Edward Tufte on Public Speaking

These are some of the notes I took during Edward Tufte's course on Envisioning Information. Don't redistribute without attribution.

Edward Tufte was in town this week. (He's the author of The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and Envisioning Information (Graphics Press), two great books about how to go about presenting your data in graphical form intelligently -- anyone who's written a paper or given a talk with a graph in it should own at least the first volume).

He talked about a lot of material that you could glean from his books, but he also gave some tips on public speaking. I've heard some of this before from other sources, but it's always good to get a refresher course.

  1. Show up early.
  2. How to start:
  3. When explaining a complex figure, follow the Particular-General-Particular principle.
  4. Speak from notes, don't read a prepared text.
  5. Use handouts.
  6. Information content should match the level that you would find in the NYT or WSJ.
  7. Avoid overheads.
  8. Never apologize.
  9. Use humor that is on point.
  10. Avoid using masculine pronouns to refer to a universal
  11. Work hard.
  12. Innovate.
  13. Dealing with questions:
  14. Show your enthusiasm. Don't hide behind a lectern. Use gestures.
  15. Finish early. Everyone will be happier.
  16. Avoid dehydration.
Finally, throughout the class, Tufte reminded us to

0. Respect your audience. Treat them as colleagues who are interested in helping you solve a problem.

Ted Romer (romer@cs.washington.edu)