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conference speech, how long it takes to prepare

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conference speech, how long it takes to prepare

Postby J Ding » Wed Jan 31, 2018 11:25 pm

I am current a Phd, and intend to pursuit a academic career. One thing concerns me is it seems professors have to travel a lot and give speeches at different conferences. I just wonder how long it takes for a experienced prof to prepare for a speech. I have to spend a few weeks to prepare a conference talk. But I assume an senior prof will spend way less time?
I like doing research, but hate to do presentation.

Any advice will be helpful.
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Re: conference speech, how long it takes to prepare

Postby PG » Thu Feb 01, 2018 3:48 am

It varies a lot both between different people and also depending on how much of the information in the presentation that is actually new. I see some people giving almost exactly the same presentation over and over again which I assume will take the time used for preparations to almost nothing.

If you on the other hand present a lot of new information or want to reformat your slides it will take longer. Also remember that you dont necessarily have to do everything yourself but can use slides made by students and postdocs in your group.

I also do a lot of presentations (in industry)and my preparations usually consist of picking slides together that have been prepared by other team members for different occasions, adjusting some of them for the specific purpose and often some slides with overviews, conclusions, path forward etc.
Preparing an important 30 minute presentation of something new usually takes me maybe a couple of hours one day and then maybe another hour the next day. This may also include having one or a few other people giving comments and suggestions for improvements. Before starting these preparations I sometimes spend significant time thinking about what I want to acheive with my presentation and the points I want to make but that time is difficult to estimate.

If the presentation is less important preparations will be faster and the presentations tend to have a higher proportion of material prepared by others.
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Re: conference speech, how long it takes to prepare

Postby Ana » Thu Feb 01, 2018 3:57 am

Hi J,

As PG says it depends much if the talk is new or not. Often you do recycle talks, or just updater them a bit from talk to talk, so those do not really take any preparation.

Some people has an easier time at giving talks than others, for example when they are already good communicators, and they know they can improvise a good talk after just putting the talk together. Others get more nervous, or tend to not explain themselves so well, and need to make a bigger effort and need more practice.

People in other fields also need to give presentations, but if your main interest is the talks that academics give I can tell you those are the easiest because of the following:
- the talks are usually compilation of their published results, just copy-pasting the publication figures, so very little slide preparation
- the talks are usually long, like 45-minute seminars, and those are easier to give because you have some flexibility of time. Try to prepare for a 3-minute presentation.... those pretty much need to be learnt by heart or you are leaving half of the message out if you improvise one sentence
- they recycle their presentations a lot since they work on very few projects

So it doesn't take long for an experience professor to prepare for a talk. From zero time (old talk) to sit on her computer, go through the slides twice to refresh the order in her bran, and then walk into the conference room.

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Re: conference speech, how long it takes to prepare

Postby Dick Woodward » Thu Feb 01, 2018 5:03 pm

This has all been good advice, but one key thing has been left out. Be sure to give yourself time to practice and time your talk. While most academic venues are at least somewhat flexible with time, you may run into the moderator who believes that a 10-minute talk should last 10 minutes - period. (As a side note, the vast majority of talks that I have given in the last decade or so have been at venture capital conferences where I was looking for money. At many of these things, if you are given 7 minutes to present your company, they will turn the microphone off at 7 minutes and one second. Timing is critical.)

Practice also has other benefits. It will help you to find areas where you may be struggling to explain a concept and will give you a chance to modify your presentation accordingly. It can also help you rid yourself of an annoying habit that many academics have - they stand with their backs to the audience and, using the laser pointer, read the slide aloud while pointing at the words - sort of like "follow the bouncing ball" in karaoke. I can assure you that in any conference where you will be presenting, 100% of the audience is literate and can read your slides! Normally, your slides contain information (e.g., a graph) that you verbally describe to your audience. I do recommend, however, that if you are at an international conference, it can be useful to put more verbiage on the slides. Many people read English better than they understand the spoken language.

As long as I am at it, please look out for something that happens frequently. A presenter will put a huge spreadsheet on a slide, outline a few cells in red, point to them and say "I know you can't see this, but the cells in red show....". Make certain that every slide says something important and is visible to the audience.

There is a book that you should read that I think will help you a great deal in giving presentations. It's called "You've got to be believed to be heard" by Bert Decker, and it is the single best book on giving presentations that I have ever read.

