Monday, March 25, 2013

Hawker's Talk Secrets

"My Chemical Romance Calls it Quits"
"My Chemical Romance, In Memoriam"
"My Chemical Romance Break Up"

Never fear, dear readers: My 'chemical romance' continues unabated...[rimshot]

At the risk of sounding like a lounge act, I realize that clear communication supports good relationships. So, apparently, does Craig Hawker, an accomplished polymer scientist at UCSB. I've seen him present a few times; the man gives one hell of a talk!

This month, he shares his secrets with you courtesy of a (free!) Angewandte Chemie editorial. Building off the success of Whitesides' essay "Writing a Paper", Hawker points out a crucial difference:
"While a publication can be read again and again, a presentation is over immediately. Therefore, the rules for writing a publication differ from those for preparing a presentation."
Amen! We've all attended deadly discourse disasters: The 9AM conference sleeper. The 4PM no coffee, no snack, sotto voce speaker with tiny font. The don't-stop-for-questions local section dinner meeting. All tragic wastes of opportunity.

"Chemistry? Chemistry? Chemistry? Chemistry?"
Source: Ferris Bueller's Day Off
So, how can we improve?

Hawker offers several simple pointers, divvied up into two major sections ("The Slides" and "The Talk"). For slides, he argues clarity, simplification, and increasing "signal-to-noise" improves the amount of useful information instilled in the audience.

For speech, Hawker advocates skills that would play well in any concert hall: Practice. Engage with the audience, which includes eye contact and interaction. Project confidence. Modulate your voice, and know when to make use of silence.

Most importantly, argues Hawker, we must solicit active feedback. Like late NYC mayor Ed Koch, ask your audience "How'm I doin'?" An honest answer here may sting, but will help you to improve for next time.


  1. It's always refreshing when a top notch chemist can also deliver a great talk. This seems to be a common trait of many of those who passed through Frechet's group, but I'm not sure which came first.

    Giving a stellar talk is such a seemingly underrated skill and something the entire scientific community could do a lot better with, so it's nice to see attention brought to it.

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