For your final “reading” assignment, you will take a look at some material on how to give effective presentations. Giving truly great presentations is an art, and a lifelong endeavor. Especially in technical fields there is often a temptation to believe that if your ideas are brilliant enough, then essentially nothing else matters. This sentiment could not be further from the truth: ideas that are not broadly communicated or understood cannot have an impact on the world. Moreover, the process of distilling difficult technical material into a clear and accessible explanation is in and of itself a creative act that can often lead to new insights.
Next week, each of you will give a 10 minute in-class presentation on your final project topic. Since 10 minutes is a very short amount of time, your presentation should make use of visual aids that help your classmates quickly gain some geometric intuition about your chosen topic—just as you have seen in the lecture slides throughout the semester. For this reason you are strongly encouraged to use slide presentation software like PowerPoint, Keynote (or any number of free alternatives), or Beamer, though if you are exceptionally good at drawing compelling figures by hand in real-time then you may also give a presentation on the whiteboard. Either way, note that the visual aspect of your presentation will constitute an important part of your evaluation. You do not, however, have to generate all of these figures yourself! For a class presentation, it is perfectly acceptable to use figures found on the web, and textbooks, or in other media, so long as you properly cite the source on each slide.
As a reminder, the structure of your in-class presentation should look similar to the organization of your writeup. In particular, it should be split up roughly as follows:
- (1 minute) An intuitive introduction to your geometric object–this should include some visual aids.
- (2 minutes) A formal definition of the object in the smooth setting, and a brief statement of the most relevant theorems or properties of this object.
- (3 minutes) A high level overview of efforts to discretize the object, perhaps commenting on places where the current literature falls short.
- (3 minutes) A high level overview of applications of the object in computational algorithms. This section motivates why this object is interesting from a practical point of view.
- (1 minute) A very brief statement of your goals for the final implementation part of the project. Here you are setting your own criteria for success, and will later be evaluated on your success in carrying out these goals (or cogently explaining why things didn’t work out as expected!)
(Although this might not seem like much time, real conference presentations are often not much longer than this and still manage to pack in quite a bit of meaningful information—consider this an exercise preparing you for the real deal.) If you have been attending lecture, then you should already have a pretty good sense of what a presentation like this looks like: it is basically the structure we’ve been following in class, and you will find many examples for various topics in the course slides. For this “reading” assignment you should also take a look at the following resources:
- Trivial Connections on Discrete Surfaces—this presentation doesn’t strictly follow the format outlined above, but it is an example of a real conference talk that addresses a problem in discrete differential geometry, i.e., it takes a well-established idea from the smooth setting and shows how that idea can be put to work for computation. It also uses visual aids to quickly get the most important ideas across. (Also, this is a fun algorithm that could be easily implemented using the knowledge you’ve gained in this class!)
- Giving an Academic Talk—some great general advice from Jonathan Shewchuk.
- Tips for Giving Clear Talks—some great advice from Kayvon Fatahalian; some of these points won’t apply directly to your presentation since for the most part you’ll be explaining a mathematical idea (and its discretization) rather than discussing research outcomes. But still definitely useful to flip through.
- How to Write Mathematics Badly—an amusing discussion of mathematical presentation and writing from Jean-Pierre Serre.
Just as important as content and organization are mechanical aspects of giving a talk such as body language, pacing, vocal tone, elimination of verbal pauses, and so forth. Here I don’t have any particular recommendations for readings or videos, but there are plenty on the web. In the long term, the absolute best way to get better at giving presentations is to practice it on a regular basis! there are plenty of fun organizations they can help you get this kind of practice—for instance, at CMU there is the CMU Mock Trial; you might also try tracking down a local chapter of Toastmasters.
Your assignment for this reading is not to write a summary of what you read or watched, as we have done with previous readings, but rather to simply leave a link to your favorite resource on giving presentations in the comments below. These links will also help your classmates as they prepare for their presentations next week. You should post a link no later than 6 PM on Monday, April 25.
[Also stay tuned for the schedule of speakers on Tuesday/Thursday of next week.]