November 6, 2006

Use PowerPoint for good, not evil

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at November 6, 2006 7:14 PM

Chad Orzel offers advice on PowerPoint lectures, all of which is very sound. The closest thing we have in the Clarke group to hazing new members are the multiple rounds of "practice talks" that grad students must survive when preparing a talk for a conference. These sessions consist of ten minutes of actually practicing the talk, followed by at least an hour of going through the talk slide-by-slide while the rest of the group provides merciless criticism. This tends to instill the student with deep knowledge of the principles of effective presentation, along with some idiosyncracies passed on from senior group members, like putting titles in red and using Times New Roman everywhere. (I am a dissenter who uses black for titles and Verdana for everything on the grounds that sans-serif fonts are more readable on slides. A few people unaccountably use the dread comic sans, which I have tried in vain to discourage.)

Thanks to today's colloquium speaker, I can offer some further advice: Dark purple text on a light purple background is a spectacularly bad color combination. If you want to be even less legible, use green as your alternate text color. This was one of those talks where I had to listen very closely to the speaker, because his slides were useless.

Tags: Academia

I really like the comic sans font and have been guilty of using it on occasion. I have mostly cured my tendency to use even fancier fonts, and it took me years to finally stop using fancy backgrounds. I still commit some of these sins now and then, but I'm better than I used to be.

The 10 minute + 1 hour slide-by-slide grill is extremely similar to what I did to my SURF students this year---except we did 4 of them in one evening mega-meeting (the other already had to give his talk at an earlier venue, so we had done that for/to him earlier), and we were all in a lot of pain by the time we were done. (My students had to give talks that were longer than 10 minutes, but the premise is the same.) This is an extremely useful thing to do!

Another really useful thing when writing a talk in the first place is to first write a 5 minute talk (a la the Joel Lebowitz speed-seminar format from the Rutgers stat phys meetings except that it doesn't have to be blackboard-only and you typically don't have Michael Fisher interrupting you all the time) and then lengthen it to 10/15/20 min and (if giving a full length seminar) finally lengthen it to 50 min. Giving a 5 minute talk really forces you to think about how to very concisely present both the problem and the main result because there's just no time for anything else. Then build everything else around those slides.

By the way, I could never stand Times New Roman.

Posted by: Mason | November 6, 2006 10:40 PM

Tekton forever

Posted by: shellock | November 7, 2006 5:00 AM

I don't care for Comic Sans (I find it distracting), but Times New Roman is even worse. Ideally you pay more attention to the words themselves than the typeface they're in. (You know, like when you told her you loved her for her "personality"?)

Posted by: Lemming | November 7, 2006 9:50 AM

Both personalities?

Posted by: Mason | November 7, 2006 9:48 PM
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