Resources for People Who Wanna Present Stuff Good and Do Other Stuff Good Too

Presentations are hard. You’ve been thinking about something for a long time, and you can get tunnel vision. What do you mean, everyone looking at your poster or going to your talk doesn’t already know why you care about the components of the representation space of π1(M) into PSL(2,R) with extremal Euler characteristic??? Luckily, if you want to up your presentation game, you’re not entirely on your own.

One good way to improve your posters and presentations, of course, is to go to lots of poster sessions and talks and keep an eye on what’s working and isn’t for the presenter and their audience. But you can also get advice from around the math and science blogsophere.

For presentations, Dan Meyer has a good post about how to prepare for a talk. It boils down to “testify and practice,” but he gives a lot of specific advice on the nitty gritty details of how exactly he does that. He’s writing specifically for math teachers, but his presentation tips will be applicable to math research talks and other professional topics. The comments also have some feedback, and he wrote a follow-up post of some advice from 14 of his favorite math education speakers.

Zen Faulkes, an invertebrate neuroethologist (I had to look it up too) at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley has a free e-book (pdf) of presentation tips from his blog, NeuroDojo. He also has a blog devoted to helping people make better posters. I especially appreciate the constructive critiques of real posters, like this one about two posters by mathematical biology graduate student Chris Miles.

When I asked for suggestions for this post on Twitter, astronomers stepped up. Thanks, astronomers! Meredith Rawls, an astronomy postdoc at the University of Washington, wrote a blog post about how she made an award-winning poster for a conference. She and other astronomers also pointed to tips from Kimberly Cartier and Jason Wright and this list from a blog called Astrobetter whose goal is “to provide information and tips about streamlining all the things we need to do Astronomy well.” People also suggested Edward Tufte, particularly for presentations that have a lot of data visualization.

I got great suggestions from friends on Facebook as well:

  • Georgia Tech mathematician Dan Margalit has a page of talk tips, which includes articles and blog posts from Paul Halmos, Jordan Ellenberg, Bryna Kra, and other mathematicians.
  • The LaTeX package tikzposter was designed specifically for conference posters.
  • Technically Speaking, a page by Lewis D. Ludwig of Denison University, has videos illustrating common presentation pitfalls and how to avoid them.
  • University of Waterloo mathematician Chris Godsil has a webpage of math presentation tips. I particularly appreciated his pointing out that giving a research talk or presentation is not the same as lecturing or teaching. Of course there are skill overlaps, but the goal of a research talk is usually not for an attendee to reproduce your proof later. 
  • Evolutionary biologist Colin Purrington’s website has “geeky tips for scientists,” including a page on designing conference posters.
  • Stephanie Evergreen is a data reporting and visualization expert with a blog of presentation design and visualization suggestions.
  • The NYU library has a good page of poster design tips.

If you have other presentation or poster design tips, please share in the comments!

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