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I read many papers and try to present some of them at a reading group of some sort in my department (these are all quite informal). Both my most recent talks were what I consider quite bad, and I really want suggestions to get better.

I only choose to present papers that I understand reasonably well, but when I start talking about them, I often fumble, fluster, and feel the need to constantly look at my notes, even though I know the math (I am in Theoretical Computer Science). I often start saying a sentence, then pause and start afresh since I forget to add a "modifier" like, "given an epsilon > 0" or something like that.

I really don't know how to get better. Due to classes and research, I didn't get time to rehearse my talks before. I also recently gave a formal talk as part of my Qualifying Exam, which went very well (as the committee told me, but also, I felt it too!), but I'd rehearsed it six or seven times before the final talk.

I can't spend so much time for every talk. So I want to know if there are any suggestions to get better at talking. I know stage fright isn't an issue as I'm quite an outgoing person.

EDIT: These are all whiteboard talks.

1 Answer 1

Here few main points from my Medium Post "A Hitchhiker’s Guide to giving a Mini-talk in Maths (or another technical subject)":

Give mini-talks

They are a great source of practice in a low pressure environment. There are fewer things to focus on. Less material to prepare. Fewer expectations. You learn quicker. Fewer things can go wrong.

Choose topic you find interesting and exciting

Exciting your audience is the easiest if you are excited yourself. Avoid any topic you don’t really care about or find boring. Pick something you know or like to learn more about. Try to read and learn as much as possible before your talk. That will give your more confidence, among other benefits, and confidence is always a good thing when giving a talk.

Focus on one single point and make it dead clear

This is perhaps the best advice I can give. No one expects to learn a complete new theory in your mini-talk. But people like to learn something new. And learning one thing well is better than 5 things “half” or vaguely.

Break down your talk into parts

For mini-talks, I suggest 3 parts:

  • Motivation: Start here and intrigue your audience.
  • Precise content: Come to your main point and make it precise.
  • Examples: Support your point with examples and non-examples.