on it. But most people don’t have to listen to you. They don’t have to read your paper.
They won’t even have to glance at the abstract unless they have a reason to.
This comes as a big shock to most graduate students. They think that just because
they’ve put a lot of work and a lot of thought into their paper that the rest of the world
is obliged to pay attention to them. Alas, it isn’t so. Herb Simon once said that the
fundamental scarcity in the modern world was scarcity of attention---and brother, is that
the truth. There are demands for everybody’s attention, and if you want someone to pay
attention to you, you have to give them a reason to do so. A seminar is a way to get them
to pay attention, so be sure to exploit this opportunity to get people to listen to you.
An audience won’t put up with a lot of the things that authors try to write in papers:
turgid prose, complex notation, and tedious details. And, believe it or not, readers won’t
put up with these things either! The trick is to use the seminar to get all those things out
of your paper---that way, it may actually get read.
Controlling the audience
I’ve seen it claimed that one of the greatest fears that most people have is speaking before
a group. I imagine that most assistant professors have this problem, but after many years
of giving lectures before several hundred students it goes away.
In fact, lecturing can become downright addictive (as my family often reminds me.)
As the mathematician R. H. Bing once said: ‘‘When I was young, I would rather give a
lecture on mathematics than listen to one. Now that I am older and more mature I would
rather give two lectures on mathematics than listen to one.’’ Giving lectures is a bit like
eating oysters. Your first one requires some courage, but after you develop a taste for
them, it can be hard to stop.
There are three parts to a seminar: the introduction, the content, and the conclusion.
My advice about introductions is simple: don’t have one. I have seen many seminars
ruined by long, pretentious, contentless introductions. My advise: say a few sentences
about the big picture and then get down to business: show them what you’ve got and
why it’s important. The primary reason to get down to business right away is that your