How to give a research talk

Slides for a talk that outlines these points can be found here.


Tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end.

Follow the one-two-three rule:

  1. Have one idea per slide.
  2. Plan on taking two minutes per slide. Extra slides indicate unpreparedness.
  3. The audience at any talk can be expected to retain only three things. Structure your talk by asking yourself: \"What are the three things I want the audience to remember?\" Work backwards from the message(s) to the talk.

Outlines allow you to connect the parts of a talk together. Start with an outline. Repeat the outline after each section of the talk

Impact is inversely proportional to word count.

  • \"Words on presentation slides are a very good idea, but only when the audience is deaf.\" Bill Cowan

Take pity on the audience: use friendly fonts and colours.

Never show tables full of numbers. Always strive to use graphs and charts to display quantitative information.

Typos reflect poorly on you.

Always start with a compelling example. Use running examples if possible.

Avoid colloquialisms.

Avoid the use of themes and unnecessary graphics because it is distracting (a tip from my former student, Usman Ismail).

Tell the audience about related and past work.

Showcase your contributions.

Highlight insights and experiences: the story behind the work is often as compelling than the work itself.


Talk to the audience, not the screen.

Never read from notes.

Audiences can rarely understand a formula in real time. Walk them through it.

Speak slowly and clearly.

Respect questioners. Take time to understand a question: don't answer before the questioner ends.

It's your talk! Defer difficult questions to the end or offline.

Practice your talk.

If you are using a laptop, arrive early so that you can verify that the projector and the laptop work together before you take the stage.

  • Carry a copy of your talk on a memory card, just in case

Bring a pointer with you

Turn off your cell phone and IM client before you start the talk

A little humour goes a long way! Use when appropriate.

End on time!

Additional rules for NDS Seminar speakers

  • Limit presentations to 30 minutes, corresponding to roughly 15 slides
  • The meeting time slot will be 45 min, with a hard stop at 1 hour

Attending talks

  • Take detailed notes at meetings and lectures. Your mind is more unreliable than you think.
  • Attend talks in all areas of research - you never know if it may turn out to be relevant.
  • Ask questions at talks. It keeps you from sleeping.