Giving Good Talks

In the fol­low­ing, we give a few hints for prepar­ing and giv­ing a good talk at a sem­i­nar in the Data Management group.​ These also are points to which we pay at­ten­tion when we grade your talk.​ These tips are oriented on the similiar page of the Knowledge Engineering Group.
Your task in the sem­i­nar is to ex­plain the topic that you re­ceived to the par­tic­i­pants of the seminar.​ The topic is typ­i­cal­ly re­lat­ed to a paper, but you should not con­fine your­self to read­ing only this paper, or, con­verse­ly, to pre­sent every de­tail that is dis­cussed in this paper.
Pa­pers are often avail­able on-line.​ Note that the down­load often only works when you are in the uni­ver­si­ty network.​ If you have prob­lem ob­tain­ing a paper, let us know.
A pre­req­ui­site for being able to ex­plain a paper is that you com­pre­hend the paper yourself.​ This is a chal­leng­ing task, re­search pa­pers a gen­er­al­ly writ­ten for other re­searchers in that area who have a lot of prior knowl­edge in the field of the paper.​ You (and the other sem­i­nar par­tic­i­pants) may not have this.​ So in order to un­der­stand the paper you have to do a bit of re­search in order to un­der­stand the ba­sics upon which the paper is built (Hint: Google and Wikipedia are often help­ful, but there is a rea­son why re­search pa­pers refer to other pa­pers when they briefly ex­plain the foun­da­tions of their paper). Sur­vey pa­pers or video tu­to­ri­als are also often good sources of in­for­ma­tion.
Struc­tur­ing your Talk
Once you un­der­stood the paper, you need to pre­pare a presentation.​ If you fol­low the paper para­graph per para­graph and ex­cerpt the most im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion on to the slides, it will prob­a­bly be a bad presentation.​ Try to struc­ture your pre­sen­ta­tion first.​ Maybe it helps if you ask your­self ques­tions like:
  • What is the prob­lem that the au­thors tried to solve in this paper?
  • How does this prob­lem re­late to the topic of the sem­i­nar and to other talks in the sem­i­nar?
  • How can I ex­plain the au­thors’ so­lu­tion in the best way?
  • How did the au­thors demon­strate that the so­lu­tion works?
Also think about how your paper re­lates to the pre­vi­ous talks in the seminar.​ You gen­er­al­ly do not need to ex­plain things in de­tail that have been cov­ered in a pre­vi­ous talk (al­though it might be a good idea to briefly re­mind the au­di­ence).
Prepar­ing your Slides
Good slides should not con­tain too much text.​ The au­di­ence should be able to read the slides while they are lis­ten­ing to you.​ Ideally, the slides should ac­com­pa­ny your talk, i.​e.,​ they should, e.​g.,​ contain fig­ures that il­lus­trate what you say when you talk.
Con­verse­ly, how­ev­er, the slides should also not con­tain too lit­tle text.​ Your fel­low stu­dents should be able to use your slides for try­ing to un­der­stand what your paper was about when they need to pre­pare their pre­sen­ta­tion.
For sim­i­lar rea­sons, it is typ­i­cal­ly not nec­es­sary that you pre­sent elab­o­rate math­e­mat­i­cal proofs if your talk.​ In most cases, it suf­fices if you only pre­sent the key re­sult and the proof idea.​ Try to ab­stract from the math to the con­tent.
Oral Pre­sen­ta­tion
It is, of course, good if you prac­tice your talk, but you should not over­do it.​ If you learn ev­ery­thing by heart, it often makes a very bor­ing talk.​ Converse­ly, do not just read off the slides.​ The slides should ac­com­pa­ny you, but you should talk about the topic.
It is al­ways good to in­volve the au­di­ence in some way (ask­ing ques­tions, etc.​).​
Try to make the pre­sen­ta­tion your own presentation.​ Avoid state­ments like “The au­thors of the paper do/say/claim …​”.​ You need to ex­plain the topic, it is your pre­sen­ta­tion.
Sim­i­lar­ly, talk about the topic, not about the paper.
Dur­ing your talk, you should keep an eye on the time. We do not strict­ly en­force this time limit, so if you are a few min­utes short­er or longer, this is no prob­lem at all (we won’t even no­tice it be­cause we usu­al­ly don’t time the talks). It will be­come a prob­lem if you run con­sid­er­ably over (or under) time, so much that it is not­i­ca­ble with­out a clock.​ If you re­al­ize that you are going much too long, you can also try to skip a few slides in your pre­sen­ta­tion on the fly.
In gen­er­al, it is hard to give a good es­ti­mate of the num­ber of slides that you need be­cause dif­fer­ent peo­ple need dif­fer­ent amounts of time for a sin­gle slide.​ It is, how­ev­er, usu­al­ly a bad idea to have less than a minute per slide be­cause then the au­di­ence can not re­al­ly read it anymore.​
Using Other Ma­te­ri­als
Feel free to use ma­te­ri­als other than those given to you with the paper.​ If you find videos, pic­tures, even a dif­fer­ent pre­sen­ta­tion on the topic on the Web, fine, you can use and adapt it to your needs.​ However, you must ac­knowl­edge all sources that you used ei­ther di­rect­ly on the slides (typ­i­cal­ly for fig­ures, ta­bles, videos, etc.​) or at the end of the slides (typ­i­cal­ly for ad­di­tion­al pa­pers or pre­sen­ta­tions that you used, etc.​).​
Need­less to say, in the end, it should still be your pre­sen­ta­tion, and not you talk­ing about some­body else’s pre­sen­ta­tion.
An­swer­ing Ques­tions
You must be able to an­swer ques­tions to all as­pects of your presentation.​ If you write some­thing on your slides, you must be able to ex­plain it.​ If you don’t un­der­stand a sen­tence you write on the slides, you should be alarmed.​ Pay par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion to fig­ures you in­clude (do you un­der­stand what they say, can you ex­plain all as­pects, do you know what the axes of the graph mean, etc.​).​
“The au­thors did not ex­plain this in the paper” is a very bad an­swer to a question.​ It typ­i­cal­ly means “I did not try hard enough to un­der­stand this.​”.​
Con­tact­ing the Or­ga­niz­ers
It is not re­quired that you con­tact the or­ga­niz­ers of the sem­i­nar prior to your talk, and most stu­dents don’t.​ However, you may, of course ask them for as­sis­tance if you don’t un­der­stand as­pects of the paper, want feed­back on your slides, etc.​ In this case, con­tact them per E-mail (there is typ­i­cal­ly a con­tact ad­dress spec­i­fied on the sem­i­nar page) early and ex­plain the prob­lem so that they can pre­pare an answer.​ Note that they may need some time for that be­cause they may also not know the an­swer off-hand.
Get­ting Feed­back on your Talk
At the point of this writ­ing, we do not give much feed­back on your talk dur­ing the sem­i­nar, be­cause we do not want to dis­cuss the per­for­mance of a stu­dent in front of other stu­dents (in par­tic­u­lar if the per­for­mance was bad). How­ev­er, based on feed­back that we re­ceived, we may change this in the fu­ture.
In any case, you are very wel­come of ask for feed­back in pri­vate, e.​g.,​ by talk­ing to or­ga­niz­ers im­me­di­ate­ly after your talk or in their speak­ing hours.