Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Conference Talks, Great Success!

'Tis the Season for stitching up the last year of your life, making a few key graphics, and tossing them into a (presumably) 30-minute talk to inform and entertain your colleagues. That's right, Summer Seminar Vacation!

But wait - will your message come through? Will I, as an informed audience member, walk out of the auditorium singing your praises, or desperately fighting off Morpheus?

I'd rather watch this grow all day than listen to certain speakers again...

Without further ado, I'd like to capture some honest feedback, both given and received, that I'll call the "Summer Talk Axioms." Certainly, nothing is new under the sun: I tread in tracks left by Derek, Chemjobber, Fabian, ChemBark, and many other sage counselors. I question only that, given these many posts (and more sure to come), how has the message has not percolated into the community faster? 

Anyway, to the meat of it:
  • Help me learn: What are the big takeaways? Why did you do them, and how? If you were forced to deliver this same talk in 2 minutes, could you do it, while maintaining understanding in your listener? That's a tough benchmark!
  • Timing: For the love of all that is holy, please do not attempt to deliver a 50-minute "pre-fab" slide deck inside of 30 minutes. Ditto a 30-minute deck inside a 15-minute lightning talk. If you are switching slides every 20 seconds, it's nigh impossible for your poor audience to keep up...
  • Engagement: Stop every few minutes to look someone in the eye. Tell a joke. Modulate your voice. Take a drink of water to let a point sink in. Presentation skills belong to that witches' brew of soft skills and social norms blended with (some) content. Often, we listeners engage more with the person and their body language in place of the content.
  • Tell a story. One. Not multiple vignettes of seemingly unrelated threads. Present a logical whole.
  • Don't repeat "this is exciting!" If you have to reinforce this, your content almost surely isn't.
  • Know your time, and practice delivery. As a hint, you're probably over time when the audience begins to check their phones. Or mutters. Leaves for cigarette and bathroom breaks. A good talk has a clear beginning, middle, and end, and has distinct landmarks for major points and applause / recognition. Know yours.
  • Proofread. Ask someone who loves you to proofread. Ask someone who hates you to proofread. Proofread. Proofread. Especially embarrassing - misspelled titles!
  • The four "Thank-Yous" - Thank your host for introducing you. Thank the organizers / school / company for the opportunity to visit. Thank your group, coworkers, or boss for their collegiality. And thank the audience for listening. This goes a very, very long way.
  • Answer questions succinctly. Two or three sentences, and a promise to follow up after the talk, should be sufficient. Anything more holds the other 99% of your audience captive, while you dig through back-up slides and comment about long-departed group members. 

Your talk was nice. Very nice. Great success!

Readers, I'm sure I've missed some, and welcome any input in the comments. 
Happy Summer!