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Professor Fisher's notes for giving a technical presentation

Some advice for graduate students to think about when preparing a technical presentation for a conference, class presentation, or defense. There is of course no one perfect way to give a presentation, but there are basic steps that must be considered when preparing such a presentation:

  1. always cite/reference pictures that you've taken from the literature or another source on the slide that they appear (VERY IMPORTANT). You do not want someone in the audience thinking that you have 'stolen' their work. References should be included on the slide where the information is, and not on one general 'References' slide at the end

  2. never read off an entire slide.

  3. practice, practice, practice! Especially those parts of the talk that are more difficult and which you might tend to 'stumble' through. Slides that need to be smooth/quick need to be smooth/quick!

  4. be extremely cognizant of time. It is NOT ACCEPTABLE to run over under any circumstances. When I see talks that are too long I immediately know that a) the speaker has not appropriately practiced and timed their talk, and b) the speaker was not able to decide what the most important topic of the talk. A general rule of thumb is 1 slide per minutes, although I usually have a few more as I usually go through some slides (title, outline, intro) very quickly.

  5. when you give a talk, you should be talking about things that you know at the appropriate level of detail. Be VERY careful (and limited) in discussing things that are outside of your knowledge. If you don't feel comfortable describing something, and you feel that it is a important concept related to the talk, then you need to do your homework so that you properly understanding the topic

  6. when preparing your talk, consider what the one or two most important parts of your talk are. What do you want the speaker to know/remember from your talk? The object of your talk is then to get these points across

  7. Consider your audience and venue when preparing your talk. What might be appropriate for one audience may not be appropriate for another. From my own work, am I talking to an audience of Mech. Engs? Materials Scientists? Do I think that they are familiar with my area? What is the purpose of my talk? A general approach: the first 15% of the talk should be at a level that most (if not all) of the audience can follow. What am I talking about in general terms? Why it is important? What is my general approach? As I move on the details become more specific and (if the audience is very diverse) fewer people may really be able to deeply comprehend. If I am clear hopefully others can follow and are learning something new. Eventually I will get to a point in my talk that is very detailed, and only a few people in the audience will completely understand. As a I wrap up the talk, I summarize what is important at a level that more people can understand.




Nanomechanics and Nanomaterials Laboratory
Professor Frank Fisher
Department of Mechanical Engineering
Stevens Institute of Technology
Hoboken, NJ 07030

last update: June 9, 2009
for more information, contact: Professor Frank Fisher, Department of Mechanical Engineering