Do's and Don'ts for Brief Research Talks

(borrowed from Gordon H. Bower)

1.  A talk is not a written Journal Experimental Psychology paper.  Talks have
    an informal narrative style and are dramatic rather than detailed or
    completely informative.  Don't read your "speech".  Speak it from memory.

2.  The model for the short speech is the campfire story -- teller of a
    mystery, (or a Steve Martin skit), not the recitor of an encyclopedia.

3.  You must be very selective of what you can say in a short time.  Most
    short speeches can barely carry one main idea plus its support.  Resist
    the temptation to tell everything you know or every thought you had about
    it: only the most interesting and important thing can be said.

4.  Talk informally as though you were telling your grandmother what you did
    and why.  Complexity of expression is uncorrelated with wisdom,
    intelligence, and originality; it's perfectly correlated with audience
    puzzlement and boredom.

5.  A narrative style is preferable in talks.  Research is done to tell a
    story, going from problem, goal, plan through actions (observations) to
    outcomes, resolution, and a moral (conclusion). Avoid a written
    journal-style organization.

6.  Prepare your first two sentences like they were a Madison-Avenue
    advertisement for you and your talk. Grab the audience in these first

    (a) Example weak start:  ``The research I will tell you about stems from
    earlier work by Johnson published in Cognitive Psychology which led to a
    lot of follow ups; and I want to thank my collaborators, Jim and Dorothy

    (b) A better start:  ``How do we understand language'?  How can I figure
    out the meaning of what you say?  Some people believe we have a mental
    dictionary with fixed entries and we assemble the meanings out of this
    fixed dictionary.  Another theory is that we only have flexible procedures
    which decompose compound phonetic strings into basic morphemes from which 
    we compute a meaning for the utterance . . .''

7.  Get interest and attention first, with a rhetorical question, anecdote, or
    startling statement or paradox.  Assume your audience is an Introductory
    Psych class of undergraduates.

8.  In planning your talk, consider these steps:

    (a) Write on paper slips ideas and points to be made.

    (b) Assemble them into an outline and fill it out.

    (c) Revise the outline, concentrating on transition sentences between

    (d) Write out your speech as you speak it -- work on oral, not written

    (e) Make a new outline of the revised written version.

    (f) Practice delivering the talk orally from the revised outline.

    (g) Practice aloud before a mirror and with a clock in front of you.
        Keep it to 12-14 minutes.

    (h) Learn to give the talk with at most one 3x5 card of outline notes.

9.  Use visual aids (overhead transparencies or slides but not both) if they
    help.  In visuals, make it simple, clear and obvious.  Don't clutter
    slides with irrelevancies.  No more than 7 words on a visual.  No more 
    than 7 numbers on a visual (round them to one or two significant digits).
    Slides must be readable; print large.  One word can abbreviate whole
    phrases.  If you have lots of results you must show, use many slides,
    not one cluttered slide.  Idealize graphs, no lightning-bolt data.
    Ask:  are the exact values all that terribly important for my point?

10. Put up a slide only a moment before you want to refer to it.  Give the
    audience time to read it or you read it to them.  Remove the slide when
    you want the audience to attend fully to you again.

11. If a within-trial procedure is complicated, show a concrete illustration
    of it in a visual.  If the series of events in an experiment is long or
    complicated, show  diagram of it.

12. In narrative talks, descriptive and inferential statistics should be
    suppressed.  Speak "eyeball-effects" rather than F-values.  Say "These
    words were remembered very much better than those", NOT "The mean recall
    for the two categories was 8.76 and 4.37, and difference gave an F of
    13.8 which with 1 and 14 degrees of freedom was statistically significant
    at the .01 level."  A better attitude towards description is "Holy
    baloney, look at that!"
13. State the problem being investigated in concrete, specific terms.  Help
    the audience understand specifics first before moving to generalities
    (if you ever do).

14. Describe exactly what responses your subject was making, perhaps give one
    or more concrete illustrations of materials for different trial types.
    That helps the audience instantiate the abstractions (you shouldn't be
    talking about).

15. You are not duty-bound to describe every condition of your experiment, not
    every result, not every analysis.  In particular, suppress complications
    and unresolved loose-ends or incomprehensible pieces of results -- don't
    lay your confusions on the poor listener.  Your goal is to tell a simple
    coherent story, to interest and to entertain, not to tell the complete
    unvarnished messy truth.  Your first rule is:  tell a simple mystery story
    that has a neat wrap-up and don't confuse or bore your audience.  Not
    telling the whole truth is not the same as telling a falsehood.  Speeches
    are for conviction, written papers for corrections!

16. Summarize your main idea and then clearly conclude.  Make it completely
    obvious to your audience exactly when you have finished, by some words or
    gestures (e.g., by stepping back, smiling and saying `Thank you').
    Applaud one another at the end of his/her speech.  (Ask -- Are there
    any questions?  Then wait a long time).

17. Don't worry about "tough" questions:  they almost never come.  You know
    more about the research than anybody, so you have a great advantage.
    Don't be intimidated by "big shots" in the audience (if there are any):
    most are struggling to comprehend, and ask only simple questions.

18. If a question comes you don't know about, it's okay to say "I don't know".
    Or to say "That's a tough one I haven't thought about -- or I'll need more
    time to think about that" -- or "Fine idea -- would be worth trying in an
    experiment".  You don't have to have instant answers for everything.  If
    you don't understand a questioner, ask him to rephrase it so you can
    understand.  If he asks three questions, answer any one of them and move 

19. Plant at least one pithy question with a friend so he/she can direct it to
    you in case no one else pops up with a quick question.  Often the audience
    needs time to think of some question to ask about -- so give the audience
    a long time to come up with a question.

20. Smile, be and appear friendly and glad to be there.
    Dress sharp.
    Speak loud enough.
    Articulate clearly.
    Be Superman or Superwoman.