“Three things”: Ravi Vakil on how to listen to a math talk

Good seminar hack from Ravi:

The theory is as follows. If you can get even three small things out of a talk, it is a successful talk. And if you can’t get even three small things out of a talk, it was not a successful experience. Note that the things you get out of a talk needn’t be the things that your neighbor got out of a talk, or the things the speaker expected you to get out of the talk.

Here is how it works. Take a clean sheet of paper, or an index card. Your goal is to have three things, and only three things, on this sheet at the end of the talk.

My own practice is that at the end of every seminar talk I should have a question to ask the speaker.  Not that I always, or even usually ask!  But I find “What more do I want to know?” to be a good mantra for maintaining engagement with the lecture.

Share your own best practices in comments!

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3 thoughts on ““Three things”: Ravi Vakil on how to listen to a math talk

  1. Nick Addington says:

    > Not that I always, or even usually ask!

    Yes you do.

  2. Matt says:

    Dammit Nick. Beat me to it.

  3. I think this standard seems too high (at least too high for me to hope to live up to, as a speaker). Because of the diversity one sees in typical audiences, I shoot to make sure that everybody learns something, from the grad students on up.

    But, the next issue, which might be one of taste, is what is it that one tries to learn. I most hope for a picture of what’s true (or what people hope to be true, or what’s conceivably true) or of some idea that connects concepts. Alas, most often, one seems at most to get some facts. But, even if that’s all it is, that can be worth the hour. (Depends on the fact and on my mood.)

    OTOH, it’s soon conference season…

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