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This blog helps the scientist who presents learn new skills. It complements the book “When the scientist presents”.

Comments and questions are welcome, just email me: whenthescientistpresents @ gmail dot com.

I also keep the following pages: 1) the SCOOP.IT page on Presentation Skills I curate https://www.scoop.it/t/scientific-presentation-skills; 2) videos with PowerPoint or Keynote techniques found here https://www.scivee.tv/user/7043/ ; 3) podcasts featuring interviews with top presenters https://scientific-presentations.com/?feed=podcast ; 4) The free tool to assess the quality of your scientific paper https://cs.uef.fi/swan/index.html ; (More details on SWAN? See rest of post)
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The PowerPoint Glass Barrier separating audience and presenter

New England Journal of Aesthetic Research

New England Journal of Aesthetic Research

You are supposed to be close and personal, and upfront… but up front, facing the audience, things are not close and personal. It’s them versus you: them sitting and listening, and you standing and talking next to your faithful computer FIFO and its wireless leash. But the one on the leash is you. If you strand too far away, FIFO will radio you back to base, or bite you with its one and only bluetooth. That impalpable wall between you and the audience is a barrier, granted, more of a psychological than a solid one, but a barrier nonetheless.

Imagine what might have happened had you untangled yourself from FIDO’s leash. Actually, you don’t have to. Andrew Askew, Assistant professor of Physics, Florida State University has done it and this is what he says.

“The use of the PowerPoint slides was acting as a straitjacket to discussion. […] We removed the PowerPoint slide, and like a big glass barrier was removed between the speaker and the audience. […] The communication became a lot more two-way instead of just the speaker speaking at length for 15, 20 minutes. The audience really started to come alive, to look up from their laptop computers and actually start participating in the discussion, which is what we were really trying to foster.”

(  from an interview by Alan Yu on all tech considered NPR radio http://goo.gl/u6XxpA )

The scientific presentation is a way for the scientist to get feedback on his or her work, to start a discussion. When will PowerPoint become fully interactive? When will audience input appear on the presenter slide (through their phone or tablet PowerPoint app)? When will presenters start interacting with the data on their PowerPoint slides with the existing but rarely used electric pen? When that day comes, when PowerPoint comes of age, maybe Jeff Bezos and Jeff Weiner will celebrate its return in their company meetings. For now, the fabled passivating presentation tool is persona non grata.

Fear is not your enemy, it is your judge!

Anxiety is the sum of all fears. Here are four more fears to add to the six introduced in a prior blog entry (http://scientific-presentations.com/2014/06/17/anxiety-the-sum-of-all-your-fears/)

Is your fear, the fear of unknown faces? Did you attempt to network with one or two people from the audience prior to your talk to make the unfamiliar somewhat more familiar and get one or two spontaneous smiles from your new acquaintances?

Is your fear, the fear of forgetting? Did you rehearse your talk to the point you could focus more on the audience than on your content? If you did, and the fear is still there, is it because your presentation is not built like a story with a plot easy to remember? Does the story plot keep you and your audience close to Main street (the title of your talk), or does it  instead go down dark alleys where every one trips over the overflowing garbage cans of Must-Not-Forget-to-Say details?

Is your fear, fear of not finishing on time? Who are you trying to impress? Content does not dictate pace, understanding does. When understanding is required, less is more. Are you under the false impression that the audience must thoroughly understand your work when in fact, it should understand enough to see how valuable it is?

Is your fear, fear of not getting any questions? Does a ghostly silence usually follow your talks when you ask for questions? People who do not understand your topic well enough, do not ask questions. Do you think people come to you for expertise or do they come to you, the expert, to be interested by someone who masters his or her subject so well that jargon is never used, or so well explained, it is never a problem?

Find out the root cause of your fear, and change your ways. Alternatively, you could let fear be your judge :)

judge advocate general department of the  navy

 

Killer Lessons from an Astronaut

images

Wikimedia – public domain 

During a  Fresh Air National Public Radio program, astronaut Christ Hadfield said that during their flight rehearsals at NASA, Astronauts go sequentially over the various problems that may result in rapid (and usually final) death if they do not deal with them right away (tip: search for the word “kill” in the interview transcripts). The lesson learned is that you also, have to prepare for these presentation-killing situations as a presenter. Let’s review some:

1) You require audio out because you play a video or audio byte and the sound coming out of your computer is not loud enough to he heard by everyone in the room.
a) The VGA cable that connects the computer to the projector does not have an audio cable.
b) The audio cable is not connected to the audio out of the computer.
c) The audio cable is connected to the audio out of the computer but the volume is set to zero or the fader on the mixer in the equipment room is pulled all the way down.

