Tips for creating and presenting a topshot Engineering paper
A. First, organize your talk:
Read the entire paper at least 3 times-You need to be able to explain the details in the paper (even the ugly tricky notation)
You need to be able to provide a critical analysis of the paper
Check out references in the related work section of the paper. (this will help you put the paper in context of a larger body of work and will help you critique the paper's results/contributions)
Find the important ideas- A paper has many details but only one or two main ideas; structure your talk around these main ideas.
Create a Talk Outline- Your talk should be organized in a top-down manner.
You should have the following main sections in your talk:
Introduction, The Big Picture: what, why, how, and why we should care (motivation). Be sure to include:
a statement of the problem being solved (what)
motivation and putting the work in context (why and why should we care)
a high-level view of the author's solution (how)
Details of solution
Results demonstrating/proving their solution
Critic of Work (possibly compare to related work)
Conclusions & Future Directions for this work
The talk should be organized as the important ideas first, the details second, conclusions last. Each section of your talk should be organized in a similar manor: high-level important points first, details second, summarize high-level points last. If the paper is well written, you can use the paper's organization as a guide.
B. Design your slides
Slide Organization- Your slides should be organized like an outline--a few main points, with sub points under each one.
Your slides are a guide for your talk not a word-for-word copy of your talk. List specific points that you want to talk about as sub-topics of each main topic. If there are particular details that you want to discuss, outline them on the slide and keep written notes for you to refer to in your talk rather than writing all the details on the slide.
Summarize Main Points- You should have a summary slide of the main ideas at the end.
If applicable, Include a list of open questions from the paper
It is okay to waste space- Add just enough prose prose to present the main points and highlight the main parts of each point. Use phrases rather than complete sentences and use large fonts. You can use acronyms and abbreviations sparingly, however you should say the complete name when you talk about about them. For example, if you abbreviate processes to procs on a slide, say "processes" when you talk about the point not "procs". Similarly, if your create an acronym for your super fast multi-cast implementation SFMC and refer to the old slow multi-cast implementation as OSMC, then say "our super fast multi-cast" and "the old slow multi-cast" rather than "SFMC" and "OSMC". The exception is for well-known acronyms such as PVM, MPI, API, JVM, etc.
A picture is worth a thousand words- Use figures and graphs to explain implementation and results. It is very hard to describe a system implementation without having a picture of the components of the system. I once attended a talk about Intel's I64 architecture where the speaker tried to discuss the details of the layout of the chip and the interactions between the components without having any figures. It made for a very bad talk and a very hostile audience.
Number of Slides- As a general rule, it should take 2-3 minutes to talk through the material on one slide, so for a 45 minute talk you should have about 20 slides. If there is too much material in a paper to present completely in 45 minutes, then pick one part (the most interesting/important part) that you will discuss in detail, and present the other parts at a higher level. You can create back-up slides for specific details that you don't plan to talk about, but may get questions about.
C. Preparing your presentation
Provide a talk road-map- Tell audience where you are going with your talk.
Give audience a road-map of your talk at the beginning by using outline slides
Immediately after the title slide, put up an outline slide and tell the audience the main organization of your talk. Another alternative is to first have a few slides motivating the paper's general topic, then put up an outline slide giving the audience a road-map of your talk.
It should be clear when you start a new high-level part of your talk
Use good transitions from one slide to the next, and from one main topic to the next..."We just talked about the implementation of foo now we will look at how well foo performs for synthetic and real workloads.
You may want to use the outline slide at other points in your talk to provide a visual transition between parts.
Repeat Your Point- There is a rule that says you have to tell your audience something three times before the really hear it:
Tell them what you are going to say.
Summarize what you said.
This is particularly important for figures and graphs. For example:
This graph show how the A algorithm performs better than the B and C algorithms as the number of nodes increase
The X axis is number of nodes, the Y axis is execution time in seconds The red curve shows the execution time of A as the number of nodes increases The blue curve shows ...
Thus you can see that as the number of nodes increases above N, the A algorithm performs better. This is because of increased message traffic in algorithms B and C as shown on the next slide...
Explain concepts in your own words It is certainly okay to lift key phrases from the paper to use in your talk. However, you should also try to summarize the main ideas of the paper in your own words.
Talk to the Audience Don't read your slide off the screen, nor directly off the projector. It is okay to stop for a second and refer to your notes if you need to.
Practice Give a practice run-through of your talk. Stand in a room for 1 hour and talk through all your slides (out loud). This should be a timed dress rehearsal (don't stop and fix slides as you go). Members of your reading group should provide a practice audience for you.
Nervousness: How to fight back
A well organized, practiced talk will almost always go well. If you draw a blank, then looking at your slides will help you get back on track.
Taking a deep breath will clam you down. One trick is to try to remember to take a deep breath between each slide.
Slow down. Take a few seconds to think about a question that is being asked before you answer it. It is okay to pause for a few seconds between points and between slides; a second or two of silence between points is noticeable only to you, but if you are talking a mile a minute everyone will notice.
Bring notes. if you are afraid that you will forget a point or will forget your elegant transition between slides 11 and 12, write these down on a piece of paper and bring it with you. However, you don't want to have a verbatim copy of your talk, instead write down key phrases that you want to remember to say.
Give at least one practice talk to an audience.
Be prepared to answer questions. You don't have to know the answer to every question, however you should be prepared to answer questions and able to answer most questions about the paper. Before you give the talk, think about what questions you are likely to get, and how you would answer them. You may want to have back-up slides ready for answering certain questions.
It is okay to say "I don't know" or better yet "gee, I hadn't thought about that, but one possible approach would be to..." or to refer to your notes to answer questions.