Having a clear thesis

Below is a quote from http://pptideas.blogspot.com/2011/12/powerpoint-tip-audience-wants.html (emphasis added)

It is likely that you have done a lot of analysis and many calculations in order to come up with the conclusions that you want to present. The common view is that it is important for the audience to hear about all the assumptions, steps in the process, formulas, and calculations. You may also be tempted to include who did each step, how long it took, when it was done and even what office location helped out. While all of this information may be important to you, the truth is that the audience doesn’t need to hear it all.

Attend an hour talk by an academic, and you expect to get 30 minutes of literature review and background information, 20 minutes of how they set up their study, and only about 10 minutes of actual results.

I’m a big believer in a presentation having a strong point of view.  Jeff Attwood’s Strong Opinions, Weakly Held blog post describes his approach to blogging, but it applies just as much to presentations.

My students frequently approach talks in the same way.  They spend an hour or two doing Google searches for “Long Tail” and then dump the information into PowerPoint slides.  After a bit of massaging, they then add some generic clip art and call it a day.  It’s a low-risk approach, because just describing a concept doesn’t run the risk of being different than what the professor thinks.

As a listener, that’s not what we want.  The most significant critique I give of student presentations is that they lacked a point of view.  In opposition to Wikipedia’ NPOV (neutral point of view), a presentation has to have a strong argument.  In writing, we call it a thesis.

This argument needs to have some tension.  So, here are some other ways to have a more focused thesis:

  • Why the Long Tail will replace traditional Blockbuster movies
  • Why the Long Tail isn’t as important as Amazon thinks
  • How the Long Tail will transform TV

In each case, the student needs to take a more critical look.  I think it’s hard for many to do so, as the more interesting/provocative their speech is, the less likely the professor will agree with it.  Unless specifically pushed to have an argument, most students will simply do the easier thing and give a summary of the Wikpedia article.


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