2) You require video out because you have prepared a short video clip of your experiment. You have recorded the video in a specific file type (WMV, MOV, MP4,MPEG 2) and your video is linked not embedded.
a) The computer does not have the right CODEC and cannot read the video format.
b) The video file is not found and you find the poster frame of the video, but no video.
c) the video plays but no audio comes out (see point 1).

3) You have a wireless microphone with a battery pack or a presentation remote with two AA or AAA batteries and you are presenting at the end of the day after twelve other presenters. The presenter before you just handed you the mike.
d) The 9V microphone battery dies during your talk.
e) The Laser dot from your presentation remote is pink instead of red and people cannot see it.
f) The presenter before you turned on the well-hidden mute button on the mike.

4) You rehearsed with slide timing before the presentation.
g) Your slides have a life of their own and change to the next slide without you clicking the next slide button on the remote.

5) You prepared your presentation on your PC and the computer used for conference presentations is a Mac – or vice versa – and you thought they would have allowed you to use your own computer – but they did not.
h) Most of your text is missaligned. Your slides look awful.
i) The computer only has Keynote (a Mac-Only App) installed, not PowerPoint.
j) The computer has PowerPoint installed, not Keynote.
k) The video adapter is specific to Mac (not the usual VGA female to VGA male adaptor PCs have), or to PC (not the usual Thunderbolt to VGA Macs have).

6)  You used the latest version of PowerPoint and the presentation computer runs XP and PowerPoint 2007.
l) Some of the features you enjoy in the latest version of your software are not available in earlier versions. Your great work now looks mediocre.
m) Your file cannot be read. You are a lateX geek, an all-for-one open office advocate, a Prezi guru, a Macros-rule-the-world Visual Basic aficionado.

These are just a small sample of what could potentially incapacitate you. Are you ready?

1) Find the cable, find the person who knows where the cable is, find the person who knows the person who knows where the cable is and where it should be connected. Find the person who has access to the control room where the video/audio switcher is located, or  find the fader corresponding to the audio out of your computer on that audio mixer, or find the remote that controls the fader, or find the piece of paper that shows you how to control the equipment. Connect the cable. Move the fader to the zero mark. Check that your audio out is set at full volume on your computer… But best of all, figure out what the problem is before you start your presentation by rehearsing in situ in vivo (not in vitro).

2) Compress your video using different codecs and come with at least a .mov and .wmv file. Have a converter program on your computer. Embed the video into your presentation. If you use a linked file, Create  folder that contains your presentation as well as all media used in your presentation. Link your files to your presentation from that folder. Transfer the folder to the presentation computer, not just the main presentation file.

3) Locate where the spare batteries are hidden (usually in the control room where all AV equipment is located). Ask the technician for a spare set of batteries (9V or AA, or AAA batteries) for mike and remote.  Figure out how to replace the batteries in the wireless mike pack or the presentation remote before your talk. Also find out how to locate the various activation buttons on the wireless battery pack, and find the LCD that show the battery level (1 to 4 bars). Check that before you start using the mike. If the mike seems non-operational, find the mute switch and see it is turned on. If the mike dies while you are talking, don’t wait till the audience tells you. Read on it right away, and move to another mike (podium mike, other mikes). Try the laser beam on the remote on a white background to see whether the dot is bright. But best of all, do not rely on the laser beam for pointing, highlight on the slide itself (bring circle, arrows, layer the information, etc). Have a set of batteries ready … just in case.And familiarize yourself with the equipment (mike and remote) BEFORE your presentation during stage rehearsal before the talk.

4) find the button “use timings” in the slide show controls, and disable it  BEFORE your presentation starts.

5) Use fonts which are the same for Mac and PC such as Arial, Verdana. Prepare a pdf version of your slides, just in case. All computers have a Adobe acrobat player. Carry with you the video cable adaptor that comes with your computer. the ultimate is a USB to VGA adaptor, but that comes with Software on the Mac and the PC.

6) Avoid using the latest and greatest versions of software. Be conservative, forget about your pet visualization software, save your presentation in the three main formats (PowerPoint, Keynote, and PDF).

Time waits for no man

time waits for no...

At times, it may seem that time waits for woman to get dressed, but when it comes to conference talks, the chair will give you a dressing-down if you exceed your time.

The chair of your session HAS to keep to time. Tea breaks don’t wait, the start of a session in another conference room does not wait, the line of speakers for the morning or afternoon session cannot be compressed to compensate for the talkative few who did not keep to their time allotment.

Running late in a talk usually starts a cascade of events resulting in the destruction of hours of carefully planned preparation. When the presenter discovers that half the slides still need to be presented minutes before the end, he or she goes into panic mode with the following disastrous effects:

1) No more smooth transition between slides. The narration at the beginning of each slide is cut short to a skimpy “and next”, “and here”.

2) The graphics that featured your results get the rushed treatment. The X and Y axis are not even mentioned, you frantically wave the red dot of the laser pointer on one or two peaks or valleys in your bar charts and skip many of the details that were essential to understand the result.

