Advice about presentations

Here is a collection of some of the more general advice I have given to students about presentations. You will, of course, want to develop your own style. Also, you will want to learn how to give presentations from many different sources. (Go to lots of talks. Emulate the things you see that you like. Learn to avoid the things you see that you don't like.) So like all advice, I give the following in the hopes that you will consider it and apply it sensibly, but not necessarilly constantly.

Composing the presentation

Be selective.

It is only occasionally useful to be comprehensive. Your talk is not meant to be a replacement for your fellow students' reading of the text for themselves. Often isolating just one point or carefully working through one example is the best way to present the material.

Chalkboard Advice

Premeditate your chalkboards.

Make a complete, written plan of what will go on the chalkboard. When you give your talk follow your plan. The result should consist of well-formed sentences which are mathematically correct and give a (possibly abbreviated or telegraphic) account of your talk. Do not change what is on the board piecemeal by erasing little bits and replacing them with other little bits – this makes note-taking impossible.


Always erase plenty of board so that you are writing onto a blank slate. It is very confusing to have the new stuff you are writing all mixed up with old stuff.

Don't erase.

Try not to erase anything you write until it has been on the board plenty of time. In our wonderful seminar room with four floor to ceiling chalkboards, you should often not have to erase except for at the beginning of your presentation.

Respect your audience

Unless your aim is to insult the members your audience, treat them with respect. At a minimum, this means that you should have your talk carefully planned before you speak. You should have notes from which you can lecture without any other materials. Do not pick the book up and extemporize on the content—this is an invitation for the audience to assume that their time would be better spent picking up their books and ignoring you.

Send questions, comments and complaints to Thomas Hunter
Last modified: Tue 12 Jan 2010 11:25:45 AM EST by Thomas Hunter.