University of Nebraska - Lincoln
Department of Mathematics and Statistics
Some Friendly Advice for UN-L Colloquium Speakers
In our Department, all faculty and graduate students attend the
colloquium. Because our interests are highly diverse, speakers
are expected to give talks which are accessible (at least in good part)
to a varied audience. Giving such talks is a difficult art, and there
is no pat formula, but experienced colloquium speakers
often keep the following advice in mind. We provide it below, with
the hope that speakers might find it useful.
The colloquium is on Friday from 4:00 -- 4:50.
Speakers are obligated to keep their talks to at most FIFTY
- Speakers remember at all times that they are not speaking to an
audience of specialists, or even to a broad category of people
such as "pure mathematicians", "applied mathematicians", or
"statisticians". When they prefer to talk to a narrower
audience, they ask their host to schedule
seminar talks instead.
- Speakers eschew jargon or take a moment to explain it, but at the same time
avoid streams of elementary definitions which likely would be
- Speakers use many vehicles for transmitting information
(blackboard, overhead projector, or other), but
are careful to do so at a
reasonable rate. Almost certainly, few absorb
material placed on transparencies, unless it is printed in a very
large (at least fourteen point) font and is left in place long enough to be read.
- Speakers appreciate that a picture is worth a thousand words. Our
colloquia last only fifty minutes, and so it can be better to inform the
graphically, rather than to give a precise explanation of every
- Speakers know audiences love context. If Gauss thought about the problem,
they would tell us.
It is also interesting to hear about connections with other areas of mathematics
or other sciences, although exhaustive lists of names and dates are
usually of interest only to specialists.
- Speakers show informative examples, knowing how effective this can be
in reaching out to people who might otherwise not know what is
- Speakers grab the audience's interest with a special case, leaving us after the lecture, to
go to the library to learn more.
- Speakers might also wish to consult the excellent article, How to give a good colloquium, by John McCarthy.