The art…and science…of the presentation

Giving a presentation isn’t always pleasant. Believe me, I know. But I think there are ways to make doing it a lot more comfortable, and even enjoyable with a little practice. If not for you, at least for your audience.

Naturally, the Internet is filled with advice on how to present more effectively. What I’m sharing here could be useful as you begin thinking about and preparing your Unit 1 presentation.

I love this old, comprehensive, but not dated piece about giving good talks by a UW-Madison math professor (Jordan Ellenberg). It’s largely geared toward longer math talks than the three-minute innovation-based presentation you’ll be giving for this assignment, but so much of what it suggests is useful. This advice is particularly all-purpose:

Tell a story. At the beginning of your talk you should mention some topic, problem, or theorem that everyone will agree is interesting. Your goal is to present a question to which the audience will want to know the answer; this provides suspense. You then satisfy the audience by providing the answer, or providing a partial answer, or providing the answer to an analogous question. . .

This piece is geared toward grad students, which many of you soon will be. One of the things I like about it is its emphasis on preparation:

Keep the audience in mind as you prepare. To do this, ask yourself three questions.

  1. What do I want them to know/do by the end of my talk?
  2. What do they already know about my topic?
  3. What does this have to do with them in particular?

These simple but pointed questions go a long way toward effective presenting.

Now, about the weirdness of recording yourself and hearing your own voice: you’re not the only one who feels this way; in fact, it’s scientifically proven to be weird. That’s one of the major reasons we’re practicing this as an assignment. You’ll be a bit more accustomed to the weirdness each time you do it.


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