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Recommendations on Giving a Seminar Talk

In the fol­low­ing, we give a few hints for prepar­ing and giv­ing a good talk at a sem­i­nar in the Computational Data Analytics group of ­Prof. Fürnkranz, öffnet eine externe URL in einem neuen Fenster.​ These also are points to which we pay at­ten­tion when we grade your talk.​ While we be­lieve that most of these rec­om­men­da­tions are gen­er­al­ly ap­pli­ca­ble, sem­i­nars in other groups may fol­low dif­fer­ent cri­te­ria.


Your task in the sem­i­nar is to ex­plain the topic that you re­ceived to the par­tic­i­pants of the seminar.​ The topic is typ­i­cal­ly re­lat­ed to a paper, but you should not con­fine your­self to read­ing only this paper, or, con­verse­ly, to pre­sent every de­tail that is dis­cussed in this paper.

Pa­pers are often avail­able on-line.​ Note that the down­load often only works when you are in the uni­ver­si­ty network.​ If you have prob­lems ob­tain­ing a paper, let us know (you are not supposed to buy them).

A pre­req­ui­site for being able to ex­plain a paper is that you com­pre­hend the paper yourself.​ This is a chal­leng­ing task, re­search pa­pers a gen­er­al­ly writ­ten for other re­searchers in that area who have a lot of prior knowl­edge in the field of the paper.​ You (and the other sem­i­nar par­tic­i­pants) may not have this.​ So in order to un­der­stand the paper you have to do a bit of re­search in order to un­der­stand the ba­sics upon which the paper is built (Hint: Google and Wikipedia are often help­ful, but there is a rea­son why re­search pa­pers refer to other pa­pers when they briefly ex­plain the foun­da­tions of their paper). Sur­vey pa­pers or video tu­to­ri­als are also often good sources of in­for­ma­tion.

Struc­tur­ing your Talk

Once you un­der­stood the paper, you need to pre­pare a presentation.​ If you fol­low the paper para­graph per para­graph and ex­cerpt the most im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion on to the slides, it will prob­a­bly be a bad presentation.​ Try to struc­ture your pre­sen­ta­tion first.​ Maybe it helps if you ask your­self ques­tions like:

  • What is the prob­lem that the au­thors tried to solve in this paper?
  • How does this prob­lem re­late to the topic of the sem­i­nar and to other talks in the sem­i­nar?
  • How can I ex­plain the au­thors' so­lu­tion in the best way?
  • How did the au­thors demon­strate that the so­lu­tion works?

Also think about how your paper re­lates to the pre­vi­ous talks in the seminar.​ You gen­er­al­ly do not need to ex­plain things in de­tail that have been cov­ered in a pre­vi­ous talk (al­though it might be a good idea to briefly re­mind the au­di­ence).

Prepar­ing your Slides

Good slides should not con­tain too much text.​ Long texts are generally hard to comprehend on slides. Try to make the text on slides as short as possible, while making sure that the key points are always mentioned on the slides. The au­di­ence should be able to read the slides while they are lis­ten­ing to you.​ Ideally, the slides should ac­com­pa­ny your talk, i.​e.,​ they should, e.​g.,​ contain fig­ures that il­lus­trate what you say when you talk. 

Con­verse­ly, how­ev­er, the slides should also not con­tain too lit­tle text.​ Your fel­low stu­dents should be able to use your slides for try­ing to un­der­stand what your paper was about when they need to pre­pare their pre­sen­ta­tion.

For sim­i­lar rea­sons, it is typ­i­cal­ly not nec­es­sary that you pre­sent elab­o­rate math­e­mat­i­cal proofs if your talk.​ In most cases, it suf­fices if you only pre­sent the key re­sult and the proof idea.​ Try to ab­stract from the math to the con­tent.

Oral Pre­sen­ta­tion

It is, of course, good if you prac­tice your talk, but you should not over­do it.​ If you learn ev­ery­thing by heart, it often makes a very bor­ing talk.​ Converse­ly, do not just read off the slides.​ The slides should ac­com­pa­ny you, but you should talk about the topic.

