by the way, be sure to demonstrate that every question someone asks, rather than being feedback that should be registered and carefully considered, is instead a threat to your entire paper and in fact to your career.

  2. Rebecca says:

    Don’t forget to look at them like a 1st year undergrad when they ask a question. It makes them feel young again.

  3. matt says:

    Oh, and make sure to add in lots of “cool” movement animations and “flashy” slide transitions… for every slide. These features will enhance your presentation and enthrall your audience. They won’t find them annoying and distracting at all. Also, add sound effects, don’t worry if your speakers aren’t loud enough.

  4. Katie says:

    It’s easier to read your slides while turning your back to your audience. Always make sure you look at the wall where your slides are projected on.

  5. prill says:

    make lots of fast swirly circles with the laser pointer around key elements on your slide

  6. Mike says:

    Gawd, I hate those swirly circles
    There is no shame in engaging with your slide if it is in reach. Use your arms. Cast a shadow.
    Become one with the slide.

  7. Kevin says:

    In regard to rule #1, I say the opposite: always end early. No one wants to hear 50 minutes straight talk, no matter how brilliant it is. Plenty of research has shown that audiences can only digest a limited amount of info orally. People tend to like tight, smart, short talks where they can see you’re capable. You can’t talk about all your work. And it’s not “your time”; it’s theirs. Don’t let them regret spending it with you.

  8. […] 5 ways to screw up your talkDr. Mike Kaspari of Getting Things Done in Academia offers this humorous take on giving presentations — specifically, the things we do to screw them up, like going on and on and on and on… Applies not only to academic presentations, but to ANY kind.Tags: presentation communication […]

  9. […] 5 ways to screw up your talk Dr. Mike Kaspari of Getting Things Done in Academia offers this humorous take on giving presentations — specifically, the things we do to screw them up, like going on and on and on and on… Applies not only to academic presentations, but to ANY kind. Tags: presentation communication […]

  10. Michael says:

    If it is a computer science talk – put lots of source code in your presentation to read aloud. Extra points if you don’t turn off the auto-formatting that turns your “);” at the end of each line to a sad winky face.

  11. Edd says:

    Don”t forget the facts!

    Your audience will love facts, and there’s no need to analyse them, because they will be so interesting we will run straight to the library when you are finished and research them ourselves…

  12. Rich says:

    Make sure you use at least 30 minutes to display how bad you are at using the internet to show us cool websites about your material. Especially if you are so bad that you didnt check that both ends of the Cat-5 cable are connected. It helps if your wireless connection goes out at least three or four times and then every site takes 5 minutes to load due to the bad connection. Also make sure to display your complete lack of preparedness and the fact that nobody has anything better to do than to watch you play on the internet. This is best displayed by stammering and blathering on about peripherally related political topics like being more green, our awful president, and how bad everyone else in the room sucks at life compared to you.

  13. […] 5 ways to screw up your talk (Getting things done in Academia) PresentationZen (Shock MD) PowerPoint Presentations: Tips To Avoid Last Minute Surprises (Digital Inspiration) PresentationZen (PresentationZen Weblog) Slide:ology (Slide:ology Website) Extreme Presentation Method (Extreme Presentation Website) Presenting to Small Audiences: Turn Off the Projector! (Change This) Lees ook de PDF uit dit artikel! Rock Your Presentation with the Right Tools and Apps (LifeHacker) Geplaatst door Bram Hengeveld Opgeslagen in Opleiding VGG, e-learning […]

  14. Abraham says:

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