3) By now, no more eye contact with the audience. Your eyes are on the screen full time.

4) Layers of information flash in front of the dazed audience as you click through them at a speed that prevents understanding. The audience can no longer keep in sync with what they see and what they hear.

5) Your conclusion slide is read. The nice closing statement you had planned for your big confident finish eye to eye with the audience never even made it past your lips.

The overall result:

• No time for questions

• No questions from the shell-shocked audience bombarded with words.

• Nobody interested to network with you, not after the way you treated your audience.

In short: TOTAL DISASTER.

Anxiety: the sum of all your fears

Flickr. Neil.Moralee

 

Fearful speaking in front of others?

First find out the reason why you are nervous. Then get rid of that reason.

Here is a catalog of the possible reasons, and remember, more than one reason may apply: anxiety is the sum of all your fears.

  • I am not prepared. I had too little time to get ready, I rushed through the preparation, I had no time to rehearse. I finished my slides the morning of the event and I don’t remember how many layers are on some slides so I have to look at them to know when the slide changes, etc…  There is no substitute for preparation and preparation encompasses more than just rehearsing (Presentation traps 9 – the rehearsal traps) l. You can’t wing it, Mr Icarus, because the heat of the moment will burn the wax that loosely ties your wings to your body. Sorry.
  • I am the center of attention. Of course you are. They came to you because you have something they need. That’s why they are looking at you. So please, turn your marine binoculars around a second, what do you see? People have  shrunk to a size where you can see them all. They are all in the same boat. You’re the captain of the boat and they are your passengers. They have boarded your ship, and they will disembark after your talk. They are your temporary guests and you want to make sure they enjoy the journey. Show you are worth your stripes, and beam that captain smile of yours to inspire confidence in you. You know how to behave like a host, don’t you? Surely you have hosted friends and colleagues at home. Behave like a host, whose relaxed attitude comes from expertise and preparedness.
  • My boss or my employees are in the room. So they are, so they are. Is that why you have to behave like Wonder Woman or Superman? The way you see it, any fragility will be mocked and you will fall off the pedestal after you have worked so much to hoist your statuesque figure in place. But the Superman costume only fits Christopher Reeve. And the Wonder Woman suit was tailored for Linda Carter, so leave it on the rack. You are frail, you are human, you may make mistakes, but the stress caused by the acute awareness of potential mistakes brings them on more surely than losing the jackpot. Get your boss and your employees out of your system. For example, rehearse in front of them prior to your talk. Involve them in the process. They will learn that you have gone through great pains to make this presentation a success, and they probably will give you useful feedback in the process. Otherwise, as you become aware live on stage of a mistake that your boss of employees have surely noticed (they probably haven’t), you will not recover your composure. You will crash and burn.
  • I’ve got too much to lose if I fail. Money, career, prestige, you name your poison. For it is your poison if it is so addictive that you turn to excipients to boost your confidence, or you let your fear pay allegiance to these monsters. Remember the book of Ecclesiastes: it is all vanity, and vanity is for the bonfire.
  • I look awful. Yes you do, if you say so. And even the great Pascal would agree since he wrote “The perceptions of our senses are always right”. So what? Has your science anything to do with the length of your nose? The buckling of your legs? The gap in your teeth? The color of your shoes? The size of your belt? Is the audience attending your talk with the specific intent to be repulsed because your reputation as a frankenstein exceeds that of the horror movie? So stop that nonsense and focus on your objective of helping others with their scientific problems. Do not focus on self-perceived crimes against the self-perceived canons of prettiness or handsomeness, because, besides grooming, there is nothing you can do about how you look, but there is much you can do to make yourself attractive to others by your scientific talent and expertise.
  • They will embarrass me with their questions. I see. You fear not having a ready answer, or a convincing answer. Yet you did the research, the audience did not. You conducted the experiments, chose the most adequate methods, carefully selected the data. From it you analytically excised the supportive evidence that warrants your conclusions, and you tentatively proposed your inner convictions in gut-spilling tables and figures. The audience did not. And if some force you into declarative yes or no statements, it is not to trick you; it is to assess the usefulness of your findings and how well they would apply to their problems. In a way, their questions invite you to their research patch. If you and they work on the same patch, your fears are groundless. You are the expert. If their patch is distant from yours, you cannot commit because you simply don’t know. And it is fine to say so without feeling embarrassed. Scientific embarrassment is being caught cheating, or not being able to justify choices (data, method, or conclusions). Only then, is there reason to be afraid of questions. But since you are fully accountable, it is not the case for you. So any fear is misguided, particularly the unreasonable fear of having to say “I don’t know”. Next time you have to say “I don’t know”, finish that sentence with what you know that is related to the question with something like “This we don’t know; However, we do know that…“. You will be seen as helpful instead of ignorant.