It is al­ways good to in­volve the au­di­ence in some way (ask­ing ques­tions, etc.​).​

Try to make the pre­sen­ta­tion your own presentation.​ Avoid state­ments like "The au­thors of the paper do/say/claim ...​".​You need to ex­plain the topic, it is your pre­sen­ta­tion.

Sim­i­lar­ly, talk about the topic, not about the paper.


Dur­ing your talk, you should keep an eye on the time (usu­al­ly 20-30 min + ques­tions). We do not strict­ly en­force time limits, so if you are a few min­utes short­er or longer, this is no prob­lem at all (we won't even no­tice it be­cause we usu­al­ly don't time the talks). It will be­come a prob­lem if you run con­sid­er­ably over (or under) time, so much that it is not­i­ca­ble with­out a clock.​ If you re­al­ize that you are going much too long, you can also try to skip a few slides in your pre­sen­ta­tion on the fly.

In gen­er­al, it is hard to give a good es­ti­mate of the num­ber of slides that you need be­cause dif­fer­ent peo­ple need dif­fer­ent amounts of time for a sin­gle slide.​ It is, how­ev­er, usu­al­ly a bad idea to have less than a minute per slide be­cause then the au­di­ence can not re­al­ly read it anymore.​ So if you have more than 30 slides, you should prob­a­bly prac­tice and see how long it takes you.​ In most cases, 20-25 slides should be enough for a 30 min pre­sen­ta­tion.

Using Other Ma­te­ri­als

Feel free to use ma­te­ri­als other than those given to you with the paper.​ If you find videos, pic­tures, even a dif­fer­ent pre­sen­ta­tion on the topic on the Web, fine, you can use and adapt it to your needs.​ However, you must ac­knowl­edge all sources that you used ei­ther di­rect­ly on the slides (typ­i­cal­ly for fig­ures, ta­bles, videos, etc.​) or at the end of the slides (typ­i­cal­ly for ad­di­tion­al pa­pers or pre­sen­ta­tions that you used, etc.​).​

Need­less to say, in the end, it should still be your pre­sen­ta­tion, and not you talk­ing about some­body else's pre­sen­ta­tion.

An­swer­ing Ques­tions

You must be able to an­swer ques­tions to all as­pects of your presentation.​ If you write some­thing on your slides, you must be able to ex­plain it.​ If you don't un­der­stand a sen­tence you write on the slides, you should be alarmed.​ Pay par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion to fig­ures you in­clude (do you un­der­stand what they say, can you ex­plain all as­pects, do you know what the axes of the graph mean, etc.​).​

"The au­thors did not ex­plain this in the paper" is a very bad an­swer to a question.​ It typ­i­cal­ly means "I did not try hard enough to un­der­stand this.​".​

Con­tact­ing the Or­ga­niz­ers

It is not re­quired that you con­tact the or­ga­niz­ers of the sem­i­nar prior to your talk, and most stu­dents don't.​ However, you may, of course ask them for as­sis­tance if you don't un­der­stand as­pects of the paper, want feed­back on your slides, etc.​ In this case, con­tact them per E-mail (there is typ­i­cal­ly a con­tact ad­dress spec­i­fied on the sem­i­nar page) early and ex­plain the prob­lem so that they can pre­pare an answer.​ Note that they may need some time for that be­cause they may also not know the an­swer off-hand.

Get­ting Feed­back on your Slides

We strongly encourage students to send us a preliminary version of the slides one week prior to the talk. This is not immediatelz relevant for grading, but we will try to give you some feedback on the slide prior to your presentation, so that you can still improve it in time before your talk.

Get­ting Feed­back on your Talk

At the point of this writ­ing, we do not give much feed­back on your talk dur­ing the sem­i­nar, be­cause we do not want to dis­cuss the per­for­mance of a stu­dent in front of other stu­dents (in par­tic­u­lar if the per­for­mance was bad). How­ev­er, based on feed­back that we re­ceived, we may change this in the fu­ture.

In any case, you are very wel­come of ask for feed­back in pri­vate, e.​g.,​ by talk­ing to or­ga­niz­ers im­me­di­ate­ly after your talk or in their speak­ing hours.