Preparing and Delivering Your Talk

Dec 13 2018

Reading through a Public Speaking book

Instead of looking through the whole book, my mentee and I decided to read a single chapter together and discuss. We both wanted to look further into the art of delivering presentations, and the book was recommended by another mentee’s mentor.

David B. Feldman, “Preparing and Delivering Your Talk,” in Public speaking for psychologists: a lighthearted guide to research presentations, job talks, and other opportunities to embarass yourself, (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2010), 23-41.

Subsections of the Chapter


Vanquishing Procrastination Feldman starts off with a couple of myths about public speaking and procrastination, that spontaneity is better (and a vlid excuse for not preparing), and that too much preparation may just increase your anxiety about it. I think there’s a better balance to be struck between preparing too much and too little in terms of spontaneity. He does mention later reading off the page comes off as robotic, and that your first time speaking isn’t the time to improvise the entirety of the talk. Both, with a few exceptions, are true to my experience. At the same time, I think what he’s trying to build toward, which is somewhat stated at the end when it comes to creating notes (not a script), is that you want to internalize the talk.

When you know the talk inside and out, it is much easier to improvise. You can easily give additional examples because you know exactly what this metaphor or example is accomplishing for your argument. It’s also easier to create shortcuts between pieces if necessary. You know exactly where you are in the larger map of your argument, and can easily navigate to other areas.

What has helped for me (with plenty of disadvantages though), has been to write out the talk, as if creating a script. And in the writing of it, as I go through and cut things or add things, or reorganize it, I’m learning the map of my argument. It started with the intention to actually keep my script with me and read off the page (whoops), but in my nervousness, and through the natural course of speaking, I just couldn’t pause myself to look at it again or keep up with where I was on the page. However, it mattered less because I knew where it was going and improvised within the bounds of the script I had already written.

The third myth: Short talks don’t require preparation. Feldman and I both agree: YES THEY DO! I think the idea of a short talk is very relative. A 5-10 minute TED talk is short, but is information-dense, and yes I’d say that requires a great deal of preparation. A 15 minute talk, the average conference presentation, is what I would consider a medium talk as it requires sustained attention, but may or may not be as dense. A 2-5 minute blurb about a service or activity? Short. But these are often moments of talking about personal expertise and shouldn’t(?) be as nerve-wracking. Feldman’s example of Woe also reminds me that it’s so hard to gauge on your own whether a talk went well or not. I can be my worst self-critic, yet at other times can have delusions of grandeur and need to have someone show me areas for improvement. I think one of the best ways to counter this, to see if you are actually giving the kind of presentation you want to deliver, is to video yourself. It’s hard to watch, hard to listen to, but should be worthwhile. I still need to do this.

Feldman recommends a couple of strategies for combating procrastination: make a schedule, set goals, monitor progress, and make your commitments public. To monitor progress, Feldman recommends creating as many to-do items as you can, no matter how small, so that you can have the supreme pleasure of checking at least one per week to provide a positive feedback loop that will encourage you to continue preparing and working on the talk. This reminds me once again that I’m interested in reading [[The Checklist Manifesto]] by Atul Gawande, since it’s interested in (among many things) using checklists as a way to look for patterns in our failures.

Writing Your Talk

The main, new takeaway for me is Feldman’s distinction between objectives of a talk. Feldman encourages speakers to develop a clear statement of both their informational and attitudinal objectives. Information objectives are in a way similar to outcome based or learning outcome type models: what information will listeners gain from this talk? What I particularly like is the acknowledgement of attitudinal objectives: how might audiences change their beliefs as a result of the talk. While informational objectives can and should be outlined in the talk itself, he hints that attitudinal objectives are for the speaker only as you’re trying to manipulate the audience. For me, this reads more along the lines of what emotions do I want to engender in my audience at the end of this talk? This all goes back to one of the three rhetorical appeals: pathos. So much of “professional” and “academic” writing is intended to strip emotions for the sake of objectivity. Yet we see more and more that we are not neutral. What I like about this objective is that it reminds speakers of the audience and that while an argument should be shaped by logic, it should also be shaped by how you want the audience to respond. How should they feel about this? How can they engage with the idea?

+1 to Feldman, I appreciate that while he does the typical encouragement to open with a joke, cartoon, anecdote, or statistic, he also admits that if you can’t think of anything, just thank the audience for attending and that you appreciate being able to share your story with them.

Developing PowerPoint Slides

Everytime I think about PowerPoint, I also think of how I want to use other tools for presentations instead like the Beamer template for LaTeX or Reveal.js for html/markdown presentations.

Cognitive Load—now here’s a debate. Feldman cites Sweller & Chandler (1991) for cognitive load theory in that if you’re reading and listening to the same material, you’re using twice the cognitive resources. This is used to argue that when speech & slides are redundant, learners feel more mentally taxed and learn less. He also uses Leahy et al. (2003) to reinforce the flipside, that audiences learn more when oral and visual materials aren’t redundant. HOWEVER. The Software Carpentry instructor training looks at cognitive load in terms of the split-attention effect to remark that linguistic and visual input are processed differently—when looking at and hearing things that are different, it takes additional processes for the mind to interpret these channels as it’s also working to understand if the information is the same or different. They encourage presenting information simultaneously through two different channels, redundant as it may be, to decrease the cognitive load. Regardless of which route you follow, it’s useful to think of how Sweller breaks down cognitive load to be composed of intrinsic, germane, and extraneous load. The goal for learning is to create links between new and old information.

Feldman’s tips generally revolve around the ideas to: use PowerPoint as a cue rather than a script, minimize the amount of text by pulling out key components necessary to understand and rely on images rather than text when possible (particularly for data). I’d add that it’s also important to design with accessibility in mind. Code4Lib has a nice webpage on creating accessible slides that includes a discussion of font, color, and format.

Delivering the Talk

We all have nervous tics! When you know what yours are, Feldman recommends putting up some kind of note only visible to you saying DON’T X! He also encourages you to be nice to yourself, which is so important to remember. It’s okay if not everything goes perfectly.]]></content:encoded>