Alternative talk styles

October 12th, 2009 by jose

I went to a toastmasters meeting, and found some interesting tricks to improve presentations. For example, they count the "ahhs", "hmm" etc. Since then I’m surprised at how many scientific talks are filled with those. A minor thing, but very effective. I didn’t keep going to meetings because it looked to me that the presentation style they use is not very compatible with the academic one (e.g., practicing improvisation). But it got me thinking… what alternative talk styles are out there? Is the ‘standard’ one the best? In a way, flying people all around the world to ‘see’ the talk is a bit of a lost cause, because body language doesn’t weight as much as in other communication styles. Of course, the networking and face-to-face time, to work on ideas on napkins, may make up for it, but still…

What follows is a walk through alternative talk styles that you may want to try in your next conference. Some require you to be the organizer, and enforce certain rules. Others, you can try just being the speaker. On with the show!

Pecha Kucha is a presentation format in which content can be easily, efficiently and informally shown, usually at a public event designed for that purpose. Under the format, a presenter shows 20 images for 20 seconds apiece, for a total time of 6 minutes, 40 seconds. They took the name Pecha Kucha from a Japanese term for the sound of conversation ("chit-chat"). It was being aimed primarily at creative industries professionals.

A Lightning Talk is a short presentation given at a conference or similar forum. Unlike other presentations, lightning talks last only a few minutes and several will usually be delivered in a single period by different speakers. This has actually being already adopted by academics (I’ve been to one!) and in my experience, it’s adored by the audience and well attended.

Ignite is a style of presentation where participants are given five minutes to speak on a subject accompanied by 20 slides. Each slide is displayed for 15 seconds, and slides are automatically advanced.

Last we have the TED talk. The motto of TED is ‘Ideas worth spreading’. If you are an academic, you should ask yourself, ‘is any of my ideas worth spreading?’. So if someone invited you to give a TED talk, what would you talk about? What if you make your next invited talk a TED-like talk?

Feel free to report your experiences with alternative talk styles in the comments…

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8 Responses to “Alternative talk styles”

  1. OliverNo Gravatar Says:

    Whenever I give a conference talk (linguistics) I have doubts whether people take me serious: my slides are full of images and little text. I talk freely (no notes) and have about 60 slides for a half-hour talk (as most of them are photos or a few words of text only they aren’t shown for very long). EVERY other talk at any conference I go to will typically feature about 20-30 slides, full of text.

    I believe my talks are well-received from the feedback I get, but I still can’t help feeling that my style is too different from what people expect.

    Do you have any thoughts about different presentation styles at conferences? Do I have an advantage in that my talks are so different, or should I follow the conventional way instead?

  2. DaveNo Gravatar Says:

    Using imagery and few keywords in slides is a very effective support method for conference keynotes. If you have too much text you run into the potential problem of people reading instead of listening. Using images helps cement ideas in the minds and memories of those attending, so it’s actually a very good way to present.

    If you’re the only one doing that at a conference, good news: yours is probably the most talked about and memorable keynote!

    I saw a while back a very interesting presentation style, although I’m not sure of the name of it, I managed to find an example on Youtube:

    - Dave

  3. Michael Says:

    How about a powerpoint-less presentation? Did anyone try that lately? Just switch off the projector, switch on the lights and talk to the audience.

    If you absolutely must show some drawing or graph, use a blackboard.

  4. SamNo Gravatar Says:

    I took a course in public speaking early on this year, and I was shocked at the amount of “ums” and “ahs” that cluttered every sentance that came out of my mouth without ever realizing it. I’ve found I’ve become a better speaker, but it’s something you have to keep working at. A few months after my course ended, I began to notice the “ums” and “ahs” coming back. It’s a hard habit to break.

  5. jose Says:

    : I guess giving a keynote is the best place to practice new styles because the audience is already convinced that it’s safe to pay attention to you: you are preselected.

    The Identity 2.0 Keynote is really interesting. It’s a machine-gun approach keeping each slide as simple as possible. But it felt monotonous after only a few seconds. PLus, if someone stops you for a question, you lose momentum and the entire effect vanishes. Plus it must be hell to ‘go back to the slide where you show…’ :)

    , have you tried this ‘showman in the dark’ approach? I’ve been to one of those powerpoint-less presentations, and it was so-so. You need to be quite a showman/storyteller.

  6. MaribethNo Gravatar Says:

    There’s a style called Presentation Zen that requires a lot of planning and forethought but can be really effective. Each slide has very little text but one, at most two, compelling images, related to but not necessarily directly related to the topic – meant more to create an association for the topic discussed rather than outline it visually. Details are on a handout given at the end of the presentation and attendees are told that up front so they can relax and really listen to the speaker. There’s a book about called, of course, Presentation Zen. It’s not for everyone but it makes one think about how they plan a presentation and has some great and thought-provoking ideas.

  7. DaveNo Gravatar Says:

    Ha! True, it’s really not for me, but I guess it is good to get an idea across quickly by telling the story. I prefer a handful of slides, very few bullet points and relevant images/video, and *knowing the subject*.

  8. GerdchenNo Gravatar Says:

    I prefer the “A Lightning Talk” too, because it shows a lot of varity and the audience isn’t bored so easily.

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