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How to give (and make) a presentation

These are my notes from a quick workshop at Stony Brook University given by Professor Michael Bender and Professor Rob Johnson in May 2012.

How to make the presentation

Prefix competitive

  • If you had one slide, make your presentation.
  • If you had two slides, extend your 1 slide presentation.
  • 1 slide -> 2 slides -> 3 slides.

Quick outline

  • Explain your problem (most likely to do bad on).
  • Explain why your problem is important.
  • Why do existing solutions not solve the problem?
  • Explain your contribution (most likely to do bad on).
    • Make clear what you did.
    • Make clear what other people did.
  • Talk about your solution.
  • Put results pretty early on in the presentation.


If you have a title and you don't know how to begin, begin by explaining your title.

Put your work in context:

  • Explain how you fit in and how you differentiate yourself from the other work.
  • Cite related work.

No more than 40 (or 20?) words per slide.

Include pictures/examples.

If it's a 10 minute talk, you don't have time to explain how you solved the problem, but more interesting than how you solved the problem:

  • What the problem is.
  • What are difficult examples.
  • What were the difficulties.
  • What is the intuition behind the problem/solution.

Don't take information away.

The conclusion slide

  • Philosophy, morals, summarize.
  • What does this mean?
  • What should people take out of this?

How to deliver a presentation

Giving a good talk has a lot more to do with following rules than being naturally gifted.

  • First, slides have to be very fast.
  • Memorize your first sentence(s).
    • Say it confidently.
    • Likely to be nervous, so it's good to be prepared in the beginning
    • Begin the talk quickly.
    • A student actually put the title slide about a third into the talk.

Hardest thing, most of you will fail on:

  • Conclude your slides (individually).
    • Each slide must be introduced and concluded.
    • Concluding slides is really relaxing, everyone will feel great when you do that.
    • Conclusion of your slide should be on the slide.
    • Know the conclusions for each slide.
    • Basically your "topic sentence" now becomes your ending concluding sentence (opposite to normal writing).
  • Pause after conclusions, let yourself and the audience breathe.
    • One reason you don't do this is because you're concerned about time, or you can't wait to move on to the next slide.
    • If you can't say in a single sentence: "Why is this slide here?" then it's a bad slide.

Stand next to the screen, point with your fingers, the screen is not made of sulfuric acid.

  • Practice touching the screen, it's a beautiful thing :)

Refer to everything on the slides.

Do not apologize, ever.

Make jokes, smile.

  • Follow with something self-referential.
  • Maybe add some silly pictures (strawberry, hamsters). Use this with caution.
  • Smile while giving talk.
    • If you're not enjoying yourself, then everyone else will feel awkward.

Should you read your slide, or should you just summarize your slide?

  • Do not read your slides in a monotone.
  • People can only focus on one thing at a time: don't have a paragraph on the slide and say something different.
    • People will have to choose between you and the paragraph.

Make your talk self-contained, that's the easiest way to present.

  • If you find you're paraphrasing from the slides, then you have bad slides.

Practice your talk out loud.

Explain your talk to someone.

  • Goal is not to make a talk that makes you look smarter because it's so difficult to understand.
  • Make a talk that's simple, elegant, and people can understand.
  • How can you make people both understand what you did and understand that it was difficult?
    • Make it seem like what you really did was more complicated actually
    • How do you say something is complicated?
      • Personal stories.


  • Be nervous. Okay in the beginning, but shake it off.
  • Stare down at the floor.
  • Keep your hand in your pocket(s). My personal preference, at least.
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