I recently attended Patrick Winston’s famous talk on how to give good talks. I will summarize what I took away as most interesting or important.
Starting. Do not start with a joke. Do provide a promise of empowerment within the first two minutes – why the audience should listen to you.
During. Cycle back to main points. Provide points in the talk where people can wake up and rejoin the narrative. Use “near miss” examples – ideas that are similar but not yours. Use logos and simple graphics. Use the board. Keep your hands visible, at your side or pointing/gesturing. Ask rhetorical questions that are at the right level of difficulty, and wait long enough for responses (it feels like an eternity).
Ending. Point out how you have delivered on your promise. Tell a joke so that the audience remembers the whole talk as fun. Ask for questions and always repeat the question before answering it. Finally, “salute” the audience but do not thank them (this is incredibly hard).
Winston also talked about some specific “special cases” of talks. For job talks, evaluators are looking to see that you have a vision and have done something about it. He says you have 5 minutes to prove this, and a good method is to use narrowing steps to situate your work in the vision. And the final slide should be “contributions” (not “conclusions”), so they can keep staring at what you’ve done.
Finally, he talked about “getting famous” which really means making your idea sticky. His outline of how to do so is similar to in the book Made to Stick. He uses 5 points:
- a memorable “symbol” for the idea
- a memorable “slogan” for the idea
- a “surprise” element that will be talked about
- a “salient” that captures the central idea
- a captivating “story” that explains the idea.
For me, the most surprising advice in his talk was to not thank the audience. I had always taken it as given that you end by saying “thanks” – but Winston made a strong argument that you should resist the urge, because you want to avoid implying that it was an imposition on the audience to come. Instead, you can talk about how great an audience they were.