Danny Hillis on his friendship with Richard Feynman (TEDxCaltech)
Activity for talking about good (and bad) presentations

"The moment defines the creative expression."

A presentation is a moment in time. I have long referenced jazz and my own experience with jazz as having a great parallel to the act of a live talk or a presentation on the center stage. One thing that a live talk and a musical performance have in common—especially improvisational music—is that neither event is ever the same twice. They may be similar, they may cover similar ground, but they are never exactly the same. The message—the real meaning—is in the moment, in that interaction between audience and performer (or presenter). In this interview with London Real, famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson relates Miles Davis's idea that you can not do again what you just did.

Tyson: The talk is my interaction with your live audience.
Below is the transcript from Dr. Tyson's riff on the importance of spontaneity and being in the moment.

"When you create—and it's on he spot and it's live—it's something that's never been created before even if the notes are the same on the page. The moment defines the creative expression. I feel that way when I give talks. When I give a talk, there are hosts of that event who will say: 'Oh, could you send your talk in advance?' No. The talk is the talk I give at that time, in that moment, to that audience. There is no 'talk in advance.' If I could send a talk in advance, I would do that and I would stay home. The talk is my interaction with your live audience. That's the talk." (emphasis mine.)

When I heard Dr. Tyson speak to the absurdity of "sending your talk ahead of time" in this interview, I practically fell out of my chair. I have been saying the same thing for more years than I can remember. It's just common sense. And yet it's refreshing to hear it from such great speaker and respected communicator of science as Neil deGrasse Tyson. Yes, dear conference organizers, please stop asking people to send their presentations in advance.

Related links

"Slideuments" and the catch-22 for conference speakers
Advice for conference presenters
Advice on giving technical presentations

H/T @brainslides



"When I heard Dr. Tyson speak to the absurdity of "sending your talk ahead of time" in this interview, I practically fell out of my chair."

Me too! It's amazing how gifted communicators like Tyson can so easily make a point I've been struggling for years to get across.

I'm glad you liked the video. As soon as he made the connection between jazz and speaking, I thought of your books, Garr. It was great to read your thoughts on it.

Greg Krauska

My experience as a speaker is that clients who ask for my presentation in advance tend to overplay or misinterpret some of the points of the presentation. It creates an awkward challenge for me of respecting how they interpret my content versus staying true to the message I have crafted just for them. I have found that they often miss the nuances that of my presentation, especially because my PowerPoints are more photos and illustrations than words.

So I do not send my presentation in advance anymore.

I would be curious to hear from conference organizers what decisions they make when they receive a presentation in advance and why they insist on doing so.

Johanne Martel

I'm not a professionnal speaker but i do a lot of presentation for scientific people. It's not easy to improvise and go according to the audience reaction. I have done that in a class room but never in a conference room. I do agree that sending your presentation in advance is bizarre ! I never know why they want it in advance. ! Control freak ?

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