Tips on preparing a good talk

I’m not an expert, and this is not a guide. Its just a collection of things I’ve found useful while preparing for talks. Feel free to improve, or disregard. Most of tips are meant to be for short talks (15-25 min), but might apply for longer talks as well. I hope you’ll find some of them useful. For some more serious material, take a look at [[|Presentation Zen]].

* **Memorize the first slide**: When giving a short talk, its //crucial// to make a confident start. In a short talk, you don’t have the luxury to go impromptu. Improvising is good, and often necessary, but atleast for the first (even the first few) slides, I’ve found it extremely useful to just memorize exactly what I’m going to say. As they say, well begun is half done!
* **Write down important points for each slide**: For all the other slides, jot down a bullet list of the points you want to make on that slide. Make the bullets chronological, so you know what follows what. Make sure each point leads naturally to the other, and if not, that you have appropriate segues in place.
* **Keep going back to the big picture**: Remember, the goal of your talk is to tell some story. Make sure you go back to the original picture. This reminds your audience not to get lost into details, and it helps you to remain focused.
* **Work on slide transitions**: Make sure your story is smooth. Set things up, pull in context. Tell the audience where you’re going, so they know what to expect. Slide transitions should not be jarring (and I don’t mean the slide transition “effects” — use them if you want, but sparingly. I’m not a big fan.)
* **Make sure your slides look good**: I can’t emphasize how important this is. People often think that content is everything. When you’re talking to a niche audience, you can probably pull off a good talk with just the right content. But when talking to a general audience, people who are not already familiar with you or your work, its very difficult to hold their attention. Making aesthetically pleasing slides will improve your chances, and atleast it won’t put off audiences in the first slide itself. And please, avoid using those standard powerpoint templates. I think KeyNote has some really good templates. I use [[|Beamer]] for my talks (more on beamer in another post).
* **Be enthusiastic**: If you don’t look interested in your talk, how can you expect the audience to be? Speak with conviction and enthusiasm. Don’t be dramatic, but be animated. Avoid speaking in a dull, monotonous manner.
* **Make people outside your area hear you talk**: Often times when making slides, you are so familiar with the material yourself that you may not realize that you are presuming that the audience knows something already. Know your audience. Give your talk to people outside your area — it’ll give you some outside perspective and help you clarify points you thought would have been obvious.
* **Have backup slides**: Its good to have some back up slides, in case you’re actually running under time. Or if someone asks you a question — its a lot more convincing when you have a slide or a bullet point ready to address someone’s concern.
* **Anticipate questions**: Prepare for questions. Think of all the obvious things people might ask and be ready with crisp, concise answers for them. Often times at the end of a talk, the speaker will spend 5 min trying to answer a question, but will end up beating around the bush and never really coming to the point. Anticipating the questions will save you valuable time and the audience will come out thinking that you’ve thought things through and that you know what you’re talking about.
* **Practice, practice, practice**: Finally, practice over and over again. You know when to stop when you know what slide is going to come next and words come naturally without having to really think. All of the really good speakers I’ve talked to so far say that even they have to practice their talks many times over. You might get by without practice if you’re a great orator, but more practice doesn’t really hurt.

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