As many of you probably know, almost all advice regarding doing better academic talks includes universal advice to not put too many words in any one slide, and to not read straight from slides (this is always thought to be a sign of a bad talk).

I used to agree with all of this because it sounds reasonable, and anyway that’s how I’ve written my own talks so far. But I went to a conference late last year where a speaker did exactly the opposite of this advice (my field is mathematics). He was literally reading his slides verbatim, and each of his slides was packed full with long sentences. And yet, it was one of my favorite talks of the conference, and for me (a Ph.D student) it was clean, clear, and easy to follow despite the fact that the material was completely new to me. I do think a large part of the reason I found it so clean and clear was precisely because of the talk’s structure, and not despite of it.

That experience made me rethink my prejudice against speakers who read out of the slides. For some people, it may be a superior talk strategy to alternatives, especially in academic fields where the details really matter.

So, I am not convinced anymore that it is general (or even, usual) good advice to not read from the slides. Why do people think it’s such a bad idea? And please don’t say “it’s lazy” or “could just read the slides instead of listening to the talk” because in practice, neither of these perspectives demonstrate why an alternative is better at communicating the information, which is what really matters.

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