How to give a great research talk

Here is a summary (read: notes) on the talk given by John Krumm and three other researchers from Microsoft Research back in 2007.

This video gives a good overview about the things which make up a great talk. The Q&A at the end also has a good set of points which are beneficial. It is given by four researchers including John; each speak for approx. 10 minutes. Target audience is a group of researchers working at Microsoft. So, its good for experienced researchers too.

John Krumm starts with why is it important to give a good research talk; goes on to talk about what to say, how to say it, how to chair a session (9th minute) and how to end a talk. Important takeaway: practice; make good eye contact. Definitely listen to his talk in this video.

The second speaker (Patrick) talks about the importance of visuals. Important takeaways: use images/demo/videos in the beginning of the talk, use one image per slide to show related work, use images from the paper to explain concept and use visual tricks to emphasize most important things in an image and make sure you have some interesting takeaway to give e.g. something for the audience to think/learn from the talk. If you don’t want to go through his entire talk, skip to the 25th minute; he gives a summary of all the important points.

The third speaker (Rick) (from the 30th minute) talks about visuals from a different perspective. To illustrate, he uses one of his talks from a conference he presented. I skipped the beginning of his talk since I didn’t find anything useful but listen to the Q&A for his session. Some takeaways: acknowledge your collaborators in the first slide. Important thing to note: He is a great speaker. Notice the way he organizes his speech, keeps a balance and the manner in which he speaks.

The fourth speaker (Mary) (from the 45th minute) gives a list of pointers to keep in mind when giving a talk. She starts with the need to have stellar results to talk about, practical implications of the work being presented; she also gives some tips to prepare for rude Q&A (52th minute)Important takeaway: practice! practice! practice!; proper voice projection; good eye contact; be energetic; good body language; good body posture and balance; prepare for the worst – get questions from the people to whom you give your practice talks.

Some key questions from the Q&A at the End:  What is the difference between job talk and conference talk? (from 57th minute) When to memorize and when not to? There are other good ones too. So be sure to listen to them.

Lastly, pick up tips from all the speakers – from the way they give this talk on “giving a great talk”! 😀


Advice to a Young Scientist – E.W. Dijkstra

Here are some of the most inspiring quotes from “Advice to a Young Scientist” by E.W.D:

  •  Raise your standards as high as you can live with, avoid wasting your time on routine problems, and always try to work as closely as possible at the boundary of your abilities. Do this because it is the only way of discovering how that boundary should be moved forward. (Rule 1)
  • We all like our work to be socially relevant and scientifically sound. If we can find a topic satisfying both desires, we are lucky; if the two targets are in conflict with each other, let the requirement of scientific soundness prevail. (Rule 2)
  • Never tackle a problem of which you can be pretty sure that (now or in the near future) it will be tackled by others who are, in relation to that problem, at least as competent and well-equipped as you are. (Rule 3)
  •  Write as if your work is going to be studied by a thousand people.
  • Don’t get enamored with the complexities you have learned to live with (be they of your own making or imported). The lurking suspicion that something could be simplified is the world’s richest source of rewarding challenges.
  • Before embarking on an ambitious project, try to kill it.
  • Remember that research with a big R is rarely mission-oriented and plan in terms of decades, not years. Resist all pressure —be it financial or cultural— to do work that is of ephemeral significance at best.
  • Don’t strive for recognition (in whatever form): recognition should not be your goal, but a symptom that your work has been worthwhile.
  • Avoid involvement in projects so vague that their failure could remain invisible: such involvement tends to corrupt one’s scientific integrity.
  • Striving for perfection is ultimately the only justification for the academic enterprise; if you don’t feel comfortable with this goal —e.g. because you think it too presumptuous— stay out!

Original PDF

The first three points are also The Three Golden Rules for Successful Scientific Research.