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MIT – Patrick Winston – How to Give a Speech
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Patrick Winston’s How to Speak talk has been an MIT tradition for over 40 years. Offered every January during the Independent Activities Period (IAP), usually to overflow crowds, the talk is intended to improve your speaking ability in critical situations by teaching you a few heuristic rules. Professor Winston’s collection of rules is presented along with examples of their application in job-interview talks, thesis defenses, oral examinations, and lectures.
About Professor Winston

A professor at MIT for almost 50 years, Patrick Winston was director of MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory from 1972 to 1997 before it merged with the Laboratory for Computer Science to become MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). He led CSAIL’s Genesis Research Group, which focused on developing a computational account of human intelligence and how human intelligence differs from that of other species, with special attention to modeling human story comprehension. Professor Winston passed away on July 19, 2019.


Around 40 years ago, Professor Patrick Henry Winston ’65, SM ’67, PhD ’70 gave his first talk on How to Speak. As he wrote in this Slice of MIT article from 2010:

Robert Sjoberg, SM ’81, made me do it.

We were sitting in my office, whining about somebody’s horrible lectures, when he said, “You should do an IAP class on how to speak.”

“No,” I said, “I’ve never given a lecture I rate at better than a B+; I’d be depressed for a month afterward; it would take a week to prepare; and, besides, nobody would come.”

“I’ll come,” he said.

Actually, that first edition of How to Speak drew about 100. This past week about 250 showed up. It’s a little hard to say exactly because [the lecture hall] officially seats 150 and perhaps another 100 sat on the stairs and floor or stood in the back or watched from the hall.

It became so popular, in fact, that the annual talk had to be limited to the first 300 participants. Every year, Professor Winston improved upon the talk. As he put it, “There is much more now, of course, because I keep learning new things. I’ve added techniques for passing oral exams, delivering successful job-interview talks, and ensuring that ideas become as famous as they ought to be.


Introduction @00:16
Rules of Engagement @03:11
How to Start @04:15
Four Sample Heuristics @05:38
The Tools: Time and Place @10:17
The Tools: Boards, Props, and Slides @13:24
Informing: Promise, Inspiration, How to Think @36:30
Persuading: Oral Exams, Job Talks, Getting Famous @41:30
How to Stop: Final Slide, Final Words @53:06
Final Words: Joke, Thank You, Examples @56:35


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