How to Speak - Patrick Winston (MIT OpenCourse)

Full talk:

Length 60 minutes


  1. "The Uniform Code of Military Justice specifies court martial for any officer who sends a soldier into battle without a weapon. There ought to be a similar protection for students because students shouldn't go out into life without the ability to communicate"

  2. "That's because your success in life will be determined largely by your ability to speak your ability to write, and the quality of your ideas, in that order"

  3. Our metric for good communication is a measure of "of how much knowledge you have, how much you practice with that knowledge, and your inherent talent, and notice that the [talent is the least important part]."

Structure to a good talk

  1. You want to tell people what they're going to know at the end of the hour that they didn't know at the beginning of the hour. It's an empowerment promise. It's the reason for being here.
    • Express some passion about what you're talking about & provide something of value the listener will receive.
  1. It's a good idea to cycle on the subject (and repeat the main topic a few times)
    • Why? one of which is, at any given moment, about 20% of you will be fogged out no matter what the lecture is. So if you want to ensure that the probability that everybody gets it is high, you need to say it three times.
  1. Build a fence around your idea so that it's not confused with somebody else's idea.
  1. Give peoplew who start to daydream a chance to get back onto your talk
    • You can do this by
      • Adding numbers to your talk and seperating the talk into discrete idea 1. First idea 2. Second idea 3. Etc
      • Or by asking questions to the audience (not too hard or no-one will speak, not too easy or people feel silly answering)
  1. Don't speak after a big meal, or in a dark room (or your audience will fall asleep)
    • "Oh, they might reply, people will see the slides better if we turn the lights off, and then I reply, it's extremely hard to see slides through closed eyelids"
  1. Case out the place where you will speak to prepare for how it will affect your talk, so you can prepare for any weirdness. This also helps you pick a room not too big, or too small for audience comfort.
  1. Speakers tend towards too many slides and too many words. Have bare slides and talk more - don't read off your slides

  2. It's important to 1) Have a clear vision 2) Show that you've done something

    • If you went to a talk with someone who had no achievement in the talk they were presenting, or a clear vision of their talk - it's a fast-track to a boring, useless talk
      • You have about 5 minutes to prove you're succesful in this field and you have a vision. If you take longer, it's similar to not having those things
  1. Do your best to package your ideas well so they are listened to, respected and value derived from them
  • "[I was at a party with the late Julia Child], and as the evening wore on, more and more people would come up and ask Julia to autograph something or express a feeling that she had changed their life. And it just happened over and over again. So eventually, I turned to Julia, and I said, Ms. Child, is it fun to be famous? And she thought about it for a second. And she said, you get used to it. But you know what occured to me? You never get used to being ignored."
  • "Your ideas are like your children. And you don't want them to go into the world in rags. So what you want to do is to be sure that you have these techniques, these mechanisms, these thoughts about how to present ideas that you have so that they're recognized for the value that is in them. So that's why it's a legitimate thing to concern yourself with packaging. Now, how do you get remembered?"
    • Symbols that are associated to your idea (visually tying your idea to a symbol is a strong way to get it recognised)
    • Slogan (a phrase to summarise the work)
    • Surprise (suprisingly, you don't need 10 examples, you just need one good example and to repeat it)
    • Salient Idea (an idea from your talk that sticks out - one prominent key takeaway)
    • Story (the narrative: how you did it, how it works, why it's important)