Andrew Read’s talk about talking

Giving talks can be hard. Giving talks about giving talks might be even harder. Andrew Read pulled it off this morning when he spoke at this month’s CGSA workshop on “How to give a great talk.” 

Giving a great talk, according to Andrew, is about telling a great story. Scientists need to be story tellers and we, as budding young scientists, need to practice story telling as much as we can.

“Practice on your mum, practice on you peers, you should be practicing all the time.” Andrew said the only way to improve on storytelling is to do it. Leap at the opportunity to give seminars or practice talks. Attend job talks. Blog. Think about the story you are telling when writing a manuscript.

He sketched out some of these tips for us on the white board:


ABT = And But Therefore, an acronym posed by scientist and author Randy Olson in his book Houston: We have a Narrative. “And” reminds us to start by introducing why the topic is interesting (e.g. “…because it does this and this and…). “But” reminds us to hook the audience with a paradox, a problem, something weird and interesting that needs re-evaluation in this topic. “Therefore” follows to remind us that whatever we say next is going to attempt to resolve that paradox/challenge. Story complete. Think about this when blogging, speaking, movie making, story telling at large.

Andrew didn’t just shed wisdom on story telling though. He also talked about other practical tips for giving a talk:

  1. Outfit. Wear a shirt that doesn’t show sweat stains. Wear something comfortable. Look good = feel good = talk good.
  2. Audience. Know who they are. Tell them why they should care. Omit telling them things they already know. Especially omit saying “You already know…. (and then you drag on telling them anyway).”
  3. Prepare early. Practice on peers. Outline or write notes (with numbered pages) ahead of time.
  4. The 2 minutes per slide rule. A 15 minute talk should have ~7 slides, an hour talk should have no more than 30. Less is usually better than more.
  5. Be aware of your weaknesses. Ask people in practice talks about tone, pace, and quirks that you might have while public speaking. Knowing they exist is the only way to avoid bad speaking habits.
  6. Keep the audience engaged. Most humans have an attention span of only a few minutes. Interject anecdotes, humor, or movements (such as pausing for a drink, or walking around the room) to regain attention.
  7. Don’t bother with an acknowledgements slide at the end. This detracts from your main message you want to leave the audience with. Thank the people who helped with different experiments as you bring those experiments up and acknowledge funding agencies at the beginning by putting their icons on the intro slides.
  8. Go to more seminars. Think about what a speaker did “right” and “wrong.” Why was the talk boring? Why was it exciting? What did the speaker do that you could use for the future?

Andrew’s talk about talking was a pretty great talk. Andrew has experience giving hundreds of seminars, teaching classes and doing a TED Med talk. We have lots to learn from senior CIDD faculty and today was especially informative. If I’ve missed anything that Andrew covered, add comments on this post so those that couldn’t attend can have the benefit of reading all the pearls of wisdom that were given out this morning.

Stay tuned for news about a March workshop by joining the CGSA listserv. Many more workshops to come…

About johannaohm

Jo Ohm is a trail runner and scientist based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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2 Responses to Andrew Read’s talk about talking

  1. Andrew Read says:

    I’d say 35 slides for an hours seminar….

  2. Pingback: New semester at CIDD: a guide for incoming students | Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics Graduate Student Association

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