Re: Let tonight be advice to you all....

I Find Karma (
Sat, 10 Feb 96 20:17:08 PST

> set the example of what *I* would like to read by producing some of it:
> Well-annotated *opinion* on (publically available) facts.

Yes, we've noticed you're very opinionated.

> Anyway, all this huffing and puffing is by way of reminding y'all THIS
> IS NOT A READ-ONLY LIST -- POST! In fact, maybe I should make policy
> that you have to post once a month to stay on this list... :-)

You want me to post an opinion? Okay, I think this policy sucks.
You know how bitless I am ordinarily, and I don't perform well under

To keep this from being an entirely bit-free note, though, I offer this
blast-from-the-past (only because Rohit mentioned him earlier...).

Edward Tufte on Public Speaking
Ted Romer (

These are some of the notes I took during Edward Tufte's course on
Envisioning Information. Don't redistribute without attribution.

Edward Tufte was in town this week. (He's the author of The Visual
Display of Quantitative Information and Envisioning Information
(Graphics Press), two great books about how to go about presenting your
data in graphical form intelligently -- anyone who's written a paper or
given a talk with a graph in it should own at least the first volume).

He talked about a lot of material that you could glean from his books,
but he also gave some tips on public speaking. I've heard some of this
before from other sources, but it's always good to get a refresher

1. Show up early. you can fix any mechanical problems that might
arise: no lights, no water, someone else has the room, etc. you can
mingle with your audience.

2. How to start: Tell the audience: What's the problem? Who cares?
What are you going to do about it? The stumble-bum method (a high-risk
approach): Tufte described a talk given by a humble high school math
teacher to a lecture hall full of mathematics professors. On his first
slide, the math teacher had a simple proof, with an error on the third
line. Naturally, the professors leaned forward in their chairs to point
out the flaw. For the rest of the presentation, the audience hung on
every word, waiting for the next slip. Of course, there was no slip.
Caution: if you use this technique, you had better know your stuff.

3. When explaining a complex figure, follow the
Particular-General-Particular principle. Particular: use an example to
explain what the numbers mean. General: explain the overall structure
of the figure. Particular: return to an example to reinforce the
interpretation of the figure.

4. Speak from notes, don't read a prepared text.

5. Use handouts. Handouts can convey far more information than can be
represented on overhead slide. Handouts give your audience an
opportunity to be engaged by your material, rather than being
passive. When their attention drifts, they can read ahead in your
handouts, and find the part that interests them. [I noticed that the
affiliates when bored would leave through whatever material they had in
hand -- the program for the next session, for example. If they had a
preview of what you were going to say next, they might be more motivated
to pay attention.] Your audience can think a lot faster than you can
talk, so you should give them material to think about. Handouts can
provide depth of material omitted from your talk that will interest the
specialists in the audience. Handouts leave a permanent record when the
audience goes home, rather than allowing your talk to disappear without
a trace. This lends a sense of having faith in your topic and your work.

6. Information content should match the level that you would find in
the NYT or WSJ. Your audience didn't suddenly become dumber when they
walked into the room to hear you talk. Plus, familiarity with a
presentation style helps them focus on what you're talking about.

7. Avoid overheads. An overhead can convey only a fraction of the
information content of printed material. If your slides are just
misshapen trapezoidal note cards for your benefit, why not speak from
note cards? If you want to give the audience something to pay attention
to when you're saying "er, ah", give them handouts. Tufte did concede
that overheads are useful for color images that would be impractical to
hand out -- but the information content of most color overheads is
pretty low, unless it's a photograph or an artistic reproduction.

8. Never apologize. Don't explain how nervous you are and what the
probability is that you'll throw up midway through the
presentation. Unless you call attention to yourself, your audience will
be much more concerned about their own physical and emotional state than

9. Use humor that is on point. Don't unnecessarily offend part of your
audience with humor that is irrelevant to your topic.

10. Avoid using masculine pronouns to refer to a universal. alternate
examples with "he" and "she", or use "they". This is another method to
avoid alienating people.

11. Work hard. prepare. practice for a critical audience. practice
for a videtape, to spot flaws and mannerisms and idiosyncrasies. In
addition to developing notes for your content, develop "metanotes" to
remind you to make eye contact, or not to mumble, or not to play pocket
pool, or to drink your water, etc.

12. Innovate. Don't be trapped by the conventional forms of the
presentation. Be creative: find ways to take the presentation beyond a
linear presentation of facts, and instead make it become something like
a dialogue with your colleagues.

13. Dealing with questions: People's opinion of your work may well
depend more on the way you answer questions than on the content or
quality of your presentation. Often the person who is asking wants to
know, "What about me? How does you work solve _my_ problem?" don't
humiliate or embarass your questioner. if you anticipate aggressive
interruptions, establish ground rules: say that it'll take n minutes for
you to present the basic material, and then there will be plenty of time
for discussion. Having established the rule, when the unnamed
interrupter speaks, remind of the rule, and say it'll be n-x minutes
more. if you're worried that you won't get any questions, or that you
won't get asked the crucial question, get a confederate in the audience
to ask the question. Be patient: after you finish speaking, you'll
probably get a question before you can count to 10.

14. Show your enthusiasm. Don't hide behind a lectern. Use gestures.
Walk around, directly engaging audience members' attention. (Tufte did
this remarkably effectively.)

15. Finish early. Everyone will be happier. (Tufte asked, "How often
have you heard some colleagues walking down the hall saying, 'That talk
was great, I just wish they'd gone on for another 15 minutes!'?")

16. Avoid dehydration. Make sure you drink enough water during the
talk. Make it your responsibility to make sure you have water. Avoid
dehydrating beverages: caffeine and alcohol. The two most dehydrating
things you can do are travel by airplane and speak in public. So if you
fly to Atlanta to give a talk you need to compensate.

Finally, throughout the class, Tufte reminded us to

0. Respect your audience. Treat them as colleagues who are interested in
helping you solve a problem.