In conclusion, analyze your fear. You will learn much about yourself and, with that, you will find the way to master your nerves.

Connect to your audience – the first moves

 

Telephone Switchboard

Source: Telefonzentralen Fotoarchiv A1 Telekom Austria

The recommendation to “connect to your audience” evokes the image of the telephone operator of old plugging a jack into a panel to connect a caller, or the image of a presenter plugging himself into the audience energy source.  “To connect” implies that the default status at the start of a presentation if that of disconnection with the audience. So how easy is it to “connect”?

That depends on the audience, doesn’t it? Sometimes the audience waiting for the stage appearance of their favorite star is so “pumped up” with expectations that the artist gets an energizing  jolt when he or she connects with the audience – a jolt that would fry most of our brain circuits for us normal human beings unused to the stage. Sometimes the audience is arctic – they haven’t asked to come, or they don’t know you, or they don’t like you – and your stage appearance has the same effect as a cold draft. To connect with that audience, you need a thawing device. But the device is not universal, it has to be adapted to the root cause of the prevalent audience attitude towards you.

For an oral presentation at a scientific conference, the audience is usually idling in neutral. They came because the topic was mildly relevant, but their expectations of you are not great based on the scarcity of interesting presenters among scientists. The first slides usually confirms these expectations: text heaviness has the same freezing  effect as  liquid nitrogen and the 7 bullets filling each clip of your compact PowerPoint gun pointing at the audience freezes it just as effectively.

Your job is to CONNECT in order to draw energy from the audience, but no or little energy comes from their interest in you (your atrociously difficult to pronounce last name does not help) and their interest in your topic (its atrociously complicated syntax is an immediate killjoy). Great! What is the next move? Actually, by that time, the next move comes too late, so let’s talk about  first moves instead.

MOVE # 1.   Start with the title of your talk. When you craft the title of your talk, make sure 1) it is reader-friendly (avoid cascading modifiers); 2) it somehow conveys the significance of your work; and/or 3) it makes people salivate or raises intense curiosity.

MOVE # 2.  Start connecting with the audience prior to your talk. Greet them at the door if at all possible. Have a friendly chat with a few people in the audience prior to your talk (in the foyer, or inside the room). You will no longer be anonymous. A few members of the audience will now know you.

MOVE # 3.   Use your microwaving smile and your high energy laser eye contact to unfreeze the audience even before you say a single word. And I do not mean the 1 second thawing cycle, spend 4 seconds or more. Hurriedness does not convey confidence.

MOVE # 4.  Thank the chair personally, not facing the audience while the chair is retreating to a dark corner. Possibly thank your mother to bring a smile on a few faces, and a tear on your mother’s face. Then leverage off your small initial success to pump yourself up with an extra dose of confidence (CAUTION: Don’t try that if you are not humorous by nature).

MOVE # 5.  Be professional in your first moves: a) while smiling, put on the microphone after you have turned it off to avoid unwelcome noise, then turn it back on and test it discreetly and do not cough or rake your throat from that moment on; b) do not spend your first moments with the audience hiding behind the lectern or fidgeting with the computer, engage the audience in full view, away from the computer if your wireless mike allows it.

MOVE # 6.   Relax. This blog and the scoop pages feature techniques to achieve that physically, but nothing relaxes more that knowing you are fully prepared and well rehearsed.

MOVE # 7.  Look good. Make an effort. But don’t dress like it is oscar night :)

By Jean-luc lebrun

Scientific Presentations and Chinese Proverbs – part 2

Source: Flick; Author: Rob Well.

“A road is traced by the people who walk on it.”

Acknowledge others, the people who inspired you, gave you ideas. There is always a way to acknowledge someone in a presentation. Your road may still be a path, but someone cleared some branches already!

“what touches cinnabar turns to red, what touches ink, turns to black.”

A presentation is made from a painter’s palette. With distinct colors, you create a blend, a color gradient. Each new slide is different yet never far apart from its neighbors. Each new slide is fluidly linked to other colors in the palette. Work on your oral slide transitions. Avoid discontinuitiesUse B keys or black slides also.

“An ax cannot hew it’s own handle.”

Your main concern is to have others use what you have discovered. You provide the steel, they provide the handle. Your presentation should conclude with a clear statement of the significance of your work for others – their handle.

“One lie only, and one hundred deeds are now in doubt.”

In presentations, whatever you declare upfront to describe the significance of the problem and the need for a solution, has to be unquestionable, credible, rock solid. Any exaggeration (lie by amplification), or omission (lie by hiding), and your audience will now have reservations and treat your future claims with scepticism.

“No sooner has someone come that satisfaction is due.”

The audience had a choice not to attend your talk. People have come for a reason. Understand why they came, what they need, and satisfy them. You are now in debt.

“Better act with your hands once than to look with your eyes a thousand times.”

How does an audience act with hands during your talk? People raise arms  to ask questions. Each question is an opportunity for the deeper understanding that precedes adoption and action. Always leave ample time for questions. An audience who only looks at slides without moving to the next stage – is worthless to you. And by the way, use your hands, stretch them in an open gesture to ask for questions, don’t just look at the audience waiting for questions!

By Jean-luc lebrun

Scientific Presentations and Chinese Proverbs – part 1

Source: Flickr; Author: Steve Webel.

“By tongue work, eloquence is gained; By hand work, clumsiness is lost.”

People who silently rehearse their presentation looking at the computer screen never become eloquent.

People who sit while rehearsing lack naturalness when standing.

“Without ugliness, beauty does not stand out; Without salt, sugar would be less sweet.”

Without error bars, your contribution cannot stand out.

“A move is worth less than a rest”. 

Reduce your pace with periodic pauses. The audience requires rests to think, to consolidate, to catch up, to ask questions, or simply to recover for the effort of following your train of thoughts.

“Behind every gain is a loss.”

Find out what disadvantage hides underneath your so-called advantageous contribution. Look for your blind spot before the audience shows it to you.

“Warm the feet of a frozen man; Warm the muzzle of a frozen dog.”

Similar problems may require different solutions – it all depends on who is experiencing the problem. Whose problem are you solving?

“A fixed method is not a method.”

If each problem requires a different solution, it follows that the method to solve that problem will vary with the problem. Does your method include novel aspects?

By Jean-luc lebrun

the fallacy of the 10-minute attention span

I hate rules based on one-off samples. They are very seductive because they are so simple and memorable, but they are very misleading because they lack context and support. Case in point: John Medina has written a very interesting book which he promotes very well on his website Brain Rules. His marketing has convinced thousands of presenters that audience attention will wane every ten minutes and that they have to do something to recapture the attention – like one adds a coin in the mechanical kiddie ride horse to keep it going.

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Pinterest , Scoop.it, LinkedIn… to keep up-to-date

Anyone worth his or her presenting salt keeps skills up-to-date. How? Evolution has a ready answer: “try new things, and if they work, 1) keep them and make them yours (don’t just copy/paste), and 2) retire the things which have come to the end of their road.”

Source Flickr; author Heritagefutures

But where do these new things come from? From other people of course: the expert practitioners on LinkedIn, and the hunters and gatherers who have a topic on Pinterest or Scoop. I spend a part of each day hunting and gathering as curator of the Scientific presentation skills topic on Scoop.it; I do it for myself, but also for others . When someone has a question I can answer in one of my LinkedIn groups, I offer a suggestion – The latest one to date was how to put an Apple-Keynote presentation on a webpage (presentation gurus LinkedIn group). I also keep a dropbox for people who follow my scientific presentation skills class and regularly add to it  material I create (for example the latest entries into my Scoop.it page in journal form).

By Jean-luc lebrun

The Presenter-Lecturer: evaluating learning at end of a presentation

If you are a lecturer, you probably monitor how well your students follow your lecture. You check from time to time by asking questions or you rely on the barometer of puzzled looks and distracted students to determine whether your teaching is cloudy or the fog of incomprehension has lifted. Questions are great. They interrupt your flow of words, giving time for people to think. And thinking is how one converts words into knowledge.

iBook Author MCQ

I  recently started using iBooks Author, the free Apple software to create books or, in my case, multiple choice questions that I project from my iPad. Adding question slides that respond live to a click in a PowerPoint or Keynote presentation is near impossible. In ibook Author, it’s a cinch. You use questions as needed during the course (or at at the end of the course in a competition pitting one half of the class against the other to make things more fun). It takes time away from your  teaching but giving that thinking time to the audience multiplies the productivity of your teaching, whether they answer correctly or not!

By Jean-luc lebrun

What can the scientist who presents learn from Pascal (Part 5)

Of somebody eloquent, people will say “He as a gift with words”. Eloquent is a term associated with  statesmen like US President Obama in our time, or with  preachers like Bossuet in Pascal’s time. But could a scientist be eloquent? Blaise Pascal, the well-known scientist of old, defines eloquence in terms that make it relevant to scientists.

 

“Eloquence is the art of saying things in such as way that 1) those to whom we speak listen without pain and with pleasure;  2) their own interest encourages them to reflect upon what they hear.

It establishes a link between the heart and mind of the listener on the one hand, and between our thoughts and how we express them on the other hand; This assumes that one has studied the heart of man and knows its power so as to control how much and what to say. One must become one with the listener and test our heart on the very words we will use to see whether they fit and rally the listener to our views. We must, as much as possible, keep ourselves to what is simple and natural, refrain from making much out of nothing or nothing out of much. Being a thing of beauty matters little if it does not serve the listener; In beauty is nothing to trim or add.”

