Conference presentation advice
Presenting talks at conferences and workshops is an essential part of research. Presentations are one of the main ways we disseminate we have learned to our research community and the greater public. My main goal in presentations is to get the audience excited about my problem and results such that they want to read and implement the ideas in the paper. In this regard, conference presentations are like short advertisements for your work that balance substance and style. While the substance of your talk will vary based on the project, the elements of a good conference presentation stay relatively the same.
There are a number of great tutorials on giving conference presentations. I have found this advice from Mark Hill to be a very useful guide, especially the “How to Give a Bad Talk by David Patterson” section. I adapted his general presentation structure below to something that seems more in accordance with robotics and AI:
- Title/author/affiliation/presenter (1 slide)
- Forecast (1 slide) Foreshadow problem addressed and insight found (What is the one idea you want people to leave with? This is the “abstract” of an oral presentation. If possible, a very brief video is a great way to illustrate your “take home message.”)
- Outline (1 slide) Give talk structure. Some speakers prefer to put this at the bottom of their title slide. (Audiences like predictability.)
- Background: Motivation and Problem Statement (1-2 slides)
(Why should anyone care? Most researchers overestimate how much the audience knows about the problem they are attacking.)
- Background: Related Work (0-1 slides) Cover superficially or omit; refer people to your paper.
- Methods (3-5 slides) Cover quickly in short talks while getting core ideas across; refer people to your paper.
- Results (3-5 slides) Present key results and key insights. This is main body of the talk. Its internal structure varies greatly as a function of the researcher’s contribution. (Do not superficially cover all results; cover key result well. Do not just present numbers; interpret them to give insights. Do not put up large tables of numbers.)
- Summary (1 slide)
- Future Work (0-1 slides) Optionally give problems this research opens up.
- Backup Slides (0-3 slides) Optionally have a few slides ready (not counted in your talk total) to answer expected questions.
In addition to this general format, here are a few guidelines that I practice for my talks:
- It is generally bad form to list entire sentences and paragraphs on slides. Your bullets should be 1 line (2 lines max) with phrases (not complete sentences) that briefly summarize points. You should orally expound on the text in the bullets.
- Limit the number of bullets one each slide. If you need many bullets on one slide, you should probably break them up over multiple slides.
- Limit the number of slides to roughly 1 slide for each minute you have for presentation. Time goes faster than you think. A cardinal sin of talks is to go past your allocated time. This error is often considered as a lack of respect to other presenters and your audience members. Essentially, it is seen as self-centered by taking time away from other presenters and your audience.
- Make sure all of your terminology is defined and forward references are avoided.
- Last and most important: DO NOT read from your slides. Again, use your slides as a talking points to further expound upon orally. (“Thou shalt not make eye contact”)