I think I have posted several times something on story telling. I just saw this short video on youtube on story telling by Robert McKee (see his famous book). McKee is a screenwriter and consultant on basically anything involving teaching people to become better communicators primarily through story telling. I just wish in academia there was more story tellers…
Archive for the ‘Presentation Tips’ Category
Category Presentation Tips, Presentations, Research
John Cochrane of the University of Chicago wrote a brilliant advice paper to PhD student few years ago. The paper should be read religiously by all PhD research students. The section on seminar presentations (section 4) covers short and sweet guidelines to increase the probability of success when it comes to presentations. It may be incomplete on various presentation aspects but nonetheless one of the best place to start thinking and structuring your presentations. Below I copy/paste the section 4 of the paper (page 11–12). Read it carefully… it is not long!
4 Seminar presentations
You will not believe how fast the time will go by.
Since time is limited, it’s especially important to get to the point. We can’t skim to the
important stuﬀ in a seminar!
You don’t need any literature review or motivation in a seminar. Just get to the point.
Gene Fama usually starts his seminars with “Look at table 1.” That’s a good model to
Don’t “preview” results. It wastes time; why say it twice rather than say it once, right?
Don’t make slides with a bullet point for every word you intend to say. This forces you
into a preplanned order, and then you can’t change on the ﬂy when you ﬁgure out how fast
time is going by. Slides are ﬁne that only contain equations, tables and graphs — things
we really need to see. At most use words for the one or two really important things you
want people to know, e.g. “Identiﬁcation: interest rates do not respond to ﬁscal shocks in the Ricardian model.” Also, you want people to remember the structure of the model, deﬁnitions of variables, etc. If you have too much junk on the slides, people can’t see the utility function while you’re talking about the production function, so they get lost. People don’t remember equations from one slide to the next.
You have to leave slides up for a decent amount of time in order for people to digest
them. That means you will not be able to put up 1 slide per minute!
As in writing the paper, your main objective is to get to the #1 important contribution
as fast as possible.
Most seminars are a disaster. They start with pointless motivation and policy implications, which the audience can’t follow since we don’t know the result. Then we get a long
literature review, which is even more boring since we don’t know the point of this paper
much less what everyone else did. Then we get a results preview. Usually, the presenter says “I’ll preview the results now because I may not have time to get to them all,” a strangely self-fulﬁlling prophecy. Since showing the main results is the only reason you came, why not just start right now! Worse, the reason we run out of time is because we wasted half an hour on the stupid preview! The seminar then bogs down as people start asking questions about the previewed results; most of the questions are dumb (“I measure the demand elasticity at 0.3.” “But how did you identify supply shifts?”) since they will be explained in a proper presentation of the results. But the questions are totally reasonable since the claim with no documentation is meaningless. Next, we get (in empirical papers) some “theory” that is really beside the point and only serves to provoke more needless argument (no, there really is no way to distinguish the “behavioral” and “rational” explanation. Clever audience members will come up with stories that reverse all the signs.) Then we get some distracting preliminary results and tables and graphs of unrelated observations. More pointless discussion erupts; people don’t know what point the speaker is trying to make and the discussion goes oﬀ in to tangents. Finally the speaker sees there is only 10 minutes to go, tells people to be quiet, and the main results go by in a big rush. Everyone is tired and confused and doesn’t follow anything. I timed the ﬁnance workshop last winter quarter and not one paper got to the main results in under an hour!
Listen to the questions, all the way to the end, then count to three before answering.
Yes, you’re in a rush, and yes, you think you can guess what the question will be and you
know the answer. This isn’t a game show, and much of the time you actually don’t know
what the question will be.
Keep a sheet of paper handy. You may not have a quick answer to every question, and
some questions may point to good things to change in the paper.
You cannot make it too simple. Most presenters, especially Ph. D. students overestimate
dramatically how much theory people can digest in one sitting, and how quickly they can
memorize and digest models and results.
Speak loudly, slowly and clearly.
There’s nothing wrong with ending early!*
* I bolded the last line… and not John Cochrane. Finishing earlier does not kill anyone.
Unless you have to do a speech of something like 30min or more (with no slides), please but please avoid the podium! If you are presenting with slides, the audience expect you to move around. If you stay behind the podium, we have the impression that you are hiding something or you are just simply uncomfortable to stand in front of people.
Category Education, Presentation Tips, Presentations
I’ve seen many academic presentation in the past and now many as a phd student and there are few (if not many) things that annoys the crap out of me about presentations. I’ve decided to start a new “section” on the site on how to improve your presentation skills. I am not the best presenter in the world but I always want to continuously improve my skills. For those who wish to improve their presentation content and delivery, you may want to drastically change everything you do or gradually improve step by step (certainly for the risk-averse academic environment). I suggest you to start with this simple tip…Here’s tip #1:
Never use any powerpoint or other softwares’ templates
(except for a simple color background like “gradient” in Keynote which I like to use)
Why? Because, for some reason, presenters, like to fill in all the useless components of the template such as: slide number, name of the author(s) at the bottom of every slides, and having the school (or company) logo on all the slides! Also, templates tend to come with fancy and unimportant design. All this adds some noise to your visual aids! I have made a sample presentation design that looks extremely familiar to what we see in academia:
1) We have all seen this terrible template. The color boxes are useless. Why are there any boxes in the first place? That middle circle is pointless (in fact its often use for the slide number).
2) Having the slide number at the bottom of each slide is again useless. Presentations with slide number (out of the total slide number — e.g. 5/55) only allows the audience to gauge how long there is left to the pain at sitting in front of someone reading their slides. Even if the presenter is good — what’s the point of slide numbers anyways?
3) On the second slide, why the hell do presenters like to put their name, their institution, and often the conference name at the bottom of each slides! First, we all know the name of the presenter(s) and the institution from the title slide — if we don’t, we will refer to the paper that the author(s) is presenting (the audience normally has a copy). At last, the people in the audience know which conference they are attending. It is OK to mention it on the first slide but even that — the audience hopefully know where they are.
Get rid of the noise with simple slides like these ones: