The inside story

First, it is advisable to read the description of the Format of the evening, to see how they usually work. There is always some scope for varying the standard format where there is good reason to. But we have found that this format works exceptionally well. 

For a programme of talks, which would normally give the speaker 45 minutes to an hour to state their case, and then leave a little time for questions, this reversed format is unusual; but we have found that it provides an exceptionally lively discussion. Several speakers have come away saying that, because of the questions, it became one of the most interesting talks THEY have ever given.

Questions can be sympathetic or challenging; for the “audience etiquette”, see the Format section.………

Note that the formal talk finishes around 10 pm ( some people have to get the last bus home; and it is usually time enough.)  But of course you are very welcome to stay on and chat/argue/elaborate with audience members as long as you may wish.

Please note that we will pay expenses, but cannot pay a fee ( see Costs in FORMAT).  But we do invite the speaker to eat with us before the talk – if you can arrive an hour earlier, this gives us sufficient time – which seems the least we can do, and means one less thing you need to factor in.  We also cover the bar bill for the evening.

What makes for a successful talk?

Lively Questions and Answers
The Talk should be:
  • controversial;
  • entertaining;
  • authoritative;
  • concise; 
  • capable of standing rigorous questioning;
  • intellectually stimulating;

  • delivered in plain English for the non-specialist or non-scientist;
  • without expensive visual aids (apart from hand-outs if you wish);
  • broad enough to generate an hour or so of lively Questions and Answers. 

What else?

The Café format is not like a lecture; it is far more inter-active.  We have found that the talks that work best are those where the speaker can talk freely and engagingly, perhaps with only minimal notes, about a subject you are passionate about.  It is a good opportunity to test out new ideas.

You do not have to guess in advance the level of knowledge of your subject that the audience will have, and put all the relevent detail in your talk; the Q&A session will allow you to guage the level of understanding in the audience ( which will, in any case, varyu from indiovidual to individual), and respond accordingly..

Some speakers have use pre-prepared PowerPoint slides; but frankly, it rarely works well.  There is a strong temptation then to revert back into "the standard lecture"; try to cram 45 minutes into 20; and then have to rush to finish, and run out of time.  But this is also a wasted opportunity to do something new. That said,, we have had some real success with imaginative visual aids.  We have had a stuffed badger for the talk on bovine TB; insects in jars; a 3-D model of a 7-dimensional universe, for a talk on particle physics; and fluffy stuffed woollen things to model invasive bacteria; and a plaster cast of the fossil of the first ever complex multi-cellular life forms (found locally, as it happens..) .  Images or even graphs can be handed round. Or left for people to peruse during the break.

20 minutes is not long; and it is never going to be possible to say everything you want to say in the first session. A good trick, therefore - especially if you find you are running out of time - is to throw out a few comments or provocative ideas as you go along, and see if the audience takes the bait. One advantage of sharing a meal with the Secretary and Chair of the evening before the talk is that it gives you time to brief us on some areas you really hope will come up; the chair can then ask a leading question, if need be; or simply allow time for the theme to evolve.