I am asking this because I am going to be a plenary speaker in a couple of months (this is not going to be my first invited/keynote/plenary talk, but for some reason I never stopped to think about this issue before). I've spent 10 minutes thinking of plenary/keynote speakers I've seen in past conferences, and they roughly divide into two classes: (i) a majority who give a talk that, other than being longer, is pretty much indistinguishable from the talks of speakers that get in through peer-review ("here is a very well-delimited problem, which I propose to solve as follows"); (ii) a minority that attempt to give a loftier, programmatic talk ("recent developments have this overarching theme, which is pointing the field into this direction; here are some remarks on what this means for us all and a sketch of some neat things we can do if we take things seriously").

The organizers of this particular conference don't really have a preference either way, but I am wondering if audiences at large do. Personally, I prefer (i), but that is just because I'm more of a problem-solver than a theory-builder.

  • Who are your audience? Problem-solvers? Theory-builders? Or combined?
    – Nobody
    May 18, 2015 at 8:35
  • Combined, but I'd say with a somewhat higher proportion of problem-solvers.
    – Koldito
    May 18, 2015 at 8:40
  • 1
    If you personally prefer (i), that is what you should do. There is nothing more useless than listening to somebody give a talk about something they did not want to give a talk. On the other hand, even if I am normally uninterested in the topic, a well-spirited speaker might catch my curiosity if they seem to really stand behind what they are saying.
    – skymningen
    May 18, 2015 at 8:56
  • 1
    The title of the question doesn't match with the text, which in some sense has no question. I'm worried that the question which isn't there is basically asking for a poll. Can you make this into a more proper question?
    – Kimball
    May 18, 2015 at 10:03
  • @Kimball: Indeed, in this case it seems that it's already known what the conference organizers expect: "do whatever you want". May 18, 2015 at 13:53

1 Answer 1


Here's my take: as a plenary speaker, you will have an audience that is broader than those who may come to a minisymposium or parallel session, and consequently also have a less deep understanding of technical details of your particular field of work. They may also lack an understanding of the motivation for what you are doing: For things in my particular field, I know why people want to do them, but for other areas I often would like to know "why should I care" before I want to hear the details.

Consequently, the talks that I have often found to be a bit boring are those that really are just longer minisymposium talks. The ones I find interesting are those that explain to me the bigger context of a problem: where does it come from, what are the historical connections, were there dead ends in developing solutions, etc. Then show me how you approach the problem and where this leads. I also find it interesting to hear about open problems and ideas for future research -- an invited talk should not just be about the great results of the speaker, but also inspire others to work in this field.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .