University of Wisconsin–Madison

DOS AND DON’TS FOR BRIEF RESEARCH TALKS

Gordon H. Bower (Psychology 225)

  1. A talk is not a written Journal of Experimental Psychology 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 reciter 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 things 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 sentences.
  7. 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. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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 a diagram of it.
  10. 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!”
  11. State the problem being investigated in concrete, specific Help the audience understand specifics first before moving to generalities (if you ever do).
  12. 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 on.
  13. Smile; be and appear friendly and glad to be there. Dress sharp. Speak loud enough. Articulate clearly. Be Superman or Superwoman.