Someone recently shared with me an article written by David Mermin in 1992 about physics talks. Some aspects are dated (our slides are no longer sheets of plastic, and I don’t think anyone writing an article like that today would feel the need to put it in the mouth of a fictional professor (which is a shame honestly)), but most of it still holds true. I particularly recognized the self-doubt of being a young physicist sitting in a talk and thinking “I’m supposed to enjoy this?”
Mermin’s basic point is to keep things as light as possible. You want to convey motivation more than content, and background more than your own contributions. Slides should be sparse, both because people won’t be able to see everything but also because people can get frustrated “reading ahead” of what you say.
Mermin’s suggestion that people read from a prepared text was probably good advice for him, but maybe not for others. It can be good if you can write like he does, but I don’t think most people’s writing is that much better than what they say in talks (you can judge this by reading peoples’ papers!) Some are much clearer speaking impromptu. I agree with him that in practice people end up just reading from their slides, which indeed is bad, but reading from a normal physics paper isn’t any better.
I also don’t completely agree with him about the value of speech over text. Yes, putting text on your slides means people can read ahead (unless you hide some of the text, which is easier to do these days than in the days of overhead transparencies). But just saying things means that if someone’s attention lapses for just a moment, they’ll be lost. Unless you repeat yourself a lot (good practice in any case), you should avoid just saying anything you need your audience to remember, and make sure they can read it somewhere if they need it as well.
That said, “if they need it” is doing a lot of work here, and this is where I agree again with Mermin. Fundamentally, you don’t need to convey everything you think you do. (I don’t usually need to convey everything I think I do!) It’s a lesson I’ve been learning this year from pedagogy courses, a message they try to instill in everyone who teaches at the university. If you want to really convey something well, then you just can’t convey that much. You need to focus, pick a few things and try to get them across, and structure the rest of what you say to reinforce those things. When teaching, or when speaking, less is more.