I'm now a member of my department's colloquium committee. Our task is to make a great colloquium series. I thought that the first step would be to come up with an appropriate definition of "Mathematics Colloquium." Standard dictionaries are not too much help:

Colloquium: n. 
 1. A usually academic meeting at which specialists deliver
    addresses on a topic or related topics and then answer questions relating to them.
 2. A conference at which scholars or other experts present papers on, analyze, 
    and discuss a specific topic.

So here's my question: What is the ideal definition of a mathematics colloquium? Of course I know a bunch of things that make for bad colloquium talks, so I'm interested in knowing the definition of a good or great mathematics colloquium.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Luke: are we interested in a definition that is an ideal to aspire to, or a description of what actually happens? And what geographical variations are you or aren't you interested in? $\endgroup$
    – Yemon Choi
    May 2, 2015 at 15:17
  • 15
    $\begingroup$ Ideally, a mathematically colloquium is like as seminar, with two differences: 1) Speakers are usually more renowned and experienced; it is often (especially) hard to give a good colloquium talk if you just start out in a field. 2) A colloquium talk should be more accessible than a seminar talk; ideally to every math faculty member (or grad student), in practice at least 70% should be understandable to at least 70% of the faculty. If condition (2) is violated repeatedly, only specialists will continue to attend colloquium and the colloquium culture has died. $\endgroup$ May 2, 2015 at 16:25
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ I recommend the article How to give a good colloquium, which has advice for both speakers, the audience, and organizers. $\endgroup$ May 3, 2015 at 1:49
  • 15
    $\begingroup$ My experience is that if you manage to convince the speaker to prepare a talk for an audience of non-mathematicians, then it will be a perfect talk for mathematicians who are not experts in the field. $\endgroup$
    – Deane Yang
    May 3, 2015 at 2:41
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ My advice for colloquium speakers, is to target 1st year graduate students in the audience. $\endgroup$ May 3, 2015 at 3:08

2 Answers 2


A great mathematics colloquium is one which satisfies many if not all of its goals, and may have additional benefits which make it great.

A list of potential goals/benefits:

  • accessibility: many if not all attendees can understand a talk
  • entertainment: attendees enjoy or find the presentation enjoyable
  • breadth: the collection of topics covers a wide range of interests
  • thematic: there is a common thread or other connection which relates the different talks and draws connections
  • stimulating: encourages audience members to discuss and extend the subject matter outside the colloquium
  • durable: the recording made is archive quality and can be shared with others
  • effective: members of the audience can take some of the main ideas and recapitulate them for others who were not at the colloquium, and make the others understand the ideas.

Of the list above, I value being effective more highly than the other items.

Gerhard "What Are Your Colloquium Goals?" Paseman, 2015.06.07


Some suggestions:

  • Let all faculty members in turn choose speakers to invite. This ensures that everybody gets involved, and that the interests of all faculty members are represented.

  • Choose a room / building in which people feel well (this is underestimated sometimes!), and choose a time where people have time to attend and do not need to rush to their lectures once the talk is over.

  • After the colloquium talks, always have a joint lunch / coffee / supper (depending on the time of the day) in some pub / restaurant etc.. This fosters discussion among faculty members working on different fields, and with the speakers. Try to choose a different location for this every time.

  • As others have already said, tell speakers to give talks which all faculty members can understand -- and not only specialists in the respective field.


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