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Most of my work thus far comprises two rather long and detailed papers that rely on a common underlying framework. (I know this is not great for a young academic, but it is what it is right now.) This framework is new and often misunderstood, so I find it is important to devote ample time to explaining it when I present my work. Unfortunately, with time slots at conferences being rather short (~20 minutes), I often don't have time to present what I think are the really cool results from this framework. I have been trying out various approaches and formats for presenting this work under time constraints and don't yet feel confident about it.

One thing I haven't tried is the following: glossing over the details of the framework and focusing on the cool results instead. My concern with this approach is that I may not be taken seriously; there seems to be an unspoken norm in my field that young academics ought to present painful details in order to prove how smart they are. However, I struggle myself to follow details, and if the main purpose of presenting my work is to entice people to read it on their own time, then I think that highlighting the cool stuff would be more effective in achieving this goal.

My question: is this approach (minimize time for details of framework; maximize time for cool results) worth trying out at my next conference, or would I risk hurting my budding reputation?

P.S. It may be helpful to know that my work, and the framework in particular, has a large mathematical component.

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    "there seems to be an unspoken norm in my field that young academics ought to present painful details in order to prove how smart they are." More likely young academics do not know how to give an effective presentation. Or perhaps most academics regardless of age. – Anonymous Physicist Jun 12 at 23:29
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    You might be interested: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/121427/… – Allure Jun 13 at 0:09
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    there seems to be an unspoken norm in my field that young academics ought to present painful details in order to prove how smart they are — There is an unspoken norm among young academics that there is such a norm, when in fact, there is no such norm. The best way to impress your audience is to inform your audience. Nobody (but you) cares how smart you are. – JeffE Jun 13 at 0:12
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    @AnonymousPhysicist Only one of those two ways is actually good. – JeffE Jun 13 at 0:14
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    there seems to be an unspoken norm in my field […]. – Let me pile up on the other attacks on this: At least 80% of conference talks (mostly irrespective of the speaker’s experience) are a waste of time because so many people blindly following alleged unspoken norms that are detrimental like listing irrelevant details, showing every result, table-of-contents slides, talking extensively about the history of their work, etc. It’s a self-sustaining idiocy. Before you follow what appears a norm for talks, ask yourself whether there is any point to it and how you felt about others to that norm. – Wrzlprmft Jun 13 at 8:03
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Attempting to fit the material of your paper into a talk is a common mistake: even for shorter papers, there is typically simply too much to include all of the significant details.

Instead, I recommend thinking of your talk as an advertisement for your paper. Your goal is to present enough of the key interesting material to be able to convince somebody that it is worth actually reading your paper.

Once you accept this as your goal, the length of the talk does not actually matter. As an exercise, you might even try making just a single slide for giving a two minute talk (as one might in a "lightning talks" session).

What, then, should you put into whatever time you have available? Think of the story of your work, as opposed to the content. Your abstract may help you here. As a starting point, I would suggest this as a general framework suitable for most talks:

  • Set up the problem, explaining why somebody should care about what you are doing.
  • Sketch the approach that you are taking, explaining why it is reasonable.
  • Point out some critical insights that were necessary to make the approach work.
  • Show your key results and explain why they are significant.
  • Come all the way back to the set up and explain the progress that has been made on the problem.

Depending on the details of your work, there may be some differences, but this may at least help you get started sketching things out.

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    Insights are more useful than details. – Buffy Jun 12 at 23:38
  • nice! also it's a good idea, at the end of the talk, to speak about further studies on the subject or perspectives, I think. – Schopenhauer Jun 14 at 1:03
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My concern with this approach is that I may not be taken seriously; there seems to be an unspoken norm in my field that young academics ought to present painful details in order to prove how smart they are.

There are all kinds of norms that are wrong, and this is one of them. Painful details are just painful and nobody can follow them during the talk, anyway.

Without knowing your work, it's hard to give specific guidance but the goal of your talk should be to convince your audience that your work is interesting. Proofs are usually boring. Your framework might be interesting. Your "cool results" are certainly interesting to you so you need to make sure that your audience even understands why the area they come from is interesting. But everything needs to be at the level of explaining the big picture and roughly how the system works. Don't be afraid of saying things that aren't quite true, if the precise statement is just too long and hard to follow. For a trivial example, it's OK to pretend that all prime numbers are odd, as long as you mention that this isn't quite true, and as long as 2 being prime doesn't mess up your whole argument. Keep things mostly about intuition rather than about fiddly technical details.

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