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Giving Talks. Seminars are important They provide a way to communicate about your research They are a key element to getting jobs As your career progresses, seminars help establish your reputation As your career progresses, requests to give seminars are a signal of your accomplishment

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Seminars are important

  • They provide a way to communicate about your research
    • They are a key element to getting jobs
    • As your career progresses, seminars help establish your reputation
    • As your career progresses, requests to give seminars are a signal of your accomplishment
  • They provide a way to receive feedback on your work
    • It is “quick”, sometimes useful
    • Reach a wide variety of specialties
  • So an ability to give good seminars is important

Some Mechanics

  • Put together computer-based presentation slides; it is the norm now for professional presentations.
    • But be prepared, a few venues might not have computers or projectors.
    • Some people think what software you use matters, but most people don’t care.
  • Have back-up copies, and make sure the software is on the computer – one advantage of PDF presentations
    • On your computer, if you are using your own
    • On a thumb drive
    • Email yourself a copy to an accessible account, so you can always access it
  • Look at the audience, not the screen, computer or projector

Preparing for the seminar

  • You should be prepared
  • Practice on your own, and before a friendly audience
    • An “informal” seminar to other grad students
    • A “more formal” seminar for your department
      • Don’t just practice the words
      • Practice and adjust the organization and tempo
  • Be ready to change the presentation from what you learn by giving it. Things that might change
    • Slides
    • Words
    • Style

Your slides

  • Keep them professional
    • No “cute” pictures
    • Norm now seems to be mostly plain, black text, white background
    • Keep the font and content readable
      • No unreadable tables (I’ll give some examples)
      • Font appropriate for the size of the room and the screen. Try to use a clear font, like Calibri
  • Have an appropriate number for the time frame
  • Time will usually go fast, unless the seminar is going poorly – then time will go slowly

Your Slides (continued)

  • Every bullet point on the slide should have a point
    • Think about what you want the audience to learn from each slide
    • Try to keep one idea per slide (obviously I don’t do this when teaching). Making them readable with a large font helps with this.
  • Don’t use too fancy animations
    • Things “flying in” quickly becomes distracting, and (I think) is inappropriate for professional presentations
    • Fade in or simple animations like wipe tend to work better


  • MUST be readable
  • Often graphs made for papers don’t work in presentations; you may need to redo them
  • Use text boxes for labels
  • Make sure axis labels are readable
  • If you will not use the graph, and not talk about it, don’t include it.
  • Rarely should there be more than one graph per slide as they are too hard to read
  • Colors are important to differentiate lines (it is easier to refer to a color) but make sure they are visible. No pale yellow (yellow)


  • Tables made for papers are rarely appropriate for presentations
  • Redo your tables, including only what you want to talk about
  • The font in tables should be at least 20 point (this is 28 point; this is 20 point)
  • Use bright colors to bring attention to key elements of a tables

During the talk

  • Pay attention to the time
    • Don’t spend too much time up front, so you have to rush the conclusions and message
    • Leave plenty of time for questions and suggestions from the audience
    • For a 60 minute presentation, plan on 45 minutes
  • Let the audience know if you want questions during the talk
    • Clarifying questions are always in order
    • But content questions, suggestions and challenges can wait to the end

During the talk (continued)

  • Be flexible
    • Be prepared to skip some slides if things are progressing too slowly
    • Have a couple of extra to lengthen the talk if needed
    • End a few minutes early rather than going too long
  • 60 minute presentations cannot be condensed to a 20 minute talk at a meeting. For short presentations, the point is to convince the audience to read your paper.
  • For 90 minute presentations (norm for job market talks) add more detail, and present key elements of derivation, empirics or whatever to go about minutes.

During the talk (continued)

  • Control the presentation, it is your talk
  • If questions take it off track, move it back on
  • Be prepared to ask people to hold questions to later
  • Be prepared to suggest that you would like to discuss the point with the questioner after the talk


  • Long introductions are almost always a bad idea
    • Save the time for substance
    • Literature reviews are not needed, except perhaps a key citation or two for context
    • The focus of the introduction is your research question, why the question and answer are important, and what your answer will be
  • Don’t be mysterious – let the audience know what you research, what you find, and why, early on in the talk
  • Then, give the substance of how you do it.


  • Identify your main point (finding, importance) and state it up front and succinctly.
  • Repeat your main point, and summarize your findings, at the end.
  • Speak clearly and loudly.
  • Know your audience.
  • Don’t show your back, don’t talk to the screen.
  • Use a laser pointer if you want to refer to a specific place on a slide.
  • Stick to your time limit.
  • Practice several times before the presentation.

Dos (continued)

  • Put an appropriate amount of information on a slide.
  • Use bullet points, not full sentences.
    • Don’t crowd slides.
    • Don’t read slides (see how I violate these rules all the time).
  • Make sure you know how to use the equipment.
  • Get to the #1 important contribution as quickly as possible.
  • Give people time to digest your slides.
  • Listen carefully to questions, but think before answering.
  • Keep presentations and answers simple.


  • Make the motivation too long
  • Have a long literature review
  • Give extensive previews of the results
  • Give useless context
    • If your paper is primarily empirical, skip the theory
    • Do not discuss preliminary or interim results, get to the final results
  • Give an answer to a question if you don’t know it.
  • Speak softly and tentatively.
  • Go over your time limit.