Author Archives: Gene Freuder

About Gene Freuder

Emeritus Professor of Computer Science. AAAS, AAAI, ECAI Fellow. Member of the Royal Irish Academy.

The Talk is an Advertisement for the Paper

Many people seem to believe that it is important to fit as much of the content of a conference paper into the conference talk as possible. In order to do so, they speakveryfast. This is rather like believing that the purpose of a movie trailer is to show as much of the movie as possible, and so running the trailer at double speed.

The dirty little secret is that no one in the audience is likely to remember more than the key idea of your talk a week after the conference (or perhaps even an hour after the talk), and if you try to fit too much in, they may miss that key idea. Be honest now, what do recall of the third talk in the fifth session that you attended at your last conference? However, if you get that key idea across effectively enough, your audience just might be motivated to go and read your paper.

People who speed up their talks to fit more in, and use very small fonts to squeeze as much as possible onto each slide, generally are too busy preparing all that material to stop and time their talk before presenting it. As a result they express surprise and bewilderment on the day when told that they have only 2 minutes left, with 20 slides — oh my gosh, my most important slides — left to go. At this point they begin speaking very fast. And when told that their time is up, since they are still not through their slides, they feel impelled to keep on going. At the very least they must present their conclusion. After all, the audience has to hear this.

The members of the audience, who gave up chasing after the speaker and squinting at the slides about 90 seconds in to the talk, but who have been waiting politely to clap at the end, upon realizing that the talk isn’t going to end, are likely to be so busy swearing under their breath that the speaker could give away the secret of life at that point and it would not be noticed.

So remember, less is more. If you can just convince your audience that your paper is worth reading, your talk will have been a great success.

Just Say No

Having just posted on the value of proactive service (Don’t Wait to Be Asked), I now feel free to provide advice on declining to serve. Sometimes “no” is the right answer.

I used to think that I had to provide an explanation or excuse for saying “no”. Then I had an epiphany, and realized that this isn’t necessary. A simple “I’m sorry, no, I can’t do this” is sufficient. I’ve never had someone cross examine me on why I can’t.

Really a simple yes or no is all that the person who asked cares about. They don’t want to hear about how many papers to review you have stacked on your desk; they just want to know if you can do their review.

This realization makes saying “no” so much easier. Perhaps too easy. ๐Ÿ™‚

Don’t Wait to Be Asked

Providing a resource can be “good and good for you”. In addition to the good it does for others, it can boost your visibility and advance your career. Most people are pretty good about taking advantage of service opportunities when they are asked to serve. But you don’t have to wait, you can make your own opportunities. You can:

  • Think about a resource that you’d like to have yourself that isn’t available.
  • Notice resource that other (research) communities have that yours doesn’t.
  • Look for applications of new technology, or of your specific technical expertise.

For example, you could start a blog! ๐Ÿ™‚

The Secret to Obtaining Industry Funding

I used to have long conversations with people from industry attending academic conferences, which would go very well, but during which I would grow ever more frustrated. They would be very friendly, express gratifying interest in my work, but in the back of my mind I would be thinking: when are they going to offer to support a collaboration? They never would. Finally, I would get up the courage to raise the subject myself. And often they would respond very positively.

As reluctant as academics are to raise the crass subject of money, it doesn’t even seem to occur to industry people. That seems counterintuitive, but perhaps they feel they’ve left all that behind when entering the ivory tower precincts of an academic conference. Little do they know. At any rate, the big secret of success in obtaining funding from industry is very simple: You have to ask.

Now you don’t have to blurt out “Show me the money!”, even if after an hour of pleasant, but free, conversation you feel tempted. You can sidle up to the subject. You can inquire if their company ever works with universities, or if it has a program for funding university research. You might tell them about other collaborations you have, or about a government program for matching industry funding.

You are probably not a natural born salesperson. It may offend your sensibilities to raise the subject of money. I admit, it isn’t my favorite topic of conversation, and the whole process can, irrationally, even feel a bit demeaning. But remember your grad students back home whose funding is running out, and suck it up.

The worst that can happen is that they say “no”, and that’s where you are already if you don’t ask. In fact, they may well like the idea, and even if they have to say no, may do so apologetically.

So don’t be afraid to ask.


The key element to a really successful presentation, and one often lacking, is enthusiasm. Students especially, whether through nervousnessness or a misplaced sense of “seriousness”, often seem to be more in mourning than in celebration. Now some people more naturally evince enthusiasm than others, but everyone has jumped for joy on some occasion, at some age. Draw upon that experience. Remember how excited you were to make that breakthrough, or to have it accepted for the conference, and don’t be afraid to let these feelings show. You may feel self-conscious, but it is almost impossible to overdue enthusiasm. (Well maybe Steve Ballmer.) How can your audience be interested if you don’t seem to be? On the other hand they will be caught up in and remember your enthusiasm.

Here is a related post, that suggests one specific route to the enthusiastic heart of a presentation: start with the “why”.

Negotiating With Hotels

A local organizer seeking to book a medium-sized conference at a hotel is likely to find him or herself in the position of a first time car buyer confronting a showroom salesperson. The salesperson does this every day for a living. It is hardly a fair match.

If the conference is being sponsored by a large professional organization, they may be able to negotiate for you. If your budget allows, you can hire a professional event organizer to help with the local organization and negotiate for you, leveling the playing field. There may be an office within your university that will help, though they may be more interested in renting you expensive space within the university. ๐Ÿ™‚

If you find yourself on your own, here are a few pointers from my limited experience:

  • Plan as far ahead as possible, to give you and the hotel flexibility with dates.
  • Remember it is a negotiation. Meet with several hotels, and don’t be afraid to play them off against each other.
  • The hotel is likely most interested in filling their beds. They can give you discounted or free meeting space. They can also throw in other goodies, like free rooms for conference organizers or invited speakers. The more bodies you can provide, the more generous they are likely to be.
  • Try to minimize cancellation penalties.
  • Seek a good room rate for your attendees.
  • If your conference sponsoring organization is not a legal entity, you may need the backing of your university, which may wish to share in “profits” in return for assuming risks. Another negotiation. ๐Ÿ™‚

A few promising looking links providing more professional advice: