Machine Learning (Theory)


The Role of Impromptu Talks

Tags: General jl@ 9:29 pm

COLT had an impromptu session which seemed as interesting or more interesting than any other single technical session (despite being only an hour long). There are several roles that an impromptu session can play including:

  1. Announcing new work since the paper deadline. Letting this happen now rather than later helps aid the process of research.
  2. Discussing a paper that was rejected. Reviewers err sometimes and an impromptu session provides a means to remedy that.
  3. Entertainment. We all like to have a bit of fun.

For design, the following seem important:

  1. Impromptu speakers should not have much time. At COLT, it was 8 minutes, but I have seen even 5 work well.
  2. The entire impromptu session should not last too long because the format is dense and promotes restlessness. A half hour or hour can work well.

Impromptu talks are a mechanism to let a little bit of chaos into the schedule. They will be chaotic in content, presentation, and usefulness. The fundamental advantage of this chaos is that it provides a means for covering material that the planned program did not (or could not). This seems like a “bargain use of time” considering the short duration. One caveat is that it is unclear how well this mechanism can scale to large conferences.

2 Comments to “The Role of Impromptu Talks”
  1. Eran Tromer says:

    Sounds like rump session format that is quite popular in crypto conferences and a few others: roughly 1 hour (sometimes more) of 5-7 minute talks, submitted by noon and scheduled for the same afternoon, in an informal atmopshere (often assisted by beer being served in the back of the hall).

    These rump session talks are often among the most memorable in the conference. That’s because people in the know realize the nature of the medium and tend to stick to either interesting new works or (often hilarious) in-joke talks. And newcomers, it must be admitted, tend to be hilarious in less intentional ways, especially when their 5 minutes are nearly up. So it seldom gets boring, and when it does then people just drift out past those beer stands… Quite a recipe for building up a sense of community.

  2. David Molnar says:

    Crypto rump sessions also have their fair share of “papers that were rejected.” Sometimes this is good and I’ve learned something. For example, the MD5 break paper was announced at the rump session of last CRYPTO, leading to the first standing ovation I have seen at any conference. Other times, unfortunately, the authors attempt to compress a 30 minute talk into 5 minutes through the method of speakingreallyquicklywithnopausesforbreath.

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