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.
  1. 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.
  2. Speakers eschew jargon or take a moment to explain it, but at the same time avoid streams of elementary definitions which likely would be dull.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 audience's intuition graphically, rather than to give a precise explanation of every concept.
  5. 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.
  6. Speakers show informative examples, knowing how effective this can be in reaching out to people who might otherwise not know what is being discussed.
  7. Speakers grab the audience's interest with a special case, leaving us after the lecture, to go to the library to learn more.
  8. Speakers might also wish to consult the excellent article, How to give a good colloquium, by John McCarthy.
Time. The colloquium is on Friday from 4:00 -- 4:50. Speakers are obligated to keep their talks to at most FIFTY minutes.