Pascal Thought 16.

 

What I observe in Pascal is his conviction that eloquence is not a gift, but a science and the fruit of labour to reach conciseness. It is based on our thorough observation and study of others enabling us to reconstruct them in ourselves in order to test the convincing power of our own words.The power of words, however, cannot be built on exaggeration. Self-control is necessary to avoid the distorted and the complex at the expense of the natural and the simple. Words gain power when their number is restricted.

Pascal describes eloquence as a tool that leads to reflection. Unless your audience reflects and thinks about what you have just said, you will not convince. A man of many words leaving no room for silence is not eloquent. Silence punctuates speech. The audience uses silence as a time to think. Silence keeps your sentences simple and natural. Paradoxically, with silence, your speech is more concise. Framed by two moments of silence, in your sentence “is nothing to trim or add” (see also Saint Exupery ).

There is no threat, no perceived accusation in eloquent speech. There is pleasure. Words that judge like limitation, failure, disadvantage are replaced with words that encourage like enhancement, extension, consolidation, strengthening, building blocks. Eloquence belongs in a scientific presentation. It befalls the scientist to reveal how beautiful a contribution he or she has to offer without putting others down.

Although Pascal referred to the eloquence of words, Saint Exupery broadens the landscape to include figures–the scientist’s best tool to convince. Figures are our most eloquent allies. How eloquent are your visuals? Is there nothing in them to trim or add? Have you looked at them with the eyes of your audience? Have you designed them to support a point that requires convincing? Are your visuals “things of beauty” or is complexity, judgment, or glut disfiguring them? Do your figures make people think?

By Jean-luc lebrun

 

Source: Flickr; Author Mkandlez

 

cartoon on scientific presentation

By Jean-luc lebrun

You’ve got to love Jorge‘s cartoon on scientific presentations (the cartoon opens in a separate window). The scientist plans his talk as if it is a condensed version of a scientific paper, and naturally expects it to go smoothly and be followed by loud crowd appreciation, and an “engaging” Q&A. Just in case the crowd forgot,  an ominous 2 meter high green “Q&A” over a black background is there for all to see.

You got to love the shepherd stick handled expertly by the chairperson to bring back the lost sheep to the fold! Had the scientist been in kindergarten, he probably would have been sent to the corner :)

 

Flickr, JorgeMiente.esCastigada sin postre

The Five Cs of Mike McCurry

WARNING: THIS IS AN OPINION PIECE.

Our former Press Secretary Mike McCurry was interviewed by Tom Fox of the Washington Post on “good communication and its importance for good leadership.” He described effective communicators in 5 nouns starting with “C”: Credibility, Candor, Clarity, Compassion, and Commitment. These five Cs also apply to scientific communications and scientists.

Credibility. Mike McCurry uses three adjectives to qualify credible communicators (as opposed to spin doctors): “authentic”, “straight-shooter”, and “factual”. Factual and authentic scientists have to deal with spin doctors. Spin doctors are not scientists. Under the thin disguise of pseudo-science, they promote their wares to a population eager for credible scientific solutions to their daily problems. Confident, straight-shooting spin doctors are vocal and credited, while tergiversating opinion-in-holster scientists are mute and discredited. The quack opinions of spin doctors are hash-tagged and re-twitted, while the scholarly papers of scientists are cited in circulation-limited scientific journals read by a precious few.

Candor. Scientists don’t lack candor. They are quite willing to state the limitations of their work as proof of their intellectual honesty. But candor outside the ivory tower of research can be crippling. Why interface with the world when, like Voltaire’s Candide character, it is so much easier to quietly work in the hanging gardens of science and grow tomorrow’s uncertainties.

Clarity. If only clarity were objective, for all to see through the eyes of the beholding scientists. Alas, what is clear to a few is unclear to many, and the vision-impaired public is walking with a white stick in a world of clairvoyant scientists. No amount of lasik surgery is going to fix the problem. Only scientists can correct public vision, and for that they have to understand that they need to communicate simply, and share their science in words all can understand.

Compassion. Medical Doctors are compassionate. They took the hippocratic oath. “I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone.”  Is compassion compatible with science?  Is compassion an opinion? What oath have scientists taken? Have some taken instead an hypocrite oath for the good of their science towards which they will do no harm?

Commitment. Yes, it is up to the granting agencies: Will they continue to show their commitment to science? But it is also up to the scientists. Will they get out of their Science parks, their Science labs, and show commitment towards public issues? Or will they ultimately turn into the Essenes of Science burying their precious papers in jars of clay?

Having said my piece, I am honored to be the friend of many scientists who are credible, candid, clear, compassionate, and committed. I just wished there were more of them :)

By Jean-luc lebrun

Source Flickr, h.koppdelaney, Helper B-4

 

No smalltalk, please – We’re scientists.

