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Giving Effective Presentations Marie desJardins ( ) CMSC 691B February 17, 2004 Sources Robert L. Peters, Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student’s Guide to Earning a Master’s or Ph.D. (Revised Edition) . NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1997.

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giving effective presentations

Giving Effective Presentations

Marie desJardins (


February 17, 2004

  • Robert L. Peters, Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student’s Guide to Earning a Master’s or Ph.D. (Revised Edition). NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1997.
  • Justin Zobel, Writing for Computer Science: The Art of Effective Communication. Singapore: Springer-Verlag, 1997.
  • Mark D. Hill, “Oral presentation advice”
  • Simon L. Peyton Jones, John Hughes, and John Launchbury, “How to give a good research talk”
  • Patrick Winston, “Some lecturing heuristics”
  • Dave Patterson, “How to have a bad career in research/academia”
  • Rules for presentations
  • General guidelines for preparing talks
  • Paper presentation guidelines for this class

# 1

  • Know what on earth you’re doing up there!
  • Rule #2: Know what you want to say
  • Rule #3: Know your audience
  • Rule #4: Know how long you have
rule 2 know what you want to say
Rule #2: Know What You Want to Say
  • Just giving a project summary is not interesting to most people
  • You should give enough detail to get your interesting ideas across (and to show that you’ve actually solved the problem), but not enough to lose your audience
  • They want to hear what you did that was cool and why they should care
  • Preferably, they’ll hear the above two points at the beginning of the talk, over the course of the talk, and at the end of the talk
  • If they’re intrigued, they’ll ask questions or read your paper
  • Whatever you do, don’t just read your slides!
rule 3 know your audience
Rule #3: Know Your Audience
  • Don’t waste time on basics if you’re talking to an audience in your field
  • Even for these people, you need to be sure you’re explaining each new concept clearly
  • On the other hand, you’ll lose people in a general audience if you don’t give the necessary background
  • In any case, the most important thing is to emphasize what you’ve done and why they should care!
rule 4 know how long you have
Rule #4: Know How Long You Have
  • How long is the talk? Are questions included?
  • A good heuristic is 2-3 minutes per slide
  • If you have too many slides, you’ll skip some or—worse—rush desperately to finish. Avoid this temptation!!
  • Almost by definition, you never have time to say everything about your topic, so don’t worry about skipping some things!
  • Unless you’re very experienced giving talks, you should practice your timing:
    • A couple of times on your own to get the general flow
    • At least one dry run to work out the kinks
    • A run-through on your own the night before the talk
comments on zobel peters
Comments on Zobel / Peters
  • Zobel recommends one minute per slide
    • Unless you have VERY little information on each slide, this is a racing speed
  • Peters recommends writing out your presentation, word for word
    • This is a very bad idea for most people, and will lead to extremely stilted delivery
    • The only alternative, if you’re not an experienced public speaker, is to PRACTICE
organizing a talk
Organizing a Talk
  • Talks are linear:
    • Your audience can’t flip back to see what you said last
    • They can’t use the section headers as a guideline
    • → Help them keep track of where you are in the talk
    • → Don’t try to cover as much ground as you would in a technical paper
  • Give an overview (& use it throughout)
  • Start with a slide or two on key ideas/contributions
  • Give a high-level summary (or simple example) before you dive down into (not too many) details
  • Recap at the end
slideology 101
Slideology 101
  • Don’t just read your slides!
  • Use the minimum amount of text necessary
  • Use examples
  • Use a readable, simple, yet elegant format
  • Use color to emphasize important points, but avoidtheexcessiveuseofcolor
  • “Hiding” bullets like this is annoying (but sometimes effective), but…
  • Don’t fidget, and…
  • Don’t just read your slides!








how to give a bad talk advice from dave patterson summarized by mark hill
How to Give a Bad TalkAdvice from Dave Patterson, summarized by Mark Hill
  • Thou shalt not be neat
  • Thou shalt not waste space
  • Thou shalt not covet brevity
  • Thou shalt cover thy naked slides
  • Thou shalt not write large
  • Thou shalt not use color
  • Thou shalt not illustrate
  • Thou shalt not make eye contact
  • Thou shalt not skip slides in a long talk
  • Thou shalt not practice
handling questions
Handling Questions
  • Questions during the talk:
    • If your presentation will answer the question later, say so and move on
    • If your presentation won’t answer the question, either:
      • Give a brief answer
      • Defer the question to the end of the talk
  • Make sure you understand the question before answering it
    • Ask for clarification if you need it
    • Restate the question, and ask whether you’ve gotten it right
  • Have backup slides for questions you can anticipate (but don’t have time for in the main presentation)
goals of paper presentations
Goals of Paper Presentations
  • Convey why this is an important and/or interesting problem
  • Review key ideas in the paper
  • Convey why this is an important and/or interestingapproach
  • Critique the work
  • Stimulate discussion
paper summary presentations17
Paper Summary Presentations
  • Content: You should provide a well organized presentation of the key contributions and important ideas in the paper.
  • Timing: You should aim for a ten-minute presentation.
    • This works out to (roughly) four to six slides – no more!
    • As in a real talk, you will get 5-minute, 2-minute, and time’s-up warnings from the session chair.
    • I will cut you off if you go too long!
  • Audience: Your audience consists of computer science graduate students. (I don’t count.)
    • Some are in your field, some are not
    • Most will not have read the paper (at least not in depth)
    • You can’t assume a lot of existing knowledge
    • On the other hand, you only have ten minutes! Be selective!
summary presentation content
Summary Presentation Content
  • Just as when writing a paper on your own work:
    • Describethe problem
    • Starting witha simple example can be very helpful
    • Explainwhy it’s important(or at least why they think it’s important)
    • Statehow the authors solved the problem at an appropriate level of detail
    • Tell whatexplicit and implicit claimsthe authors make
    • Describe the authors’experimental and/or analytical evidencefor these claims (and indicatewhether you think the evidence is sufficient to support the claims)
    • Stimulate discussion by pointing out interesting aspects of the approach, flaws, limitations/assumptions, open questions, ...
giving the presentation
Giving the Presentation
  • PowerPoint slides are fine, but not required
  • Draft slides can be sent to me* for review, if you want feedback beforehand
  • Feel free to use the whiteboard, especially to work through an example
  • Practice your presentation, even if it’s just to yourself, to make sure your timing is correct
  • As with written summaries, leave out details that you don’t have time to explain
  • Be prepared to fill in the missing details during the discussion session if you are asked questions!

* Draft slides must be sent at least 24 hours before your talk

grading and feedback
Grading and Feedback
  • Students are required to fill out a short feedback form for each presentation
  • You will receive these forms
  • I will also give you written feedback
  • Your grade will be based on:
    • Your level of preparation
    • The clarity of your presentation
    • The timing of your presentation
    • Other students’ evaluation of your presentation
    • The ensuing discussion