Winter Quarter 2019

Perspectives in Assistive Technology


David L. Jaffe, MS
Lathrop Library, Classroom 282
Tuesdays & Thursdays from 4:30pm to 5:50pm

back to homepage

Presentation Tips

There is no one right way to give a talk, but learning from other people’s experiences can save you much time and trouble. What follows are some points to keep in mind whenever you’re going to talk with other people about your work. It’s a distillation of a lot of experience - from other faculty, from other students, and from me.
Dr Joyce Moser -

I. Introduction - The Road Map

  • The introduction is the first thing your audience hears, but it is often is the last thing you will pull together. You need to be at home enough with the materials first so that you can decide which elements you are going to include.

  • The most important part of your introduction is the road map, which identifies those elements. It’s generally harder for people to remember what they hear than what they read, and the road map compensates for the differences by signposting what’s coming up next. You will have an extremely receptive and empathetic audience in this class, but they still need the headsup from you on your presentation.

  • To do a good road map you should be more explicit than you think you really need to be. If there are two or three topics, say so, If there are several areas and you’re only addressing some of them, say so. This is at least as much for you as for your audience - once you can do the road map it means that you yourself know what you’re doing. The reverse is also true.

  • Having said that, there are a lot of different ways to start a talk - a question, an anecdote, a surprising fact, a photograph, an image, a question, a joke if you are brave, etc. You can also start by saying, “My topic is x and what I’m going to talk about is abc.”

II. Reality Principles

  • You will never get everything you want to into your presentation. This is possibly the most important thing you can learn, not only for this special presentation but for all the other you will give in your career. It is the least popular advice I give because the more you know, the more invested you are in the material, and the more you will want to tell people about it. But editing yourself is the biggest single difference between a good talk and a not-good talk.

  • You’re the teacher. That means you get to decide what you want your listeners to take away from your presentation. In this case you are speaking to your peers on a subject of mutual interest, but everyone will be presenting a particular part of a much larger story.

  • Here are some criteria to help you decide what to include and what to leave out: What is most interesting to you? What do you really want your audience to learn? What is critical information?

  • For future reference, no matter who your audience is, never condescend to anyone; a person can be totally ignorant about your field and still be very smart. So generally speaking, if there is background they doesn’t have and needs in order to appreciate what you’re getting at, give it as briefly as you can.

III. Looking Good

  • Have notes that you can use as prompts, so you can look at your audience. Whatever form your notes take - index cards, regular paper, etc. - matters less that the fact that they need to be legible to you. Print or type in big letters, and double or triple space so you can just glance down and know where you are. Number and staple pages.

  • Good Illustrations are great; bad ones are worse than nothing - much worse. Illustrations condense information in a visually attractive way; they break up text; they come in a lot of different forms—not only technical information, but paintings, photographs, and any other visual. If the images you choose are is very rich in information, you need to explain more, or zoom in on what part of your slide you want everyone to focus on, or simplify the graphics. Please remember to subtract your explanation time from the total time you have for your talk.

  • Just in case, consider printing out copies of your PowerPoint slides.

  • Speaking of PowerPoint - Do beautiful, clear PowerPoint. You already have inherently attractive material, so don’t get in its way. You’ve seen enough bad examples to know what to avoid: too many slides; way too much type (your audience will try bravely to read all of it and meanwhile they won’t be listening to you); bizarre type; slides that are hard to see; colors that give your viewers a headache; graphics of any kind that are visually too complicated or take forever to explain; cute but irrelevant applications, like the laugh track or the applause track (no kidding); illustrations that have nothing to do with anything but you like them; Grand Theft Auto sound effects, etc.

  • Don’t memorize your presentation. You don’t have to say it precisely the way you rehearsed it and if you gave the same talk ten times it would be different each time anyway.

  • Parenthetically, having all of your text on your laptop can keep you from connecting with your audience and if you are reading your notes off your laptop, your audience will be looking at the top of your head instead of seeing your eyes.

  • Keep sentences shorter than you might in a written version, for the same reason that you spell out clearly what you are going to do; your audience won’t be able to remember a lot of long clauses or paragraphs.

  • Even in a short talk, you need to remind your audience of what you just did and what’s coming next. When you finish the first point, let your listeners know that you did, and that now you’re going on to the second point. Sign posting for them will help them remember what you want them to remember.

IV. Practice Makes Perfect, or at Least Pretty Good

  • You need to practice out loud - for many reasons: you have no idea how much time passes when you’re speaking, and you don’t know how you sound, if you’re talking very fast, if you left out something important whose absence would confuse people, if you are unconsciously doing something distracting, like rocking all the time, etc.

  • If you suspect that you say “like” or “you know” or some other variety of Valley Speak every few seconds, or you’re not sure, practicing seriously with someone else will alert you; informality is fine but verbal tics are distracting to your listeners.

V. Being a Professional

  • Stay within the time limits; they are a huge help to you because they tell you how many or how few points you can make. When you know you have, for example, 8 minutes, including your opening and closing, you have to get into the material immediately, and that you can only raise a couple of points in any depth. 15 minutes is a good standard length for a talk and it gives you more time, which you may use it to address an extra area or go more into depth on one or two areas.

  • Time limits force you to choose and doing that will stand you in good stead in every job you do. There is no field in which running over your time works to your advantage professionally.

  • If you forget everything else, this is the big cliché but it’s also really good advice.
    Tell them what you're going to tell them.
    Tell them.
    Tell them what you told them.

"I’m not as committed to this last point as I used to be; your closing could include what surprised you, where you think research might go next, etc."

Updated 08/14/2018

back to homepage