I experimented a few things with my Preliminary Exam (PE) talk. I think those ideas worked, so let me do a quick recap.
Begin with a personal story
I started the talk telling why I became a water guy. I wanted to lead the audience to the idea that “The key to the future lies in the past”, and I did that by telling about my past and how that influenced me to change the future. I wanted to tell the audience—my Thesis Committee—why I wanted to pursue this topic.
Title at the end
Most of the talks I’ve seen show the title at the beginning—the conventional way. The exceptions are TED talks which don’t display their titles. Since I wanted to frame the beginning of my talk like a TED talk with a personal story opening, I didn’t have a title. My advisor told me that a PhD thesis must have a title (why didn’t I think of that), so I came up with a solution: put the title at the end. Some movies show their titles at the beginning while some other do so at the end; I reckon a talk can do that too. And I built the content of the talk towards that title. So by the time the title came up, the audience knew why and I hope it stuck with them.
This was actually unintentional, I didn’t realize that I was doing it until later while reflecting on the experience. I presented the main results of the Ping River streamflow reconstruction paper many times before at EGU. During these one-on-one encounters, when explaining that my model fits better to the data than the benchmark, I often paused and let the listener see it for themselves. While presenting the PE talk yesterday, I just felt like it was EGU all over again, and I did the pause too. I’ve read about “the pause” before but haven’t really practiced it. I guess it came subconsciously. But now that I’ve got real experience with this technique, I think it’s cool and I’m gonna use it more.
Special thanks to my friends J, G and Z for listening to my rehearsals! Always always rehearse your talk. TED talks are all scripted but with countless practices they all sound unscripted. Academic talks are not TED talks, but they need to be well rehearsed too.