Lehre der Arbeitsgruppe
Advice for Seminar Talks
You want your audience to be interested in what you say. In order to achieve that, you will have to present the contents (e.g. a presumably complex article) in a short, concise, and comprehensible form. The challenge is to convey enthusiasm for the topic, while remaining scientifically correct. Focus on the "headlines" of the article. Use a limited number of clear examples to make your point. Do not send the audience to sleep by swamping them with detail.
Be aware of the time limit (e.g., 15 or 20 min). To finish your talk within the time limit requires careful preparation and makes it necessary to practice your talk in advance. In front of an audience, a talk usually lasts longer than planned. Hence, trim your talk to last 15 min when you aim for 20 min. Talks should have a clear structure to facilitate understanding of scientific details. We recommend the following structure:
Introduction: conceptual background ("why is this interesting?") (can be short) Hypotheses or research objectives (can be short)
Materials and methods (only what is needed to understand the results - no details) (must be short)
Results (can be long)
Discussion ("were the expectations met?", "what are the alternative explanations?", "are more experiments needed?") (can be long)
Conclusions/Summary (a catchy "bottom line") (very short)
It may be useful to present a "list of contents" at the beginning of the talk. Slides should not be overloaded, neither with text nor graphics. If they are, then the audience will pay no attention to the speaker, but instead focus on understanding all the little details on the slides. As a consequence, they will simply ignore you!
Write no sentences, only headlines. The golden rule is: one line per statement!
Use symbols to shorten your statement. Example: Do not write "Males have smaller brains than females during the reproductive season" but "Brain size: males < females (summer)". Use figures if possible and tables if necessary to present complex data. Keep graphs simple. Take out the detail that you are not going to mention during your talk.
To facilitate reading, use a large and clear font (e.g. Times New Roman or Arial; size for main title: 36-40; subtitles: 28-32; text: 20-24) Only use colours and animation when they contribute to clarity. Avoid a "busy" lay-out that distracts the audience. If you show scanned figures, make sure the resolution is ok (for a beamer minimum 1024 pixels width and 768 pixels height).
Plan short breaks in your talk by throwing in a joke, or by simply waiting a few seconds. This allows everyone to take a deep breath to go on.
Make sure that you have a watch in view (not on your wrist) The chairman/woman shall interrupt your talk when the time limit is over (either 15 or 20 min)! Speak loud and clearly. Face the audience rather than the screen or blackboard Important details may be highlighted with the help of a pointer (e.g. a laser pointer or a traditional stick). Do not point continuously. It makes the audience nervous. Do not walk around during your talk. Speak slowly. If you see that you are running out of time, skip slides, do not speak faster.