The Snappy Book Talk

The influence of the Ig Nobel Prize slowly seeps into academia — especially in techniques for piquing people’s curiosity and attention. Here’s a new, 2023 example. The Harvard Gazette, in a report headlined “The snappy book talk: ‘When does that happen in academia?’ ” tells of an innovative event: “Scholars had seven minutes to explain their work to an audience. Some actually managed it.”

Conciseness Techniques in Ig Nobel Events

The Ig Nobel Prize ceremony, founded in 1991, held annually (except during pandemic years, when it happens only online) in Harvard’s Sanders Theatre, has always included this or other varieties of happily constrained, happy performance by great scholars.

The Ig Nobel Prize winners give their acceptance speeches knowing that a no-nonsense eight-year-old child is on hand to tell them: “Please stop. I’m bored! Please stop. I’m bored!”

The 24/7 lectures (sometimes called the “Nano Lectures”), also part of the ceremony, give some of the world’s great thinkers the challenge and opportunity to explain their work twice — first in 24 seconds, then in seven words. (In earlier years, the Heisenberg Certainty Lectures presented speakers with the challenge of finishing their talk within 30 seconds, with the risk of being whistled off-stage if they exceeded the time limit.)

Ig Nobel events held elsewhere over the past few decades, in many countries, have been testing grounds for these and other methods to help speakers keep their speeches so short (10 minutes, or 5 minutes, or 3 minutes, or 30 seconds) and so lively that audiences enjoy the talks, and leave filled with curiosity about the topics and the speakers.

Detail About the Harvard Innovation

Here’s more detail from the Gazette‘s report of how these techniques being adopted in one part of the groves of academe:

Gathering Monday at the Center for Government and International Studies, a group of professors looked excited to talk about their books, if maybe a little wary of the clock.

Sponsored by the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, the “book blitz” demanded that each author or editor describe his or her work in seven minutes or less. When time was up, a bell signaled that it was time to stop talking. The event was a chance for associates of the center to promote their work in an informal setting, and a hit with both the audience and the eight speakers, even if only two managed to beat the bell.

“I enjoyed the format quite a bit and the snappiness of the presentations,” Dustin Tingley, a professor of government, said with a chuckle. “When does that happen in academia?” …

For the Business School’s Jeremy Friedman, who finished his discussion of “Ripe for Revolution: Building Socialism in the Third World” with 20 seconds to spare, the event was challenging but fun. He had practiced his seven-minute speech a couple of times, he admitted. But even more powerful was his geographical advantage.

“I talk really fast,” Friedman said. “I’m from New York.”

(Thanks to Stephanie Clayman for bringing the Gazette report to our attention.)