I am a graduate student from India. I am very much interested in attending the Workshops, conferences, and invited lecturers given by prominent professors.

At the end of the talk as usual some people will ask questions and speaker will answer them. But my problem is I am not understanding most of the questions and answers. Even if I ask any question I am unable to understand the answer which given by speaker.

Can somebody share their experience and suggestions to my problem.

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    $\begingroup$ "Unable to understand" in what sense? Are you not that familiar with the subjects of the talks, or is it an acoustic or language problem? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 15, 2013 at 12:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Reddy This is pretty normal, especially at the beginning of one's academic career. It gets better with time. But really understanding a whole talk remains an elusive experience: a talk should be seen as an invitation for further study. A common rule of thumb for talks is: 1/3 of the talk should be for the whole audience to understand, 1/3 for the one expert in the audience to understand, while the remaining 1/3 will be accessible only to the speaker. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 15, 2013 at 12:48
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    $\begingroup$ Is this a joke or not? I am often bothered by the amount of information the speakers try to press in 15-minute talks. It seems to me that often, they lose 95% of their audience after the third slide. Personally, I feel like this is a pity, since you want to make your work appealing to as many people as possible out there; but apparently most presenters just don't care (or don't know better). $\endgroup$
    – HdM
    Commented Mar 15, 2013 at 14:09
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    $\begingroup$ One suggestion to Reddy: if you don't understand an answer, particularly to a question you asked, do try to get hold of the speaker later and discuss the matter offline. Most people I've met are quite happy to give more detailed explanations once they are aware of the problem. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 15, 2013 at 16:47
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    $\begingroup$ Although @MartinBerger states a common rule of thumb, I have been to talks that were fully understandable by anyone with a general background yet that still covered the key details of the new contribution. Awe-inspiring, but alas this seems more common in pure mathematics than in TCS. I personally believe we should all aspire to reduce the fraction of our talks that only we or close colleagues can understand, and increase the fraction of general interest. We probably would need a move away from bullet-point style presentations to achieve this... $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 16, 2013 at 18:21

1 Answer 1


This may seem strange at first, but one way I've found to understand an area better is to write in it.

Every area of any discipline has its own mini-language. It consists most obviously of specialized terminology---but there is also a certain structure and order to how people in that area prefer to give and receive information. There are also particular ways of understanding certain difficult concepts, especially abstract or nonobvious concepts.

Reading is obviously key, and it will help you understand the terminology. But to really climb into the heads of those who present in your area, you have to write. You'll then be forced to learn good ways to structure information and ways to understand difficult concepts---and discover how and why the other researchers in your area think and talk the way they do.

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    $\begingroup$ Teaching something from the area also helps a lot. $\endgroup$
    – Jeffε
    Commented Mar 16, 2013 at 20:05
  • $\begingroup$ Teaching definitely helps, especially with the basics of an area. Are you planning to expand this to an answer? :) $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 21, 2013 at 4:10

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