Writing the talk



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Job talks
The key element of your campus interview is the job talk. Your first task is to find out from the chair of the search committee exactly how long you have to speak, to whom, and in what context. Now you have to write the talk.
Writing the talk:
Here are some brief thoughts on how to turn a paper or chapter into a talk.
First, I do not agree with people who suggest simply speaking from notes. In these situations-unlike a class-the stakes are just too high and the risks of flubbing a key point too great. And typically such talks run longer when given extemporaneously. One usually has a more or less rigid timeframe for job talks. I also don't like the idea of trying to memorize a talk or whole sections of a talk. Not only is there the risk of forgetting key points under pressure, but it can also come out stilted-like a grade school kid giving a speech.
There are some things you can do, however, that gives the security of having a talk written out and TIMED (very important), which can actually enable you to relax and focus on the audience.
1. The first thing to bear in mind is the simple and obvious fact that an audience is listening to a talk rather than reading it, so a lot of things that would not be appropriate in a paper (would be bad writing in fact) are useful or necessary in a talk. For example, repetition of key points or phrases. (And that sentences don't have to be complete, noun-verb.) But perhaps most important is that short paragraphs are better, even if you have to break up a single thought sequence that in a written paper would be kept intact as a paragraph. (This is because one tends to read a paragraph in one breath, and a long one leaves the listening audience "breathless.") A paragraph typically consists of a topic sentence and then a series of supporting statements. So, for a talk you might actually separate the topic sentence from the statements that follow in otherwise long (or key) paragraphs. This has the added benefit of slowing you down and giving each point more emphasis, which is easier for the listener to follow and will actually sound more like spoken text than read text.
2. For a series of statements, in fact for any series-like words or phrases in a sentence-you might find it useful to "bullet" them. The other benefit of this is that you will tend to remember these shorter bullets or sound bites, and thus be able to look up at your audience as you tick them off-thus giving the impression that you are talking to them rather than reading (because your cadence necessarily changes when you are "listing" points).
3. All this suggests that the text you have for a talk need not-perhaps should not-look like the text of a paper. The look may vary with individual needs but it should be regarded as purely instrumental to the effect you want to have. So for example, as I read through a script for a talk I typically bold or otherwise set-off words, phrases or whole sentences that I want to emphasis, or slow down for, etc. (For example, in the text above, if I were reading this as a talk, my eye would easily pick up the key point-"should not look like a paper.") Here is an example from a sample text:
"Knotty issues of

a.. wage labor,

b.. security,

c.. and citizenship were beyond the purview of what military officials were prepared to provide.


Indeed, ultimately, these questions would require years of wrangling,
a.. a successful war effort,

b.. three Constitutional amendments



c.. and steady pressure from newly emancipated slaves in efforts to become recognized citizens."
Obviously, one can overdo this like anything else, so you might reserve it for those places where the argument gets particularly dense or complicated. It's a technique that might be particularly useful at those junctures in the talk where you give your main points or summarize for the audience the points you have already made.
4. Long quotations that one might get away with in a written paper (though usually not a good idea there either) are deadly in a talk. A quote never speaks for itself anyway, you have to go back and explain it or highlight certain points within it. So you might as well do that at the outset. What one usually wants from a quote is the authority that comes from having "the goods," so to speak, in the subject's own words and/or something of the tone, diction, or character of the speaker. So you can parse the quote for phrases, sentences, or words that capture all this, but embed the whole thing in your own prose. With introductory phrases or interjections you can convey your interpretation of the quote as you read it, which saves time and is more effective with a listening audience.
Take for example the following quote from a job-seeker’s paper:
serious danger to the health of this City will result from the congregation within its limits of the large numbers of idle negroes which now throng the streets, lanes and alleys, and over-crowd every hovel. Lazy and profligate, unused to caring for themselves...most of them loaf idly about the streets and alleys.. and. .. lounge lazily in crowded hovels, which soon become dens of noisome filth... fit to engender and rapidly disseminate the most loathsome and malignant diseases.. No contraband shall be allowed to remain in the city of Natchez who is not employed by some responsible white citizen.., and who does not reside at the domicil of his or her employer.The word contraband is hereby defined to mean all persons formerly slaves who are not now in the employ of their former owners
It might be rendered this way for a talk:
"A.W. Kelly, not related to the officer quoted earlier but a surgeon and health officer stationed in Mississippi, issued an order to preserve the general health of the troops in Natchez. The order asserted that the growing black presence in that city constituted a "serious danger," that the migrants were "lazy and profligate, [and[ unused to caring for themselves," and that they "lounge{d] lazily in crowded hovels, which soon become dens of noisome filth... fit to engender and rapidly disseminate the most loathsome and malignant diseases." Kelly thought this justified an order that "no contraband shall be allowed to remain in the city of Natchez who is not employed by some responsible white citizen.., and who does not reside at the domicil of his or her employer." And for good measure he added his own reinterpretation of just what the word contraband should mean: "The word contraband is hereby defined to mean all persons formerly slaves who are not now in the employ of their former owners."
If you are still in the process of writing your dissertation, or if you are in the process of revising the completed dissertation for publication, some of these techniques may also prove useful in rewriting. As I noted, shorter quotes are better in written prose too. And getting a clearer, crisper, and more economical articulation of your argument is just as important for a reading as a listening audience. So immediately after the talks are over you might go back to the manuscript to insert the better prose and insert queries about thing that came up in the discussions after the talks-before you forget them.
Delivering the Talk:
It is almost always better to stand (you’ll carry more authority and it’s easier to project). If the room isn’t equipped to have you stand but could be, and you prefer to speak standing, ask to arrange it.
It is very helpful to have a lectern so you can easily read your text without having to hold it.
Make sure you have a glass of water.
Don’t read too fast.
Check to make sure people can hear you.
If you use images, give your audience a chance to look at them (rather than flashing them).
If you have handouts, have them handed out (in adequate numbers) before you start the talk.
Try to look at a variety of individual members of the audience during the talk (rather than over their heads). Don’t focus on the one or two people who look very bored or are asleep (there’s always someone…)
Answering Questions:
Delivering the talk is only the beginning. The real test is the Q and A session. Do not relax once you’ve finished talking.
A few suggestions:
It is generally easier to let someone else chair/manage the session – that is call on people. It’s very hard to both keep track of who has had their hand up how long and to answer the questions asked. They can also make sure that crucial people – like the chair of the department – get their questions in.
Listen very carefully to the questions, taking quick notes if needed.
If you really don’t understand a question, ask the questioner to reformulate it.
If a question is not completely clear to you, restate what you think was asked and answer your restated question.
You can also ask, after you’ve finished your reply, if you’ve adequately answered. (Don’t do this for every question, however, or if you have nothing more to say.)
If you understand the question and don’t know the answer, say so.
Answer each question as fully as possible, but don’t go on for five minutes.
If there is a lull in the questioning and a further thought comes to you on a previous question, add your additional thought.
Do not praise or assess the quality of the questions. (i.e. say, “What a great question!” ) If you do it in response to every question, you’ll seem foolish, if you praise only some you risk insulting those whose questions you don’t praise.
If there’s hostility in a question asked, ignore the hostility and answer the question.






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