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Giving Talks

I am in Auburn Alabama where I just gave a talk to the industrial and systems engineering department on sports scheduling.  I must say that when I left Pittsburgh this morning, I had somewhat mixed feelings.  Of course, I love giving talks, and it is great to go out and see a university I have not seen before.   And I know some people at Auburn and I like them and the research they do (check out Kevin Gue‘s animations of order picking in warehouses:  who knew order picking was so captivating!).  Further, the meetings with people I don’t know offer great opportunities for social capital (I ended up enjoying all of my meetings, particularly the one with Emmett Lodree who is doing really neat work on disaster response and inventory).

But as the alarm went off at 4:30AM so I could make a 7AM flight to Atlanta and then drive an hour and half from Atlanta to Auburn, I was wondering of the value of giving another talk.   I have given versions of my sports scheduling talk a few dozen times (though it is vastly different than what it was even one year ago) and, while it is a fun talk, some of the thrill is gone.

But recently I read a blog entry by Sze San Nah, a doctoral student at the University of Sydney, on her giving her first talk (at the IFORS conference in South Africa).  In her blog entry, she goes through the excitement and terror of giving a talk at a professional conference.   And I thought back on my first talk.  It was at an ORSA/TIMS (or TIMS/ORSA) conference in the mid-1980s.  I was to give a talk on an improved algorithm for polymatroidal flow (a paper I am still extremely proud of:  it was published in Math of OR).  The paper was stuck in a session on manufacturing networks, and the chair of the session introduced it as “Here’s a paper that I can’t even understand the abstract.  I don’t know what it is doing here”.  He proceeded to spend the rest of the session looking out the window.  After that introduction, practically everyone in the room stood up and left, seeing that there was going to be very little manufacturing in my talk.  Fortunately, I think my co-author Craig Tovey had rounded up some people, because about 10 people came into the room, just to hear me talk.  So I stumbled through my talk, and it ended up going reasonably well.  But I was very nervous.

Since then, I have given perhaps one hundred talks at professional meetings and another fifty talks at various universities and research institutions.  And I think the key to giving a good talk is to keep some of the nervousness that Sze San Nah talks about, without letting that nervousness take over.

To come back to Auburn, I had a great day here.  Nervousness was easy, since there were sixty or more people in the room.  But the talk went well, if a little rushed. I am glad I decided not to ignore the alarm clock this morning!

{ 3 } Comments

  1. sze san nah | October 29, 2008 at 6:37 am | Permalink

    hopefully, i can give talks to others like you in future 🙂

  2. Laura McLay | October 31, 2008 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for the honest blog entry about giving talks! Giving my first talk was a terrifying experience. I’ve come a long way, but I, too, still get a little nervous every time I have an audience.

  3. voip | November 26, 2008 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    A few dozen talks a year are a lot talks, they sure can give you enough experience and nerves to deal with any unexpectedness in talks. There is no other sure way to overcome the nervousness, preparation is king, been there done that is king kong.