I wish you much success, and leave you with one last thought. When I was in graduate school, I attended a seminar where the presenter discussed his work on cellular signalling - a subject in which I had zero interest. His presentation was so lucid that I actually enjoyed it. After the seminar, my fellow graduate students generally agreed that the gentleman could not be much of a scientist - "he's too slick" was one comment. That was in the 1970's. Fast forward to 1999. The presenter, Gunter Blobel by name, goes to Stockholm in December to shake hands with the King. (If any of you miss the reference, he won the Nobel Prize.) The lesson from this is that good science, presented well, will take you much farther than good science alone.

Regards,

Dick
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Re: conference speech, how long it takes to prepare

Postby Rich Lemert » Thu Feb 01, 2018 6:47 pm

When you go into an academic career, you are no longer just a researcher. You are now - among other things - a project manager, a personnel manager, a safety officer, a publicist, a salesman, ... . Don't think that you're just going to be able to sit in the lab generating "great" results and be successful.

When you do prepare your talks, remember that your aren't successful just because you presented you material. You are only successful if your audience has received your message. Your work might be something that will completely revolutionize your field, but if your audience leaves going "what the heck was he talking about?", you've failed.

To one of Ana's points - shorter talks are harder to prepare. There is a famous quote that's been attributed to several great orators - Winston Churchill among them. The speaker had just been congratulated on giving such an excellent 30-minute speech - "and with only a week to prepare." He responded "Yes. And if I'd had a month to prepare, I could have given it in fifteen minutes."

My main suggestion is that you find a nearby Toastmasters Club and join it. There are several ways you can benefit from this. One - you will get immediate feedback after every presentation you make, usually with concrete advice on how you can improve your performance next time. Two - you will learn how to keep your speech within a target time frame. You will have more opportunities to practice giving speeches and presentations in front of a supportive audience.

A side effect that can benefit a lot of academics - many of whom choose the field because they are introverts and "can hide in the lab" - is that you will learn how to function in an 'extrovert' world. Note that I did NOT say it will make you an extrovert; you don't have to become an extrovert to be successful. You just have to know how to work with them and how to succeed in their world.
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Re: conference speech, how long it takes to prepare

Postby Dick Woodward » Thu Feb 01, 2018 9:00 pm

Great post, Rich. Toastmasters is a terrific idea. An interesting point is a talk that I did for a local "Entrepreneur's Network"; Slides/PowerPoint were not allowed. The talk was one of the most difficult that I have ever had to do. Does Toastmasters allow visuals? If not, a great training ground.

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Re: conference speech, how long it takes to prepare

Postby J Ding » Thu Feb 01, 2018 10:24 pm

Thank you all, for these great advises! Seems, with good strategies, a good speech and research can complement each other. I will start to improve my presentation skill from now on.
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Re: conference speech, how long it takes to prepare

Postby Dave Jensen » Thu Feb 01, 2018 11:11 pm

Dick Woodward wrote:Great post, Rich. Toastmasters is a terrific idea. An interesting point is a talk that I did for a local "Entrepreneur's Network"; Slides/PowerPoint were not allowed. The talk was one of the most difficult that I have ever had to do. Does Toastmasters allow visuals? If not, a great training ground.

Dick


Agree with you Dick, on Rich's advice. I was a Toastmasters guy for a long time. What a wonderful organization.

Dave
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Re: conference speech, how long it takes to prepare

Postby Rich Lemert » Fri Feb 02, 2018 3:03 pm

Not only does Toastmasters allow you to use visual aides, they have specific projects available that require their use. You don't have to use PowerPoint, either. You could use an old-fashioned flip chart if you wanted to. I've even given a talk about slide-rules (anyone remember those) where that was my only prop.
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Re: conference speech, how long it takes to prepare

Postby RSD » Fri Feb 02, 2018 4:57 pm

Rich Lemert wrote:When you go into an academic career, you are no longer just a researcher. You are now - among other things - a project manager, a personnel manager, a safety officer, a publicist, a salesman, ... . Don't think that you're just going to be able to sit in the lab generating "great" results and be successful.


This is very true if you want to develop as an industry scientist also. If you want your department/executive team/investors to support your ideas, products, etc., you better be able to communicate your great new data to key decision makers (and to back up your decisions). It does no good by itself in a lab notebook.
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