advice for how to present a non-fiction book to a lecture audience
January 21, 2013 8:01 AM   Subscribe

I will be need to present my thesis (which is a 200 page theoretical book) to an audience in about a week. Some of the audience will have read it, but the majority will have not. The argument of the book is too complex and extended to summarize into a 10 minute presentation, so I am not sure what to present. If I try to condense it or if I select just a part to present, the result will be that the whole book will be judged based on that one part.

Unfortunately, there is no small part that represents the whole like that, so I'm kind of stuck as to what to do. My idea was to approach it indirectly, making a presentation that follows the spirit of the book but that does not try to reproduce it. I thought of maybe trying to produce a short film that would be related to the book but not a replication of it - but even there, one runs the risk of the whole thing then being evaluated on the basis of the film. Does anyone have any ideas how to present this so that I can do justice to the entire project rather than just having them judge a slice of it?
posted by cmp4Meta to Education (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You need a graphic that lays out the whole argument, perhaps via a build. Then showcase one memorable part (brighten or zoom into the graphic to show where it fits as you start) of it that will serve as bait to get people to read the whole thing.

BTW, I don't buy that your argument can't be summarized; you may just be too close (or too devoted to your points) to see how. Making the diagram will help you streamline it. Or ask a friend who has read it to verbally summarize your book for you in under ten sentences, return to your earlier work (maybe the book proposal) for ideas, etc.
posted by carmicha at 8:07 AM on January 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

I don't know what to say about the film idea without knowing more about your thesis or what your field is, but my suggestion would be to ideally focus on the one idea, finding, or chapter that can be broken out from the rest and that is the most innovative, surprising or potentially impactful in your field.
posted by drlith at 8:10 AM on January 21, 2013

Also, don't forget that you can provide handouts, direct people to a web site or offer to email more info to interested attendees.
posted by carmicha at 8:12 AM on January 21, 2013

This is apparently an academic talk on your thesis. What you need to decide is what you're trying to accomplish with the presentation so you can gear it towards that. It sounds like a standard thing and I'm assuming there will be others who are all doing 10 minute presentations on many years of work and lengthy projects as well. You do need to boil it down to its essence or your presentation will be lost in the crowd.

Most usual advice about presentations is that you should focus on 3 to 5 takeaway points for the audience - however a 10 minute presentation is so short, you really don't even have time for that. A single takeaway point is going to be best. I agree that you should have someone else read the thesis and ask that person and your advisor to help you decide what the main idea is. This can be hard to do yourself when you have spent so much time intimately involved with the details of the work.

There must be a way to present a single hypothesis or idea that represents the whole of the work - otherwise the book would not be coherent.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:15 AM on January 21, 2013

The argument of the book is too complex and extended to summarize into a 10 minute presentation, so I am not sure what to present.

In my experience people tend to think this about their own work.

You need to think about what your audience knows about your field and tailor your presentation to their expectations and interests-- actually, not just the audience, also the broader theme of the event.

Without knowing what your field is, I think the film idea sounds weird.

If others can stick to ten minute presentations you can too.
posted by vincele at 8:15 AM on January 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

Where and why are you doing this? A ten minute conference presentation is not remotely the same thing as a ten minute talk to a lay audience is very far from a ten minute presentation to a potential publisher or funding agency/foundation. I'm assuming that it being a ten minute presentation rules out a job talk, but that would also be different from any of the others.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:26 AM on January 21, 2013

A 10-minute presentation isn't much longer than what we call an 'elevator pitch', which is usually a 2-3 minute explanation of what you study and, more importantly, why anyone else but you should care about it. Almost everyone has a hard time distilling their work into an elevator pitch, but even theoretical physicists and mathematicians can give great elevator pitches for concepts that don't even have physical analogues.

It seems to me that you haven't really developed a good answer for, "Why should people who are not studying what you study care about what you study?" I think that will be a good first step for distilling your book.

Is your thesis part of your M.Arch degree? It can be hard, sometimes, to figure out why people should care about art-related theses like architecture. Maybe take a step back and remember what led you to care about your particular thesis, then extrapolate backwards.
posted by muddgirl at 8:35 AM on January 21, 2013

If you can write a title, which summarizes your work in one sentence, and an abstract, which summarizes it in one or two paragraphs, then you can write a ten minute talk.

1) Here's what I did
2) Here's why it's interesting
3) Did I mention here's what I did and also the exciting thing that could follow?
posted by zippy at 8:52 AM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

As someone also getting an M.Arch and graduating this year at a similar institution, good luck!

Seconding carmicha - I also don't buy that your argument can't be summarized. If your book is a collection of smaller theses, then you could have a meta-thesis; i.e., "space is about memory, and here are just a few examples of projects that argue that thesis".

As for the film - have you looked at MOS's film for their PS1 installation? They're doing exactly what you say - a semi-related film that semi-explains your projects, but is a project in of itself. The other idea is to take a look at what other architects have done for their monographs -- for example, Tschumi's "Architecture Concepts", is really kind of a second-person narrative of conceptual growth, in the guise of a biography/portfolio history.

In the end - you'll NEVER be able to fully summarize any entire project, no matter how good your explanations are, or how much time you have. The next best thing to do is to edit, consolidate, and recreate. If you had to explain your project in two sentences, what would you say?
posted by suedehead at 10:06 AM on January 21, 2013

You don't need to present your whole thesis in one talk. But by the time it's written you absolutely should be able to present the core themes and main arguments of your project in ten minutes or less. If you can't that's quite a failing and indicates to me that you either don't have good overall organisation for your project (e.g. research questions that are of the right scope, findings around that question, arguments or data to support your findings, and an overall conclusion) or that you just don't have a good handle of your topic in general. Either way, your written thesis is unlikely to be really excellent if you don't understand it well enough to give that kind of pithy summary.

So I'd take this as an opportunity to really look at how the whole thing is structured and figure out those key themes, important and novel findings (note: you don't need all the data to back it up here but what you found does need to believable for whatever reason), and the take home message of what the whole thing means. Anything big enough to be called a thesis should have those things, and they're what you should be putting in your talk.
posted by shelleycat at 10:46 AM on January 21, 2013

Look up 3 Minute Thesis -- it's a grad student competition out of Australia. There are some great resources to help contestants figure out how to present some pretty complex research.

Plus, watching some of the presenters (look for "3MT" on youtube) may give you ideas on how to summarize your own work, and give you some presentation ideas.
posted by wenat at 12:44 PM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

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