July 11-13, 2023
Pazo de Soutomaior
VIGO (Spain)


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Useful Information

Tips on Preparing for the Workshop

Publications of Workshop Presentations

Tips on Preparing for the Workshop

Tim Kehoe, October 2005 (refreshed by Franck Portier, May 2023)

The organizing committee hopes that you receive valuable feedback on your research, that you learn a lot from the presentations of the other participants, and that you enjoy yourself during the workshop. Some of the participants from previous workshops suggested that I come up with a list of suggestions on preparing to present your research.

Communication of results is an essential component of economic research. Many economists prefer attending conferences, workshops, and seminars to reading working papers and journal articles as a way of picking up ideas. Good presenters are invited more often to present their results at conferences, workshops, and seminars than are bad presenters. In what follows, I provide advice on preparing for presentations. You should realize that these suggestions are based on my personal tastes about what I regard as a good presentation of economic research. Even if you disagree with some of these suggestions and choose to disregard them, however, I think that it would be worthwhile to read them through and to think about them:

  1. The fundamental ingredient in a good presentation is preparation. Try to get a friend or two to listen to you practice the presentation and to give you suggestions. Try to practice the presentation more than once. (I know that you are asking a lot of a friend to listen to your presentation, but that is the sort of thing that friends are for, and, besides, you can offer to return the favor in the future in one way or another.) Your friend does not have to be studying the same field of economics as you are. In fact, learning how to explain things to someone not in your field is an important skill. Practicing with someone not in your field will help you focus on being clear. (Of course, if you are going to be presenting to economics researchers, you want to practice with a friend who has training in economics.) Do not just use the sessions only to practice what words you will say: Be willing to change the organization and style of your presentation if your practice audience seems confused.

  2. When you are preparing your slides, you should think about what is the point that each is supposed to make. You can be sure that, if you do not think about this sort of question ahead of time, you will have to do so during your presentation. One of the most common questions during a presentation in is, What do you want us to learn from this slide? or, more bluntly, Why did you put this slide up? (This happens during presentations in which the audience is engaged. In presentations where the audience is too "polite" to ask such questions, they just start dozing off or thinking of something else.) The practice presentations that you give to your friends and colleagues are good times to think about what your slides should look like. I usually find myself changing my slides and even the whole organization of the presentation a time or two as a result of the practice presentations.

  3. If your presentation has graphs in it, make sure they are readable. Make sure that all the axis labels are large enough to read. Try to avoid putting too many graphs on one slide. If you are not going to say anything about a graph, then do not include it.

  4. When you are practicing your presentation, think about the mechanics. My preferred way of doing things is to stand back from the projector and to point to things on the screen, just as I would point to things on a chalkboard. Standing near the computer screen while talking tends to make the speaker look down at the computer and talk to the computer, rather than look at audience and talk to the audience. It also tends to block the view of the screen of part of the audience.

  5. Pay attention to the time during your practices and during the presentation itself. Remember that some of the most important elements of each presentation are the questions and suggestions from the audience and the speaker's responses to them. Suppose that you have 60 minutes for a presentation. You should probably prepare a talk that would run 40-45 minutes without interruption. 50 or 75 minute presentations can be structured proportionately. During the presentation itself, you should be ready to add or subtract slides as you get closer to the end. I usually have a few extra slides that I think might be useful in answering questions and that I can also include in the presentation if I end up having more time that I had expected. Remember, however, that there is nothing wrong in finishing a presentation a few minutes early, but it is a crime to run over time!

  6. The toughest presentations to give are those scheduled for 20 or 30 minutes. You cannot just condense a 60 minute or 75 minute presentation into such a short period by flashing up slides rapidly. (Of course, you can do so if you really want to, but your audiences will not appreciate it.) If you have to cut a full length presentation down to a short one, change the philosophy of the presentation: In 20 or 30 minutes, the best you can do is try to get one idea across and to try to convince the audience that it would be worth their time to read your paper. What about 90 minute presentations? Many researchers are overjoyed at the prospect of expanding a 60 minute or 75 minute presentation to 90 minutes. It gives them a chance to ramble on and on. When invited to give such a long presentation, however, I tell the organizer that I will cut it short. It is not that I do not enjoy rambling on and on about my work - I do - it is just that I know how annoying it is to be in the audience while a presenter is doing this. If an audience wants to fill up the last 15 minutes of a 90 minute seminar period by enthusiastically asking questions and discussing the research, that is fantastic, but I try to stop the presentation itself by the 75 minute mark.

  7. Since time is precious to you in your presentation, you should think carefully about how you want spend it. Long introductions are almost always a bad idea, unless, of course, you really have very little of substance to talk about. What the audience usually wants to learn during the introduction is what is the question that you intend to answer, why the question and the answer are important, and, probably, what your answer is going to be. In general, audiences do not like research presentations to be mysterious. Surprise endings are fine for novels and films, but usually not for economic research.

  8. Remember in preparing your introduction that the audience is probably not very interested in your own personal history of economic thought. If your research is closely related to other papers, it is worth briefly explaining the relationship. Long discussions of the literature and, in particular, slides with long lists of papers, are usually a waste of precious time during a presentation.

  9. It is worth stressing that you need to try to pose a clear and interesting question in the introduction and then to answer it during the rest of the presentation. This is far more difficult than it may sound. Put another way: To make a good presentation, you need to present a good paper.

  10. Even economic researchers who have not done well in presentations in the past and who think of themselves as bad public speakers can do a very good job presenting their work. The trick is to prepare and to practice!

  11. You will learn a lot in preparing for your presentation. You can also learn a lot from the presentations of others. When invited to a conference or workshop, or when attending a seminar at your own institution, try to take at least a quick look at the paper or papers ahead of time. A useful list of questions that I ask of myself when I am going through a paper before a presentation is: What question is this paper trying to answer? What sorts of tools does the author use to answer the question? What is the answer that the author comes up with and does it make sense to me? After attending a good presentation, try to think of what the presenter did to make it so good. Just as importantly, after attending a bad presentation, try to think of what the presenter did to make it so bad. You can get as many ideas for improving your own presentations in bad presentations as in good ones.

Click here for the original 2005 version.