Tips on Giving Public Lectures
Be aware of who your audience is. How much math and science do they know?
- Not sure who will be there? Ask the event organizer.
- Wondering if you are using too much jargon? Run your draft slides by a non-specialist (family member, local teacher, staff person at your institution).
Decide upon one simple story and tell it as clearly as possible.
- What do you want the audience to learn or be convinced of? Why?
- What perspective do you want them to take on your subject?
- How does each piece of information in your talk support that goal? What is "core"?
- What is just "nice to know, but not essential"?
Consider how the talk's structure can enhance its effectiveness.
- Is there a central question, mystery or paradox to be emphasized?
- An outline can help the audience keep in mind where you're going.
- Transitions between subtopics can be a time to re-engage directly with the audience (make eye contact, ask for questions) and maintain momentum.
- A summary can help the audience see how all the pieces fit together.
Use visual aids for specific purposes.
- Brief, reliable live demonstrations can add drama and flair.
- Slides can keep the 'big picture' in view while you address sequential points (e.g. an outline or cartoon) or can display detailed supporting evidence.
- Plots and tables need large jargon-free labels and must be on-screen long enough for the audience to absorb their unfamiliar content.
- Photos need captions: what is shown and why is it relevant?
Practice good speaking habits.
- Talk at a moderate pace. Do not read your slides verbatim!
- Use a pointer where needed. Don't block the projector.
- Make eye contact with the audience.
- Encourage questions where it won't disrupt the flow of the story.
- Do a practice run to check your timing. Talks that run over are annoying.
Bridge the gap between the lectern and the seats:
- Be enthusiastic . . . and the audience will be too.
- Use humor. Part of your job is to entertain.
- Make connections to ideas the audience will find familiar: draw analogies, explain where an abstract principle is applied in real life.
Reflect on good talks you've seen (or see our database) and use them as a model.