Unsolicited advice on contributed APS March meeting talks

My thoughts on the purpose of March meeting talks and what makes a good one.

Most physicists have a love or hate relationship with the American Physical Society March meeting. Typically there are 10k attendees. Contributed March meeting talks are 10 minutes + 2 minutes for questions, and for many students it is their first time speaking.

What’s the point of a March meeting talk?

I don’t think the purpose of the march meeting talks is to educate or inform. I think the purpose of a march meeting talk is to:

  • Convince people that you do interesting research
  • Convince future employers that you are brilliant
  • Convince people to read your paper
  • Practice giving (great) talks

How to stand out

The biggest mistake is too much information:

  • in the talk (aim for a few take away points)
  • on a slide (too many plots or equations or text)
  • verbally (the speaker is trying to talk at a fast pace)

Aim to be memorable (Funny, Shocking, Quirky). One of my students gave a hilarious talk that used an analogy between “The Bachelor” and the search for the best superconducting qubit. A few years back, I saw a talk where the speaker used just one equation in the whole talk. So, when we hit that equation, it really stuck with me. Also, if you have a joke please practice it in the context of a talk on several people to see if it will work.

Don’t get bogged down in technical details. Explain things at a very high level, in 10 min detail is useless if not impossible. Give a flavor of what is difficult, no one will remember a proof or 400 plots in different parameter regimes.

Frame your research as interesting/exciting/important. What is the most interesting formulation of the question you answer? How do you motivate that to someone outside the subfield? What is the knowledge gap? e.g. “Have you ever wondered why you can or can’t do X? Well I’m going to tell you …”

You might feel uncomfortable but I can promise you there are other people doing far less interesting / important research that will claim to be doing revolutionary research.

Leave teasers for your paper. “If you are interested in X and Y, we solve that in arXiv:asdf”

Technical stuff

  • APS is recommending 16:9 aspect ratio for slides these days.
  • Make a margin around your slide and don’t put anything there… it often gets cut off.
  • Large fonts.
Josh Combes
Josh Combes

Josh Combes is a Professor at the University of Colorado Boulder. His research interests span several aspects of theoretical quantum physics.