Master the Art of Speaking: Prof. Patrick Winston's 60-Min Guide to Effective Communication | MIT Lecture

Nov 23, 2023 β€’ 63 Min Video
Special Thumbnail of How to Speak Well taught by an MIT Expert
Learn How to Speak

Having the right knowledge and techniques can make you a better speaker than someone with inherent talents. 


Prof Patrick Winston's How to Speak talk has been an MIT tradition for over 40 years. Offered every January, the talk is intended to improve your speaking ability in critical situations by teaching you a few heuristic rules. Below are some of the insights and key points from this video of Prof Patrick Winston's 60 min session on communication:


Effective Communication Strategies

  • πŸ’¬ Your success in life will be largely determined by your ability to speak, write, and the quality of your ideas, in that order.
  • πŸ“΅ No laptops or cell phones during conversations: "We humans only have one language processor. And if your language processor is engaged browsing the web or reading your email, you're distracted."
  • 🎀 The speaker emphasizes the importance of telling people what they will know at the end of the hour that they didn't know at the beginning, as it is the reason for being there.
  • πŸ—£οΈ To develop your own personal style of speaking, watch speakers you admire and analyze why they are successful.
  • πŸ€– Props can also be used to teach important lessons, as shown by Seymour Papert's example of using a prop to teach problem-solving.
  • πŸ’‘ When giving a presentation, it's important to start with a promise and then focus on inspiring the audience.
  • 🌎 It's important to situate your research in context and understand that it's a problem being pursued all over the world.
  • ⏰ You have only five minutes to express your vision and show that you've done something, or you've already lost.

Importance of Passion and Storytelling

  • πŸ’‘ Passion is a key factor in inspiring others, whether it's exhibiting passion about what you're doing or being inspired by someone else's passion.
  • πŸ“š According to the speaker, storytelling is a crucial aspect of teaching people how to think and analyze information.
  • 🧐 Are humans fundamentally different from chimpanzees and Neanderthals because we are symbolic creatures who can build stories?

Presentation Techniques and Visual Aids

  • πŸ’¬ When presenting slides, reducing the number of words on the slide can help the audience pay more attention to the speaker and retain information better.
  • πŸ–ΌοΈ Presentations with more imagery and less text are more effective in engaging the audience.
  • πŸ’‘ The importance of having a symbol and slogan to provide a handle on the work, as demonstrated by the accidental success of the arch and "one shot learning" in a program.

Time Stamps of the Video

  • 00:00 Repeat the subject multiple times to ensure everyone understands: having the right knowledge and techniques can make you a better speaker than someone with inherent talents.
    • Success in life is largely determined by one's ability to communicate, which is a result of knowledge, practice, and talent.
    • Having the right knowledge and techniques can make you a better speaker than someone with inherent talents.
    • Close laptops and cell phones to ensure maximum opportunity to have your ideas valued and accepted by those you speak with.
    • At the end of this 60 minutes, you will know things about speaking.
    • Repeat the subject multiple times to ensure everyone understands.
  • 06:47 Choose a well-lit place, ask questions, and use a board to create an effective presentation.
    • Building a "fence" around an idea helps to distinguish it from others and prevent confusion.
    • Provide verbal punctuation to help people get back on the bus by enumerating and providing numbers, and asking questions.
    • Choose questions carefully to create an effective presentation and build up your own personal style.
    • When giving a lecture, the place should be well-lit and cased to avoid surprises.
    • Choose a time and place for your event that is reasonably populated, but not necessarily packed.
    • Using a board for presentations has the advantages of providing a graphic quality, speed, and a target for the audience.
  • 15:15 Using props and blackboards can help teach concepts effectively, while slides are better for exposing ideas.
    • Having your hands in your pockets or behind your back is considered insulting in some cultures, as it may suggest you are concealing a weapon.
    • Pointing at the board can be an effective technique, even if the content has nothing to do with what is being said.
    • Playwrights use props to create tension and teach lessons, as demonstrated by Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler and Seymour Papert's example of embarrassing mechanical engineering friends.
    • By using a prop and thinking about the problem in the right way, you can understand why a bicycle wheel will turn in a certain direction when torque is applied.
    • Lazarus demonstrated the conservation of energy by letting a pendulum swing and gently kiss his nose.
    • Props and blackboards are effective for teaching due to empathetic mirroring, while slides are better for exposing ideas.
  • 24:58 After a difficult journey, I was reminded of the importance of presentation techniques such as reducing words on slides and using arrows instead of laser pointers.
    • After a miserable conference and a rough flight, I stopped for a cup of coffee and was asked if I was Professor Winston.
    • Remove all unnecessary words, logos, and titles from slides to avoid distracting the audience.
    • Reduce the number of words on slides to allow audience to pay more attention to the speaker and less to what's written.
    • When using a prop, use an arrow instead of a laser pointer to avoid losing eye contact with the audience.
    • A hapax legomenon is a slide that can be used once to illustrate a complex concept, such as the complexity of governing in Afghanistan.
    • People often break the rules of presentations by not standing close to the slides and using a laser pointer, which can be seen in a video of a talk in Stata.
  • 36:49 Start with a promise and show passion to inspire others, adjust programs for efficiency, and teach people how to think!
    • To inspire students, start with a promise and emphasize what it takes.
    • Showing passion for what you do can inspire others and make a difference.
    • A slight adjustment to a program can reduce a computation from longer than the lifetime of the solar system to a few seconds.
    • Teaching people how to think involves providing them with stories, questions, mechanisms for analyzing them, and ways of evaluating their reliability.
  • 42:04 Prepare & practice to effectively communicate your research & vision in 5 minutes for success in oral exams & faculty positions.
    • To succeed in an oral exam, it is important to situate your research in context and practice with people who don't know what you're doing.
    • Candidates must demonstrate their abilities to be considered for a faculty position.
    • Candidates must be able to express their vision and what they have done in five minutes or they have already lost.
    • Humans are fundamentally different from chimpanzees and Neanderthals due to our ability to create symbolic descriptions and stories.
  • 47:29 Create a memorable symbol and slogan to represent your work, and don't forget to recognize your collaborators on the first slide.
    • Enumerate the steps needed to solve a problem, then conclude by mirroring those steps to establish your contributions.
    • Your ideas are like your children, and it's better to be famous than ignored.
    • To be remembered, create a symbol associated with your work.
    • The arch symbol and slogan "one shot learning" were used to represent a program that learned something definite from every example presented.
    • You can learn something definite from each example and need an idea that sticks out, such as a near miss, and tell the story of how it works and why it's important to ensure recognition.
    • Don't put a long list of collaborators on the last slide; recognize them on the first slide.
  • 55:47 Show your appreciation for the audience in a creative way when ending your presentation.
    • Your final slide should be labeled "Contributions" and your final words should indicate you are finished.
    • Finishing with a joke can make people think they had fun the whole time.
    • Ending a talk without saying "thank you" can be more effective than a classic benediction, as demonstrated by Bill Clinton's keynote address at the Democratic Convention.
    • You don't have to say thank you to end an event, there are other ways such as saluting the audience.
    • I'm glad you're here, demonstrating an understanding that how you present and package your ideas is important.


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Tags: Communication


Roshan is the Founder and β€œKuli” of the Leaderonomics Group of companies. He believes that everyone can be a leader and "make a dent in the universe," in their own special ways. He is featured on TV, radio and numerous publications sharing the Science of Building Leaders and on leadership development. Follow him at

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