The play by Bernard Shaw “Heartbreak House” gives me the opportunity to make a point that separates scientific presentations from others. In the play, a man comes inside the home of the owner and introduces himself so: “Excuse my intruding in this fashion, but there’s no knocker on the door and the bell does not seem to ring.” To which the owner replies: “Why should there be a knocker, why should the bell ring: the door is open!” 

Flickr. gr0uch0
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Creating a good first impression starts early

Source Flickr; Author Neovain

Your presentation is on day 2 of the conference, afternoon session. You follow the recommendations made in the posts in this blog, and you give a beaming smile to the audience right before the start of your presentation. Yet you notice that few return the smile, even though, in theory at least, the participants’ mirroring neurons should be firing by now and trigger the pulling of the zygomaticus muscles to lift up mouth corners everywhere in the room. You followed the instructions by the book, and it did not work!!! What went wrong? Continue reading

Live probing – Checking the Audience’s Analogue Response to Your Smile

Apart from TDD, what other techniques have people invented to ensure that things are functioning well? Roll drum announcing – The Digital Signature.

It is a method invented by Gary Gordon from HP in 1976 to probe/check within seconds whether a complex electronic circuit is working fine. Great technique with an equivalent in the more analogue world of presentations. Continue reading

(TDD) Test-Driven Development – its use in scientific presentations

How does one know that everything is going to be fine “on the night”, or at least on the big day of our presentation? Of course, one could cross fingers – but should the index finger be over the middle finger or the opposite  :) One could rehearse, and rehearse, and rehearse as proposed here – this works but can one rehearse the unexpected? The rehearsal trap is so pernicious!

Do you know the meaning of the TDD acronym? If you do, you are a leading edge programmer.

“In Test-Driven Development, each new feature begins with writing a test. […] it makes the developer focus on the requirements before writing the code.” (Wikipedia)

 How does that wonderful concept applies to scientific presentations?

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What can the scientist who presents learn from Herbert Simon (Part 2)

I heard Nobel Laureate Herbert A. Simon speak at the end of last century (it’s not that long ago) at a conference in San Jose California on future trends. His insights on our information age will forever ring true.

“What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”

Who bears the cost of information overload? Continue reading

Learning from Henri Poincaré (part 2)

By Jean-luc lebrun

I am satisfied with taking note of the difficulty, without pretending to solve it, thus ending on a big question mark. Still, it is interesting to state problems even though their solution appears remote.

And with that sentence, Henri Poincaré ends his chapter on the Milky Way. How do you end your presentation? A bored (therefore boring) plain restatement of your accomplishments, or do you show your willingness to share the open scientific questions your work has identified? In your opinion, which option highlights the scientist in you more?

Do you find yourself intimidated by the sheer brain power of some of the scientists attending your talk? Does knowing they are in front of you have a debilitating effect on your performance? Take heart. See how Henri Poincaré pragmatically considers his own mental abilities.

“No doubt a vaster and a keener mind than ours would judge otherwise. But that matters little; it is not this superior mind that we have to use, but our own.” (Science and method, Henri Poincaré, Dover Publications, 2003, translated by Francis Maitland)

Source Flickr, Author Dullhunk

Presentation traps 13 – The body trap

By Jean-luc lebrun

We are trapped in our body. Funny thing is, we never knew, but come the day of the presentation and body parts buried in the background of our consciousness surge to the foreground to make themselves known. Arms appear out of nowhere, with hands attached, turning us into stage puppeteers having to consciously lift and direct our limbs out of limbo. Legs descend to the ground like measuring tapes, bringing back to life embarrassing gaussian deviations in the tall woman and the short man. It definitely feels like an out-of-body experience! Continue reading

Using images in presentations – the legal issues

First of all, I am not a lawyer. Now that I have completely disqualified myself, and warned you that any information given hereafter may or may not be true in a given country at a given time for given people in given settings for given tasks, I can now broach the subject.

The other day I was looking at a medical clipart site which contained ancient black and white clipart images which had obviously fallen out of the copyright realm and were in the public domain – IT WAS NOT. Why? The people who had scanned the black and white pictures from ancient manuals in the public domain, considered that the work of scanning, cleaning the drawing (removing the aged paper color to make it white again), cropping the final art and giving it the clipart resolution was considered DERIVATIVE WORKS of a public domain image. In other words, if your aim is education, feel free to use it, but if you use it for a commercial presentation – find the book at your national library and scan it yourself :).

And now for another surprise. You visit an art gallery where a 1789 painting (surely no copyright issue here, right?) attracts your attention and you take a high resolution photo which you use on your slide and distribute or make available to others. Understand that the law in the US and in the UK is different. In the US, you could do that without problem. In the UK, the art gallery could make trouble for you unless you only use a low resolution image.

