Conference talks reconsidered

:: research, rambling

A couple weeks ago, I wrote that I was beginning to hate conference talks. The next morning, I woke up with 50+ Twitter notifications caused by people debating that point. I have reconsidered my views.

In my earlier post, I point out that the typical advice I hear is “The talk should be an ad for the paper”. After several discussions, I think this is bad advice. Instead, Lindsey Kuper and Chris Martens encouraged me to ignore this advice and instead make my talk a performance.

At first, I was unsure what this meant. In fact, I am still not quite what this means. What does it mean to perform a paper? But I followed it anyway.

Essentially I tried to communicate, at a high-level, why I think this work is cool, and what parts of the work are most interesting. I tried to tell a story about what inspired this work, why I care about it, and what came out of it. I did not try to show many technical details; I showed only those necessary to tell the story of this work. I did not try to explain the particulars of all this work; I showed only those necessary to fit the work into the context of the story I wanted to tell.

I think the end result is actually an effective ad for the paper. However, by approaching the talk differently, I produced a much better talk (IMHO). And thankfully, I am not alone in that opinion. For example, I was very excited after my initial practice talk when Matthias called the talk “90% perfect”, in defiance of a NU PRL tradition of not dwelling on positive aspects and only giving constructive criticism after a practice talk.

A video of this talk is online here.