Job Talks

I recently attended a mock job talk. One of the hardest things about this particular talk was that it was supposed to be given to a mixed audience of undergraduates and professors. Here’s some thoughts I have about how to give a good talk in this situation:

1) Ask your audience easy questions at the beginning. Getting even a small amount of feedback (Let’s have a show of hands on who has seen Avatar!) will calm your nerves. Plus, the audience will be engaged. I say ask easy questions because you don’t know these people–you don’t want to put them on the spot if they are shy or insecure.

2) Repeat key terms a couple of different ways. Even the main concepts are not difficult to grasp, giving a quick definition or simple example will force you to introduce your main ideas slowly and keep your audience with you.

3) Rather than trying to cram all the different issues in your dissertation into one talk, pick one thread and stick to it.  As one professor put it, the hiring committee has read your abstract. They don’t need it rehashed, and a summary of all your big thoughts will just confuse a listening audience.

4) Don’t try to sound smart. Don’t name drop scholars. And if someone asks you a question that you don’t have a good answer to, it’s okay to ask them to elaborate or say that it’s an interesting problem (and explain why) without answering the question definitively. This approach has the added bonus of making your audience feel smart (they thought of something that you, the expert, didn’t!) and also making you look humble. Everyone would rather work with the humble guy than the guy who pretends to know what he’s talking about but is obviously full of it.

If you’ve got a job talk coming up, good luck!

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