How to Speak, by Patrick Winston

I’ve been recommending this talk a lot lately to people new to the art of speaking, who find themselves all of a sudden boosted to the front stage of an event and in dire need of help.

This video by Patrick Winston, professor at CSAIL MIT (who sadly passed away in 2019), is a gold mine, a fantastic explanation of the art of speaking, and it starts with an epic introduction:

The Uniform Code of Military Justice specifies court martial for any officer who sends a soldier into battle without a weapon. There ought to be a similar protection for students, because students shouldn’t go out into life without the ability to communicate, and that’s because your success in life will be determined largely by your ability to speak, your ability to write, and the quality of your ideas, in that order.

Patrick Winston, AI, and Lisp

Patrick Winston was a very important figure in the history of Artificial Intelligence. He was director of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, following in this role none other than Marvin Minsky. He was also president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence and the author of quite a few books, some about programming languages (Lisp, C, Smalltalk, and even Java) and one about Artificial Intelligence.

He also wrote an article for the April 1985 edition of Byte Magazine, called “The Lisp Revolution”, at a time when “Rule-based expert systems are the hottest thing in the commercialization of AI”:

Increasingly, LISP is becoming a more generally used language, not strictly limited to applications in AI. Because many of the systems of AI are large. LISP has become a language suited to large-system implementation. For example. it has been used with outstanding success in building the entire operating systems of the LISP machines now offered by a growing number of major companies.

Such successes are one reason why many computer-science educators believe that an understanding of LISP is de rigueur for computer science majors. Another is that LISP has been proven an excellent language for illustrating computing concepts. At MIT. for example. a dialect of LISP called Scheme has been used for years as the primary language in the basic introductory subject on programming languages.

But I digress.

Back to our Regularly Scheduled Programming

TL;DR: Here’s a quick summary of the video “How to Speak” by Patrick Winston, and here’s the link to the official page of the course where this lecture is taken from.


  1. Do not start a talk with a joke.
  2. Promise - Tell them what they gonna learn at the end of your talk.
  3. Cycle – make your idea repeated many times in order to be completely clear for everyone.
  4. Build a “Fence” around your idea so that it can be distinguished from someone else’s idea.
  5. Verbal punctuation – sum up information within your talk some times to make listeners get back on.
  6. Ask a question - intriguing one

Place and Time

  1. Best time for having a lecture is 11 am. (not too early and not after lunch)
  2. The place should be well lit.
  3. The place should be seen and checked before the lecture.
  4. The place should not be full less than a half, it must be chosen according to the amount of listeners.


For teaching.

  1. Board – it’s got graphics, speed, target. Watch your hands! Don’t hold them behind your back, it’s better to keep them straight and use for pointing at the board.
  2. Props – use them in order to make your ideas visual.

Visual perception is the most effective way to interact with listeners.

For Job Talk. Exposing, Slides

  1. Don’t put too many words on a slide. Slides should just reflect what you’re saying, not the other way around. Pictures attracts attention and people start to wait for your explanation – use that tip.
  2. Make slide as easy as you can – no title, no distracting pictures, frames, points and so on.
  3. Do not use laser pointer – due to that you lose eye contact with the audience. Instead you can make the arrows just upon a slide.


Show to your listeners your stuff is cool and interesting.

You have to be able to:

All of that should be done real quick in no more than 5 min.

Persuade your listeners you’re not a rookie (Prof. Winston contrived to do that from the very first seconds of his talk)

Getting Famous

If you want to your ideas be remembered you’ve got to have “5 S”

How to End