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Beryl Lieff Benderly

How to Give an Effective Presentation, Including a Great Job Talk

The ability to give a good presentation — both at the all-important job talk and at conferences — is a key skill in an academic career.  Kathryn Hume, who apparently has sat through her share of really bad talks, offers practical advice for job seekers in an astute essay at Inside Higher Ed. (Also not to be missed: Science Careers’ Content Collection on delivering a great presentation.)


A number of her points apply to public speaking generally: Remember, for example, that, to be comprehensible spoken sentences must be shorter than written ones can be.  Use as little jargon as possible.  Practice your talk before you present it.  Smile and show emotion.  Prepare for the Q & A.  Briefly outline what you intend to present at the outset of your talk.

Hume also makes suggestions specific to winning over a hiring committee.  A particularly insightful one is the
importance of pitching the talk to the kind of department where you’re interviewing.  At a tippy-top research-intensive institution, an aggressive, jargon-studded display of brilliance may be de rigeur.  Applicants coming from such departments presumably understand the sort of hand-to-hand combat they may encounter, she notes, and they should be sure they’re ready to handle it.  Others need not worry, because “only people from that kind of university are likely to be invited for a campus visit” at a powerhouse department in the first place.

At most institutions, on the other hand, faculty members generally “want a good colleague with whom exchanging ideas will be fun, not someone determined to bully them intellectually at every exchange,” Hume notes.  Smart candidates adjust their demeanor accordingly.  They should also remember that at least some of those listening will not be experts in
their sub-field, so it’s wise to give a talk with something to interest to them, too.

You can see all of Hume’s advice  here.