(Even More from Nicole Immorlica, guest-posting from FOCS. This post is from Oct 22, 7:00PM)
I remember taking writing classes in high school. We had a series of
assignments emphasizing different writing techniques and topics. But each
assignment started with the same question, the question which set the tone
for the entire piece of work. Who is your audience? The importance of this
question was the most valuable lesson I learned in those classes.
I've now attended about a quarter of the FOCS talks -- all the ones close to
my area and a smattering of those completely outside my area -- and it seems
to me that there are two types of audiences in every talk. There are the
locals, those that are intimately familiar with the research area of the
talk; and there are the tourists, those that want to explore something new.
How do you speak to such an audience? Most speakers seem to split the talk
into two parts: accessible introduction/overview/problem statement and
area-specific implications/proof techniques. And then they have to pack it
all into 20 minutes. The result? Minds wander. What can be done about
this? Longer talks to allow for a smoother ramp-up to the technical details
(and hence fewer papers overall)? Parallel sessions (something FOCS has
toyed with in the past)? Or maybe nothing? As my grandmother used to say,
"you can please all of the people some of the time and some of the people
all of the time but never all of the people all of the time."