In this blog I use a WordPress plugin called “Tagaroo” by Crowd Favorite and Reuters. Its own one liner description says “Find and suggest tags and photos (from Flickr) for your content.” The images are all under CC licence (Creative Commons). If you are not familiar with Creative Commons, STOP whatever you are doing and visit http://search.creativecommons.org/# From that page, you have access to the images that you can reuse under very well defined conditions. For example, I selected the button “Use for commercial purposes”, and deselected the button “modify, adapt or build upon”,  clicked on the button “Flickr”, selected “the Commons” in the menu on the left of the search line and then typed “eye” in the search window. I found a great image named “Elod-Eye” by Frederic Dupont (a.k.a darkpatator). Then scrowling down the page, at the bottom right,  I found the license type, in this case “Some rights reserved”. Clicking on the licence name in grey takes you to the page Some rights reserved which explains what are these rights. You can then use that picture on your slide according to the stated rights.Here are several sites where you can find public domain images: http://wellcomeimages.org and also the images of the British Library https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/sets/ and of course the huge Flickr internet archive book images

 

There are other issues of course. The first one is the display of recognizable people on an image. Each one of us has “personality rights“, which include the right to control the commercial ( and even non commercial) use of our image and likeness. They vary from country to country, and from State to State. So even if you yourself took the photo, as long as it contains a recognizable person, before using that photo for a presentation, it would be wise to make sure that this person has given you permission to use that photo in a presentation (there are release forms available online that you can base your form on).

Now for the case where your slide features diagrams from other published papers (say as background information), or images from a webpage, should you mention the source of the diagram or of the web-image on your slide under the image or diagram? ABSOLUTELY. If it is from a scientific journal,  you could write the last name of the author and initials, the year of publication, and the abbreviated journal name, in readable font size. If it is from a website, the URL of the site. You would not want to be accused of plagiarism in a public forum, now would you?

By Jean-luc lebrun

028 Convinced- yes but of what…

By Jean-luc lebrun

Convincing with a scientific presentation is of great importance, of course, but how does one convince with impoverished slides from which all complexity has been removed for the sake of being understood by non-experts in the audience? So, if convincing data is not around, what takes over the role of data?

Then, there is the matter of time: a scientific talk at a conference rarely exceeds 20 minutes with Q&A. What should we convince the audience of, given such a short time?

Our French guest on this podcast, Dr. Pierre Boulet, professor at Lille University (Sciences and Technologies), is also Vice Head of the Laboratoire d’Informatique Fondamentale de Lille (LIFL). I interviewed him in his office during the summer of 2010 . He gives his perspective on the art and the manner of “convincing”.

Looking at yourself from the perspective of the audience is a real eye opener!

Eye, by ERIO. on Flickr.

Presentation traps 12 – The trap of the introduction slide

By Jean-luc lebrun

You are certainly familiar with scientific presentation slides that have all the structural signs of the scientific paper they were extracted from (same headings, same figures, etc). After the title slide, you will often found a slide with the title “introduction”, “outline”, “motivation” or  “aims”. Anything wrong?

What is the function of that slide?

Yes, its function is to introduce… but not only that. Its function is make sure that the people sitting at the back of the room listen to your whole presentation. The back-sitters are migratory scientists eager to take flight when the temperature you maintain around your topic drops below hibernation temperatures. And they start packing as soon as they see the frigid outline/motivation/aim/introduction slide. After all, it is faster to read your paper than to listen to it (twice as fast, in fact). So the role of this introduction slide is to intrigue, to hook, to captivate the audience by asking a question that becomes the question of everyone in the audience, a question that will keep everyone awake and attentive for the next twenty minutes while you unravel and answer it. Put your question to your audience in a visual form. Make your motivation their motivation, your problem, their problem. Then, when you reveal your solution, it will be theirs also; what satisfied you will satisfy them.

Background knowledge is rarely captivating. You need better than that to hook your audience. Tell a story, give a compelling example, make whatever you are doing essential to THEIR lives. Do not state commonplace facts already known by all in attendance. State the surprise, the novelty, the anguish, the reward… Forget about the conventional wisdom which is foolishness: it is not necessary to give an outline for any talk that is less than half an hour. Would you greet the friend that comes to your home by keeping him one minute at the doorstep explaining the various rooms he is about to go through before sitting down? Or will you just open the door and let the perfume of that scrumptious cake you baked for her capture her pheromone receptors?

The introductory slide is a teaser tightly connected to your title and your purpose. It entices the audience, and keeps the people in the audience in their seat by riveting their attention on you, and your mouth watering topic. And, oh-by-the-way, The hook slide has no title. Save the electronic ink it would require for your visual.

Image Flickr; author: LunnaDRimmel