Recently, I wrote about my strategy for preparing scientific talks and promised to follow on that with an example I was preparing at the time. The whole thing took longer to prepare than I had planned, even though the talk itself went smoothly (including the live tweeting!).
Let me start by telling you a story:
Superconducting systems are among the best candidates for quantum computers. Light is ideal for quantum communication owing to low losses and noise. Mechanical oscillators can mediate coupling between microwaves and light. Better performance can be achieved by optimizing for a specific task. We can also use new designs to improve efficiency and bandwidth. Highly efficient transduction is possible using adiabatic state transfer. Transducer bandwidth can be increased by increasing the array size. Reflection from a large number of cavities introduces a phase shift. High conversion efficiency is possible in presence of losses and noise. We must also limit backscattering. Transducer array is an interesting platform for frequency conversion. Generalizations of the system are possible.
Granted, it’s not a compelling read. The sentences form a logical sequence but I simply dropped them down one after the other. There are no links between them, no therefores and becauses. Just one fact after another.
But this story is not supposed to be perfect—it’s the core of my talk. These are the topic sentences I used, one per slide (except for one slide where I had two sentences). This is the story someone who doesn’t really pay attention will see. Those who listen will hear the proper version—all the links between ideas are only for those who listen.
This story goes roughly like this:
Good afternoon, my name is Ondrej Cernotik and I work at the Leibniz University in Hannover. I am going to talk about Novel approaches to optomechanical transduction. The main motivation for this research is the following: superconducting circuits—operating at microwave frequencies—are one of the best platforms for quantum computing. Quantum communication, on the other hand, is best done with light. So, if we want to build quantum networks of superconducting quantum computers, we need a link between microwaves and light.Such an interface can be provided by a mechanical oscillator that interacts with light via radiation pressure and with a microwave circuit by electrostatic forces. The system can look like this: …
What I say is assisted by the slides that I show. I start with a title slide that shows all the relevant information—title, my name, and affiliation. I continue with a slide showing a picture of a superconducting circuit for quantum computing, then an experiment with quantum communication, followed by a scheme for an optomechanical transducer. Later, I show basic mathematical description of the systems I talk about (the most important rule here is to keep the maths simple!) and simple plots that show how the systems behave.
I can cover the middle ground—not just the basic facts and not the nitty-gritty details—on Twitter. The topic sentences I use are short so it’s no problem to fit more information in a tweet. I can upload figures to make the tweets more appealing or provide additional information. After all, my audience on Twitter is different from the audience at the conference and might need more background.
And how did I tweet while presenting at a conference? I didn’t actually tweet while talking, of course. There are many tools that enable one to schedule tweet (I used buffer), which get posted at a specified time in the future. That’s where good planning of my talk came in (apart from sticking to the allocated time window, obviously). If I know how much time I’ll spend on each part, I know when I have to tweet.
Originally, I decided to live tweet my talk only to illustrate how identifying the key messages of the talk can work (and to prove to myself that I can do it). But now I think it wasn’t a bad idea and might try it again in the future. I won’t tweet every single slide but only the most critical information. Because making a talk Twitter-friendly is not merely an interesting exercise and a way to make sure that the main message is clear. It’s also a great opportunity to share my work with those who cannot attend or who might enjoy a less technical version of my presentation.
If you’re going to give a talk soon, do give live-tweeting a try! And let me know how it went!
If you want to know more about the details, I storified my tweets and uploaded my presentation to SlideShare. Feel free to check them out!