how to give a talk

I’m at IMMEM 2016 and there have been some great talks. However, some of them have been hampered by delivery, so i thought i would write a quick post on some things i try to do (a lot stolen from matt might and jen gardy).

  1. I used to have a job selling windows (made of glass, not from seattle) over the phone. the first thing they teach you is that you have to vary your tone of voice. give a bit of a ‘sing song’ to your voice and it makes it much more engaging
  2. SPEAK LOUD!!! Have you ever been in talk where you thought the person spoke too loudly? I haven’t, but i have been to a lot where i couldn’t hear the person. h/t to david livermore for this, who gives the loudest talks i have ever heard.
  3. limit text on slides – nothing deadlier than a wall of text. don’t be afraid to use bullet points as crutches if it is the first time you are giving a particular talk.
  4. have just one massive picture on the slide to illustrate your point (h/t gardy), very striking,
  5. tell jokes – this one isn’t for everyone, but chances are your audience has been sat around for an hour or two (three, four…), they will appreciate the influx of oxygen that comes with a chortle. i have had more than my share of jokes fall flat though, so use with caution.
  6. you will be nervous before your talk, everybody gets nervous. just realise its going to happen, its a physiological thing, focus on taking deep breaths and trying to slow your heart rate in the minutes before your talk.
  7. know your first line off by heart. i often found that a nervous start will head downhill, while a good start builds confidence.
  8. no one knows your work better than you, you are the world expert on that. even if this isn’t true, just pretend it is 🙂
  9. use big text!!!!! as big as possible, fill the slide (with minimum of words).
  10. practice, practice, practice. i dont mean practice your specific talk (but do this as well), i mean do lots of talks, for your lab, wherever will have you. if you can learn a 20 minute talk, more power to you (i can’t). but if you are relying on memory and then freeze in the headlights (has happened to everyone), you are a bit fucked.
  11. tell a story (if possible)
  12. be yourself. if these recommendations aren’t you, don’t do them. do great illustrations, or analogies, or whatever your special gift is.
  13. record yourself and watch it back! painful, but you will discover your nervous tell. (from Nick Loman). great tip!


i should definitely point out the obvious, that i’m not amazing at talks and need to improve many many things, but y’know, might help someone…

[Edit] Also, I meant to say initially that I have loads of respect for people who can present in a second language. Obviously it is way more difficult for you and I don’t feel I have any grounds to give you advice, because I could not do what you do. In fact, the whole ‘having to be good at science and languages’ thing really moves the goalposts for you guys. Chapeau!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s