Sunday, 26 February 2012

Don't Fence Me In

This is self-centered and unreasonable, but when I am invited to give a talk, my ideal situation would be to give a vague title (Cool Science Things) that isn't much more informative than a list of keywords (cool, science, things). I don't really believe that people will come to hear me speak no matter what I talk about, so in my sane(r) moments, I do understand that a talk title is necessary to provide some clues as to whether a talk has any hope of being potentially interesting to those considering attending (for those who have a choice).

Even so, I like to give talk titles that are as vague as possible, so that I can give whatever talk I am most in the mood for when the time comes. This vagueness allows me to talk about the coolest (meaning: the hottest) science.

Some departments that bring in invited speakers want not only a title but also an abstract, presumably to provide further information for those who are considering attending, or just for general educational purposes. I always comply, but I don't like providing talk abstracts because I feel that it limits what I talk about, more than just a title.

So, I can write a brief, vague abstract, no doubt annoying those who like an informative abstract, and therefore still keep some freedom as to talk content. Alternatively, I can provide a talk title and abstract, and then talk about something different; perhaps not completely different, but I could add in a topic (or two) not mentioned in the abstract but still broadly covered by the talk title.

And that leads me to my question. Which is more annoying:

- A talk accompanied by a vague title and/or abstract;
- A talk that is only somewhat related to what you thought it would be based on the title and/or abstract; or
- Neither, you are going to be happy or unhappy, depending on how good or bad the talk is; it doesn't matter what the title/abstract were.

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