+3 votes
asked ago by (150 points)
For job market presentations, I found "The 'Big 5' and Other Ideas for Presentations" by Donald Cox to be extremely useful:


If you don't know it, the basic idea is to spend the first 5 minutes of your talk outlining: 1. Your research question, 2. Why it is important, 3. The (gap in the) literature, 4. How what you do fills said gap, and 5. Your results (the take-away).

But at a conference you might only get 15 minutes, and I'm not sure if spending the first five minutes of this outlining the Big 5 is the best use of the time. Would the best approach then be to shorten the Big 5 proportionally to say 2 minutes, or instead to make the whole presentation into an extended version of the Big 5?

Does anyone have any general tips or resources on how to give a good conference presentation where slots are limited to around 15-20 minutes?


3 Answers

+1 vote
answered ago by (1.2k points)
In my experience, the talks that I have enjoyed the most and found to be most productive, are the ones that directly tell me something. A 15 - 20 minute talk is not long enough to give a seminar, so no point reviewing other people's work, going to into minutiae of your work, etc. Just tell me why what you're doing is important, and what you did. In conferences, many people are tired and exhausted, don't force them to look at difficult to read tables. Pictures, pictures and more pictures! Do keep the tables, but only at the back, in case, someone insists on it.

Think of the conference talk as a trailer for your paper, make it as cool and accessible as possible. Don't try to cram a full seminar into a short talk, that leads to people talking about all sorts of things, except the most important part. They just rush to their results in the last minute or two, leaving everyone dissatisfied.
commented ago by (2.3k points)
Even in a full seminar you are well advised to skip the lit review. Hapless grad students don't, and spend half the seminar defending someone else's bad model or regressions. Also, once people are there, you don't need motivation at the  start. Put it at the end. That's opposite from the article, because people aren't trapped in a room reading an article, so you need to grab them on the first page. So for a seminar, go right into your model or empirical question. If it's a conference presentation, stick to one theorem or one regression. At the end, you can tell the audience what else they can get if they read the paper.
   Also: always have a handout. Just one page, no more. Put your name and photo and contact info and your notation on it, and your one theorem or table of results.  Put your data source and variable definitions if it's empirical. Maybe  a diagram.
0 votes
answered ago by (900 points)
The rationale for the "big 5" (not the personality traits) given by Cox is the following:  

"The most critical time in your whole seminar is the first five minutes or so. Here’s where you set the tone. The audience may be daydreaming later, but at least for now they’re watching, listening, and checking you out. Seize the moment and go for broke. "

Sadly, this argument does often not apply to conferences where a lot of people may come late because someone in a parallel session went over time or because there is simply not enough time between sessions or they might be already there but still debate a point from the talk before.  There you should have a lot more redundancy (and flexibility) than the big 5 model provides.  It is rather unforgiving to late-comers.
0 votes
answered ago by (1.3k points)
One good advice I was given is to skip the "preview of findings". Just go through them to the appropriate level of detail. They are probably almost all of the talk.
commented ago by (3.5k points)
I would disagree with skipping the preview of findings. Part of the reason for giving findings up front is it tells the audience what the talk is really about. This is important in keeping the discussion focused where you want it.
commented ago by (1.3k points)
I see your point, but I prefer focusing the discussion through the questions rather than the answers. Ideally the structure of the talk is guided by the research questions.
commented ago by (3.5k points)
That can also work to keep things under control.