There are three rules about choosing great investments in real estate (Location, 3x)… Similarly, there are three rules about prepping for giving a great talk….
You must practice public speaking in order to be good at it. A few people (and I mean VERY few), are gifted with public speaking and require less practice than the rest of us… but don’t go on a job interview assuming you are one of them.
Now, when I say practice I don’t mean mumbling to yourself in front of the mirror at the last minute. I mean stand up in an auditorium or conference room and give the talk from start to finish, several times, AND WITHOUT READING FROM NOTES. Everything you want to cover is on your slides- you should not need to read from anywhere, notes or slides.
Practicing out loud and for real will help you develop the transitions and the lead-ins from slide to slide, and timing your practices will give you an idea whether you have to little or too much material for the time allowed. Start your practicing far enough in advance so that slides can be changed and things can be adjusted to fit the allotted time, or to improve content etc. Get yourself an audience in your advisor (or someone that you really trust and whose public speaking ability you admire), or labmates, or offer to give lab meeting/data club/ seminar in the department etc to get- If you do this in a small venue- like for a couple of labmates- invite them to keep a list of things they think could be improved on your slides and also in your presenting style. Go over their points one by one at the end of your presentation. This process of constructive criticism can sometimes be difficult on your ego, time consuming, and you may have a tendency to be defensive- mostly because you are honestly nervous and want to do a great job. I recently listened to a student giving a practice talk- and she was so nervous and upset by my constructive advice that she started crying and couldn’t finish the presentation. This would be the time to take a deep breath, lose that defensiveness, listen to those that are trying to help you, and GO FOR BROKE.
Now, I know some of you will say- that practicing too much may make your presentation sound rehearsed. But- to this I say I have almost never heard a talk where I thought that the presenter practiced too much, but I FREQUENTLY hear talks where its obvious that the presenter didn’t bother to practice or wasn’t practicing effectively. So I think the overwhelming message here is that yes, don’t memorize the script and deliver it without some spontaneity- but you will be more confident and give a more fluid and put-together presentation in front of a ‘foreign’ audience if you practice on your home court.
A short list of additional hints to do and not to do:
1. For additional practice – when you can’t do the auditorium (like during long flights, or in hotel rooms, print out a copy of your presentation with 1 slide per page. Staple these together, and take along- now you are ready to practice anywhere…
2. NO READING FROM NOTES, during presentation or practice.
3. Do not deliver your talk in monotone. This will be difficult because you will be nervous- but speaking in a monotone is a quick way to lose your audience.
4. Look at the audience, don’t be so absorbed in your own slides that you don’t interact with your listeners by making eye contact with them.
5. When you actually deliver the talk – first, thank the search committee for inviting you- this should be obvious.
6. Do not begin the science part of your presentation by saying your name, institution, and reading the title of your talk off the first slide. This is the most boring way to begin a talk.
7. Do begin the science part of your talk by showing your enthusiasm/insight into the area you work on- I like to start with something like ‘I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to work on XYZ… this is a fascinating area to me because …’ insert your reason of choice…. or even better ‘I have been fortunate to work on XYZ… this is a fascinating area because (insert reason relevant to the field)’ …You don’t have to use my gimmick… think of your own, but don’t waste a moment to get the audience attention!
8. Memorize what you will say for the first 3-4 slides. Learn it cold; recite it before you fall asleep at night. Many of us get nervous/tongue tied in front of an audience- and having a script for just the first couple of slides will get you rolling long enough to find your rhythm and get over the initial jitters.
9. For data slides, remember to explain briefly the details of each experiment, rather than just jumping straight into the results…
10. Use the laser pointer, but use it sparingly- NO SWIRLING THAT THING ALL OVER THE SLIDE..please. Use it to make your point without making your audience dizzy (Unbalanced reaction- thanks for reminding me about this!)!
Other posts and resources:
Physioprof posted on Job Talks previously at the old Drug Monkey site…
Giving an academic job talk was also covered in the Chronicle of Higher Education….