Monday, July 21, 2008

Science Talks

I have watched a great number of scientific talks in my life. Probably 90% needed this advice:

The technical person wants to give a highly limited technical talk. Most of the time the audience wants a broad general talk and wants much more survey and background than the speaker is willing to give. As a result, many talks are ineffective. The speaker names a topic and suddenly plunges into the details he's solved. Few people in the audience may follow. You should paint a general picture to say why it's important, and then slowly give a sketch of what was done. Then a larger number of people will say, "Yes, Joe has done that," or "Mary has done that; I really see where it is; yes, Mary really gave a good talk; I understand what Mary has done." The tendency is to give a highly restricted, safe talk; this is usually ineffective. Furthermore, many talks are filled with far too much information. So I say this idea of selling is obvious.


Jamie said...

I think it really depends who you are talking to. Talks definitely can get to technical (and by that I usually mean that they are over my head). But if you're talking to researchers in the field I think more technical is often better. Sometimes I hear lots of background and see results, but I am left wondering just how good the results are or how to interpret them because the presenter didn't tell me the "details" of what went into getting them such as exactly which methods were used, which assumptions were made, and what the limitations are (and there are always assumptions and limitation, at least in my field.) I went to a conference last month where this was exactly the problem, and it drove me crazy.

On the other hand, if you're talking to the general public, I agree that too much technical information can put people to sleep.

glmory said...

I guess the problem is that when people are talking to an entire department, they assume everyone is in their little branch of the field. Rarely have I seen a talk given to an entire department have too much background information.