We've heard from SC members who have said that many applicants look fabulous on paper, and they count on the job talk to distinguish candidates. What makes a job talk great? What are some terrible blunders you've seen? What advice can you give to those of us who are excited about our research and want to present it in the best light possible?
Tell a story rather than giving a list of the experiments you have run. Everyone already knows you are a hard worker and researcher but you need to show that you have a long range reprogram and can think.
Most of these are points about giving talks in general. Many academic talks are horrible. And a horrible job talk is way worse than any colloquium talk.
Make your graphs big, bold, and readable. One or two graphs to a slide at most. There's nothing worse than seeing slide after slide of hard to read, poorly labeled, tiny font, weird colors, 6 graphs to a page. If you can stand 5 ft from your computer screen and still read the graph, it's the right size. Explain what we're seeing. Walk through what your graph actually means in the data (and how to read the graph) and what that means for the big idea/hypothesis.
Make your word slides big, bold, and readable. Only a few short phrases that summarize larger points you're saying in words. Please don't write a bunch of full sentences!
Be excited! And find a balance between speaking totally off the cuff (this will make you run long or repeat yourself too much) and just reading prepared notes (it sounds like you're reading prepared notes).
Time your talk, prep your answers. You don't want to have to rush through a minute of your talk or run over. Get it exact. And plan for the questions you'll get at the end, practice answers. When you give answers, don't ever sound defensive. Your data will surely have flaws. Recognize those and how you plan to or could address them. Be concise and don't ramble on.
I completely agree with anany56. Words bad… pictures good. Big good… small bad.
Someday, I hope to see a talk with no words at all on the slides. When I do I'll likely stand up and applaud!
I would also add: do not have anything on a slide that you do not make reference to, and if you do have text, try to avoid saying one thing while people are trying to read another.
I think it is important to NOT give a long version of a conference talk.
In my opinion:
A) More big picture
B) Less jargon
C) Simple better than complex
D) Rather than make your talk about data, use data to communicate where your interests lie, how you pursue them, what you've learned and where you are going.
E) Be excited about your research… if you are not excited why would anyone else be?
F) The people most familiar with your research will likely be on the search committee and they already think you're great.
In some ways it's the other 90% of the room you want to win over.
This is particularly important at places that try to evaluate your teaching ability through your job talk.
I think a good heuristic would be to try to make the S.C. look good in the eyes of their colleagues for short listing you.
A small personal gripe: I really dislike the use of 'I' in talks and job talks in particular. I remember seeing a talk that was all 'I' designed this 'I' concluded that, I,I,I… only weeks before I had seen the person's post doc advisor give a talk presenting mostly all the same data. It seems some people get advice that the 'I' makes them sounds stronger, but to me it seems both arrogant and dismissive of the collaborative nature of science.
Perhaps no one needs to hear this but just in case:
Do not read your talk.
In the last couple of years, my R1 department has had more than one person who looked really awesome on paper actually read their talks. It is just awful when they start because everyone in the room is thinking, "Disaster! Why? Why?" Please do not do this. I do not think that a terrible talk is necessarily the kiss of death but in today's competitive market, it is sometimes about finding a reason to not hire someone, some way to separate the candidates…
I agree that being excited is good and teaching experience can pay off during these talks. I mean, if you have been standing in front of a bunch of disinterested undergrads three times a week, you are less likely to be completely freaked out.
I would also strongly advise folks to have some back-up slides. These can have additional studies you cut because they were not essential or more details about studies or analyses. You might even have a little "sub-talk" of things you will turn to in case there is time. Here's why: You are likely going to talk a lot faster than you think. Faster than your practice talk, perhaps faster than you have ever spoken in your life!
A talk that is a bit short is fine but sometimes talks are unexpectedly short even for the candidate. This happens. The worst is when someone keeps saying, "I don't have time to talk about X" only to end up finishing the talk very very early but not having anything about X to share during all that leftover time. Having the talk well timed but also being able to be flexible in terms of, "Oh we have time, let me share with you my work on X" shows the department your maturity, your confidence, your poise, your varied interests, and also that you just might well be a really good instructor.
All this is wonderful advice most of which I've heard and try to put in my job talk. I wonder though, do departments give any benefits of the doubt that the individual is likely nervous? For myself, despite the number of conference presentations, classes taught, and talks I've given I still get pretty nervous and I think there are times that comes through for me when giving such an important talk (eg forgetting my train of thought for a moment). I've done all I can do to prepare myself and relieve my anxiety, but its disheartening to think one moment of shear nervousness could kill your chances at a job.
The faculty in my department understand that candidates will be nervous at the beginning and so evidence of that isn't held against them at all as long as they can recover as they get into the groove of their talk.
I found it really helpful to think about the job talk as a teaching opportunity as much as a chance to share my research. The students in the audience are imagining what it would be like to sit through a 2hr lecture class with you, the faculty are thinking of the items on the teaching evaluation forms they use. Are you engaging the audience, smiling, making eye contact? are you explaining your work both in a way that makes it attainable to all members of the audience as well as in a way that makes it clear you are confident and comfortable with the material? Even if you're applying to an R1 position that isn't as teaching focused, you still need to be able teach those less familiar with your topic.
The other piece that really helped me was to time my water breaks - if you have a slide with more text on it, or a large graph, stop yourself, take a drink of water and collect your thoughts. This gives the audience a moment to absorb your slide before you describe it. Also it helps you slow down and not rush through complex material which can be frustrating to an audience. Good luck!
I agree with all points. A few other things: 1.) consider your audience — people from just your specialty area? Outside of psychology? Undergraduates? 2.) I learned this the hard way once — if your talk is towards the end of the day, think about how much coffee you are consuming throughout the day. Some meetings can involve coffee…multiply that by several meetings, and you can find yourself very jittery during your talk! 3) Even without a caffeine buzz, you may talk faster than you planned due to to nerves. Be aware of this and don't freak if it goes by a bit faster than you'd planned. 4.) bring a clicker (or make sure there is one provided) so you can advance your slides from anywhere in the room….being tied to the computer is bad. 5.) Have some exciting future directions at the end, that you could reasonably do at that institution. 5.) practice, practice, practice! Think of yourself as an actor and your talk as a monologue. Script it out, if it would help (but don't have your script with you during the talk!) You want to know it cold…..although you don't want to only be able to deliver it as a scripted monologue…you want to be flexible and able to deviate slightly if there are questions, of course!.
I've not actually had anyone outside of the psych department attend my talks and I'm pretty sure it was only faculty and grad students, but in my talk I do have some brief intro slides just in case, but breeze through them without much depth if I see its all faculty and grad students who would be more familiar.
I've never actually been offered coffee during my interview days, but good advice! Preparing for an afternoon talk time is good advice too. At my most recent interview my talk was the last thing of the day from 4-5pm and this interview was also a place that started earlier in the morning than any other I've had (breakfast at 7am, interviews starting 8am), so by the time 4pm came I had been talking 8hrs straight! So if you aren't already I would also suggest keeping a bottle of water with you and thinking about good transitions to take a drink. I did notice during this talk I was needing more water breaks and struggling keeping my voice loud and clear. I don't know what you could do to really prepare for a 45min talk after 8hrs of interviews/speaking, maybe make sure to stay more hydrated throughout the day? I was also supposed to have a 30min break before my talk, but the interviewer prior to my talk took this break to mean we had more time to talk and just kept saying oh we have more time you're talk isn't until 4pm… I guess I could have said something, but I felt uncomfortable doing so.