Today I attended a public Master's thesis seminar. It just so happens that I had personally talked to this person for some time at a poster presentation, so I knew a bit about his research and I was looking forward to this seminar. Unfortunately, it left a lot to be desired. He obviously knew his stuff, but he simply didn't do a good job telling us about it. He used the same tone throughout his presentation and didn't seem excited about his topic. He seemed a bit nervous and hardly smiled at all. He didn't use the common name for his focal species (at least not that I noticed) until the very end of the presentation. These problems made his presentation difficult to follow even though I already knew a bit about his research. I felt bad for this scholar who clearly did good research but couldn't engage others in his presentation style.
While talking to Leo on Friday he mentioned how important it is for grad students to teach, even if they come in with fellowships or whatnot. As a TA you end up talking in front of students under all sorts of conditions: fully prepared and well rested, flying by the seat of your pants with a hangover, and everything in between. Leo said this hones your ability to captivate and instruct an audience like nothing else. You've simply got to be able to communicate your research to other people without them falling asleep in your presentation.
So far I've been impressed by the presentation skills of only one of the four U of Big City professors I've heard speak, and that's my Pop Ecol professor. The others weren't terrible, but they didn't shine with that inner enthusiasm for their topic. Perhaps they don't put on their best show for grad students? This is a bit of a change for me as someone who did their undergraduate education at Small Friendly College where teaching, not research, is the emphasis. I'm planning to do some of both. Time will tell where my balance lies.