Doctors: do no harm.
Authors: keep the reader turning the page.
Speakers: keep the listener, uh, listening.
The title of this post and the third aphorism represent the sine qua non for a successful research talk (or any kind of public speech). Once the audience stops listening, you, the speaker, might just as well stop speaking.
I’ve been thinking about this ever since the CSCW conference last week. I saw quite a few talks on subjects I’m interested in, with good research, good content in the presentation, and good – i.e., fluent – delivery. I was engaged by the content in many cases and asked a lot of questions.
However, in reflecting on my experience, many of the talks began to seem, hmmmm…, monotonous. The speakers didn’t look animated. They didn’t use much of a dynamic range in their speaking: they weren’t loud sometimes and quiet others, fast sometimes and slow others. There weren’t too many jokes (shout out to Cliff and Reid, two speakers who did joke a bit). The slides too were pretty homogeneous: none that shouted “I’m important – notice me!”.
Again, the content was good – it wouldn’t have gotten in otherwise!
But speakers, lively up yourselves! It’ll keep your audiences’ ears open, so that your great content will get in. (And please: if you do a lively presentation with poor content or poor organization or poor slides, it’ll just seem … poor.)