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How to Give a Good Talk and Why It Matters. Jang-Ho J. Cha, MD PhD. Overview. Why it matters Good talks vs. bad talks Telling a story Audiovisuals How to talk. Why it Matters. Papers don’t matter as much as you think People don’t read papers

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How to give a good talk and why it matters

How to Give a Good Talkand Why It Matters

Jang-Ho J. Cha, MD PhD



Why it matters

Good talks vs. bad talks

Telling a story


How to talk

Why it matters
Why it Matters

  • Papers don’t matter as much as you think

    • People don’t read papers

    • Difficult to determine individual contribution

  • Scientists are judged on their talks

    • Is this person a good scientist?

    • Should I invite this person as a symposium speaker?

    • Should we hire this person?

Why it really matters
Why it Really Matters

If your audience can’t understand your talk, they will conclude either that:

  • “I am too stupid to understand this speaker,” or

  • “This speaker is too stupid to make his/her presentation understandable.”

    Either conclusion is disastrous for your career.

Good talks bad talks


Ends on time

Spoken clearly

Easy to follow


Goes over time


Difficult to follow

Good Talks, Bad Talks

Be a critic
Be a Critic

  • In order to learn, judge other talks

  • Give each talk a grade

  • If the talk was good, the speaker has done something right: emulate!

  • If the talks was bad, the speaker has done something wrong: don’t do it!

What people remember
What People Remember

  • People listening to your talk may not remember anything about what you say but they will always remember how they felt about your talk.

  • Assume that the audience will recall at most one fact about your talk: decide what that is.

  • So, what are people remembering?

Logical flow is all important
Logical Flow is All Important!

  • Great talk: “It seemed so logical!”

  • Scientists like to think of themselves as smart.

  • Construct your talk as if the next slide was the most logical thing in the world.

  • If you have planted the idea correctly, the audience will conclude that you are so smart.

Logical flow the big picture
Logical Flow: the Big Picture

  • Tell them where you’re going.

    • How would you review a movie?

  • Do not assume that your audience will piece it together.

    • Tell them what’s important:

      • Your question

      • Your approach

      • Your conclusion

Your ugly baby
Your Ugly Baby

  • Everyone thinks their baby is beautiful. Not all babies are beautiful.

  • You can’t assume that people will be interested in your project.

  • Every baby has redeeming qualities.

Scientists love a puzzle
Scientists Love a Puzzle

  • Get your audience to ride along with you.

  • Scientists can’t resist a good mystery.

  • Set it up as a problem to be solved, and the audience will be right there with you.

  • There has to be an answer at the end!

  • The ‘question’ that you pose at the beginning of your talk will be miraculously answered by the data your present ---> “Ahhh!”

Seminar as musical composition
Seminar as Musical Composition

  • The essential feature is creating tension and resolution

  • Tension: the unanswered question

  • Resolution: the experiment that you just happened to perform

  • If you present all of your data as ‘resolutions,’ your audience will be greatly impressed!

Logical flow how to set it up
Logical Flow: How to Set It Up

  • “Here’s what we know”

    • Protein X has a PDZ domain

    • Other PDZ proteins bind protein Y

  • “Here’s what we don’t know”

    • If Protein X and Y interact

  • “So, we decided to ask…”

    • Does X bind Y?

    • Does binding depend on the PDZ domain?


  • Don’t try to present all the data you can

  • Do try to present data in a logical fashion

  • Slides should work with your talk, not against it

  • Remember: your audience is hearing it for the first time.

    • Pop vs. classical music


  • Choose a high-contrast background

    • White letters on blue

    • Black letters on light background

  • Readable font

  • Avoid words

    • If you have too many words, it makes your audience have to work too hard to read everything, and then they spend the whole time furiously trying to read what’s on the slide as opposed to listening to what you’re saying, which, of course, doesn’t help in the least. They inevitably feel like they’ve missed something.


  • Avoid foofy backgrounds: detracts attention

    • Good restaurants use white plates

  • Keep the same background

    • Eyes drawn to ‘novel’ stimuli

  • Test your background in the lecture room

    • “This looked great in the store.”

Setting up your data slide
Setting Up Your Data Slide

  • Present your data as the answer to a burning question

  • Example:

    • In HD models, dopamine D2 receptor mRNA is downregulated while NMDA NR1 mRNA is expressed normally.

    • Both genes are driven by Sp1.

    • Is there altered association of Sp1 with these genes?

Slides with D2 gene, but not with NR1

  • Any important point deserves a slide

  • Use slides for transition:

    • Refer to your overview slide

    • “Are we there yet?” Audience like to know where they are

    • Conveys a sense of order to your presentation. Oh, yes!

  • Do not pollute your slide!

How to give a good talk and why it matters

HD gene-positive patients with D2 gene, but not with NR1









Andrews et al. Brain 1999;122:2353-63


R6/2 mice


How to talk
How to Talk with D2 gene, but not with NR1

  • Giving a talk is not natural speech

  • Must be loud!

    • Practice with someone in the back of the room

How to talk1
How to Talk with D2 gene, but not with NR1

  • Not a conversation, but an oration

  • Talk slowly!

    • Audience hearing it for first time

    • Audience reading your slides

    • Non-native English speakers

    • If you talk quickly, people assume you’re nervous, and they become nervous.

    • If you talk slowly, with pauses, people assume you’re brilliant.

How to talk2
How to Talk with D2 gene, but not with NR1

  • Don’t feel obligated to fill in the empty spaces.

  • Practice talking “into the void”

    • Be comfortable with the sound of your own voice

    • Practice looking around the room

    • Time your talk

  • Work on your enunciation and your English speaking skills.

    • You are judged on how you talk

How not to umm
How Not to “Umm” with D2 gene, but not with NR1

  • Don’t be afraid of the blank space!

  • Listen to yourself speak.

  • Every time you feel it coming on, take a breath.

Delivering the message
Delivering the Message with D2 gene, but not with NR1

  • Beware of competition between the slides and what you’re saying

    • Helpful:

      • Fewer words on screen

      • Clean figures

      • Speak slowly, leave pauses

  • Do not gesticulate!

    • Where do you want your audience’s eyes?

Laser pointers
Laser Pointers with D2 gene, but not with NR1

  • Don’t wave that thing!

    • People find it visually irritating

    • Detracts from what you’re saying

  • Point to the item in question

  • Turn pointer off after you’ve pointed out item of interest

Dress rehearsal
Dress Rehearsal with D2 gene, but not with NR1

  • Practice in the room

  • Learn how to set up necessary equipment

  • Familiarize yourself with the podium and room acoustics

  • Practice advancing slides, using pointer

  • Memorize the order of your slides:

    • Slide = the answer to a question

    • **Contributes to logical flow

Wrapping it up
Wrapping It Up with D2 gene, but not with NR1

  • Important to finish on time. Finishing early even better!

  • You will not have time to show all your data. Get over it.

  • Remember: tension and resolution:

    • Show how the data you have shown have answered the question posed at the outset. Deliver the conclusion!

  • Last chance to tell the audience what the take-home message is.

How to improve
How to Improve with D2 gene, but not with NR1

  • Practice.

    • Get used to the sound of speaking with no one responding

  • Practice again.

    • Don’t look like you’re seeing the slides for the first time.

  • Practice in front of friends.

    • Ask for honest feedback. No one will spontaneously tell you you’ve given a terrible talk.

Take home message
Take Home Message with D2 gene, but not with NR1

  • Scientists are judged on their talks.

  • People will not remember the content of your talk, but they will remember if they were able to follow it.

  • Don’t wave the pointer.


Questions with D2 gene, but not with NR1