Class Presentations

Effectively presenting ideas is one of the critical skills that all researchers must develop. Therefore, each student taking this class will be expected to give an in-class presentation on one of the papers we will be reading during the course. Presentations should be between 20–30 minutes long and should cover the most important material described in the paper. These presentations account for a significant part of your final grade. I expect more than just an outline of the paper. For instance, you should take the time to read any important related papers so that you can explain how this method fits into the overall scheme of things. Failure to do this will result in a disappointing grade.

Tips on Giving a Good Talk

Here are some of my personal, and possibly opinionated, suggestions on how to give a good talk. In particular, the kind of talk we’re discussing here is a 20–30 minute talk on a research paper. I suggest you keep all this in mind when preparing for your class presentation. As with all “rules” in creative endeavors, the advice here can at times be ignored, but only a skilled practitioner knows when to do this.

Your talk should look nice

  1. Use PowerPoint, Keynote, or some similar piece of software to prepare your talk. Graphics is about pictures, and you can’t show pictures by scribbling on a whiteboard.

  2. Do not use tiny fonts — nothing below 18pt text is acceptable. Most of the text on your slide should probably be in the 24pt–36pt range.

  3. Do not use gaudy color schemes. Black text on a neutral or white background generally works well.

  4. Do not use crazy borders, flashy slide transitions, twirling text, or other obscene “innovations”.

  5. Sans serif fonts (e.g., Helvetica a.k.a. Arial) generally work better for presentations than serif fonts (e.g., Times).

  6. If the audience has to sit through half your talk before seeing the first picture, you’ve designed a bad talk. Use pictures early and often.

  7. Use as little text on your slides as possible. A slide full of text with multiply nested bullet points is a slide designed for you (the speaker) to remember your talk. It certainly isn’t helping the audience, who have come to hear your talk not read it.

Your talk should sound nice

  1. Show some enthusiasm. If you’re not excited/interested in what you’re talking about, how can you expect the audience to be? Even if it doesn’t excite you, fake it … for our sake.

  2. Do not drone on in a monotone voice. I’m sure you’ve all had professors who did this. How many of their lectures did you get through without dozing off?

  3. Pace your talk properly. If you rush through everything, no one will understand the points you’re trying to make. If you go too slowly, everyone will be bored. And just as text is broken up into paragraphs, you should introduce occasional pauses to add “whitespace” to your talk.

Deliver your talk to the audience

  1. Look at the audience. Not at the board. Not at the projection screen. Not at your notes. Not at your shoes. At us.

  2. Don’t use written notes in giving your talk. The temptation to simply read them is too great. This will lead you to commit the following errors: (1) you’ll be looking at your notes and not the audicence and (2) your talk will be boring because you’ll just be reading.

  3. Do something to engage the audience’s interest. Show some cool videos. Tell us an interesting anecdote. Bring along some physical props.

We should learn something from your talk

  1. As you’re preparing your talk, ask yourself: “What do I want my audience to take away from this talk?”

  2. Prioritize the material that you’re thinking of presenting. If you try to present every last detail of the paper, the audience will get bored and/or lost and won’t remember most of it anyway. Tell us the most important things, and don’t obscure this message with unimportant details.

There’s plenty of advice out there

I recommend Jim Blinn’s advice on giving a good SIGGRAPH talk. Some of his points — The Floating Head, for instance — are not exactly relevant to our classroom setting, but the rest are right on. Besides, many of you may very will be giving a SIGGRAPH talk in the not-so-distant future.

Lots of other people have opinions and suggestions on how to give effective presentations too.

Finally, once you’ve drunk the Kool-Aid and become an experienced PowerPoint user, read Edward Tufte’s explanation for why PowerPoint is evil and a rebuttal.