Following up on Meg’s post from a few days ago on the first seminar you ever saw: what’s the best seminar you’ve ever seen? And what made it so good?
Some of the best talks I’ve seen were for special occasions. Tony Ives’ 2013 MacArthur award lecture blew me away. Calgary’s annual Darwin Lectures often produce outstanding talks. Tough to pick a favorite from those, but if forced to choose I’d go with Graham Bell’s, with Rich Lenski’s and Bree Rosenblum’s as close seconds. I find those Darwin Lectures are memorable because speakers often give unconventional talks befitting the occasion, rather than conventional research seminars.
For conventional research seminars, I remember great ones by Greg Velicer, Paul Rainey, Rees Kassen, and Ben Kerr. Can you tell I like experimental microbial evolution? 🙂 I remember really liking the first seminar I ever saw Mathew Leibold give, when he visited Rutgers when I was a grad student there. And I remember Geerat Vermeij for giving an amazing talk with no visuals save a few fossil snail shells he passed around. That one made me question a lot of what I thought I knew about the importance of visuals for a talk.
Besides the seminar topic, I find that the charisma of the speaker helps make a seminar memorable. Though I find it hard to define “charisma”–the people I listed above have a wide range of speaking styles. It’s not as if they’re all extremely high energy, or all cracking jokes, or whatever.
My ambition is to one day learn to stop saying “um” so much, so that I have some non-zero chance of giving a seminar someone else might remember for a long time.