Computer Laboratory

Research Skills


Videos of the 2009 lectures

Compare this year's lectures with the 2009 versions.

You can view the 2009 versions either on the University of Cambridge streaming media service:
Good and bad presentationsHow to prepare a presentation
or on Vimeo:
Good and bad presentationsHow to prepare a presentation

Good and bad presentations from Neil Dodgson on Vimeo.

How to prepare a presentation from Neil Dodgson on Vimeo.


  • Presentation Zen — Garr Reynolds approach to great presentations
  • Made to Stick — Dan & Chip Heath's explanation of why some ideas survive and others die

Brief summaries from the lectures

The basic talk

  • Who? — title, author, venue, date
  • What? — the key idea
  • Why? — why it is important
  • How? — technical details (if there is time - cannot do this in a five minute talk)
  • Where? — where it leads next
  • Final slide: — the key idea (leave this up during Q&A)

The right questions to ask

from Presentation Zen, Garr Reynolds

  • How much time do I have?
  • What is the venue like?
  • What time of day?
  • Who are the audience?
  • What is their background?
  • What do they expect of me?
  • What do I want them to do?
  • What is the fundamental purpose of my talk?
  • What is the story?
  • What is my absolutely central point?

SUCCESS criteria

from Made to Stick, Dan & Chip Heath, interpreted for Computer Science presentations by Neil Dodgson

  • Simplicity
    • not simplistic; not dumbed down
    • What is your key point?
    • What is your core message?
    • Why should your audience care?
  • Unexpectedness
    • Stimulate the audience's curiosity
    • Pose questions
    • Expose a gap in their knowledge - then fill the gap
    • Take the audience on a journey
  • Concreteness
    • Start with an example
    • Use examples throughout
    • Speak of concrete things, not of vague generalities
    • The abstract is hard to grasp, examples are easy to grasp
  • Credibility
    • Provide evidence that your idea works
    • For example: show results, describe the algorithm
    • Provide enough detail to make them go read your paper, but not so much that you bore them or lose them
  • Emotions
    • People are emotional beings: make them feel something
    • Catch their interest: can they use your work? do they believe you?
  • Stories
    • People love stories
    • Where appropriate, make the whole talk into a story
    • Use anecdotes in your talk: "When we started this research we assumed X, but we were surprised when we found that..."

Neil Dodgson's hints & tips

  • A research presentation is not a paper
    • You are presenting the idea that is in your paper
    • You are presenting an advertisement for your paper
    • You are convicing people to go read your paper
  • Beware the curse of knowledge
    • ...where you cannot imagine what it is like not to have your level of background knowledge on the topic. [Chip & Dan Heath]
    • Imagine the typical audience member (e.g., a member of your research group who does not know your work) and plan the talk to be accessible to them.
    • Try applying the Heath brother's SUCCESS criteria to your talk.
  • Start well
    • Start with the key idea
    • Start by catching the audience's interest - how did they do that? is that possible?
    • You have only two minutes before many of the audience will drift off - do not waste those two minutes
    • Ensure that you know exactly what you are going to say to start and have rehearsed it
  • Stop within the time limit
    • Using more than your time is rude and shows poor planning
    • If you run over time, everyone will remember that fact and not your talk
    • Do not try to cover everything that is in your paper - leave people wanting to know more - they'll go read your paper
  • Rehearse
    • Practice, practice, practice
    • A presentation is a performance - you would not go watch a stage show where the actors had not rehearsed - your audience have given up their own time to listen to you - you owe it to your audience to rehearse beforehand
    • Only by rehearsal can you ensure (a) that you start well and (b) that you will end on time
  • Check the technology beforehand
    • All lecture theatres are different.
    • Arrive at least ten minutes early to ensure that the technology works.
    • Ensure that you have a back-up plan if your laptop doesn't connect or if the software is unavailable or incompatible. For example:
      • If you take your own laptop, have a backup presentation on a memory stick.
      • If you use Keynote or Powerpoint, have a backup presentation in PDF.
      • Your luggage may go missing: put a copy of your presentation in The Cloud.
      • If you need an internet connection for your presentation, have a backup version that doesn't depend on an internet conection.
      • If you use video in your presentation, have a backup version that doesn't depend on video.
      • If you use sound in your presentation, have a backup version that doesn't depend on sound.