Dear reader,

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) podcasts featuring interviews with top presenters https://scientific-presentations.com/?feed=podcast ; 3) The free tool to assess the quality of your scientific pape ; (More details on SWAN? See rest of post)
Continue reading “Dear reader,”

No question during your Q&A?

Here are five reasons why people have no question after a talk.

elephant in the room
Elephant in the room Ann Large Valentine Flickr.

The Elephant in the room. In some countries, the attendees may consider impolite to talk before a more senior person in the room does ( a dean, an official,…). That person may just be there for politeness, but not interest. Or that person may be unfamiliar with your topic and does not want to appear ignorant in from of the rest of the audience. The questions will come as soon as that person fires the first question or leaves the room. Stick around outside the presentation room for a real Q&A.

The unquestionable. Some questions would reveal things about the questioner that the questioner does not wish the rest of the audience to know. Alternatively, things you said may be so obvious and clear that nothing you said raises question. You stated unquestionable facts to an audience already convinced of the facts. Your presentation may not have been bad, but it probably was not useful.

The unknowledgeable. Some things you said during your presentation are blatantly wrong, and the audience is knowledgeable enough to know it. They could attack you, but in the process, would embarrass you. So they simply stay quiet, and leave. They were there to learn for an expert. You were not that person.

The arrogant. Alas, some presenters have a knack to make you feel out of place. They mention their elitist friends during the talk, say several times that only a minority of people are smart enough to understand the problem. And by the time the talk ends, you know you are part of the majority. They cocooned themselves away from any potential question. Withdrawn, stern face turned away from the audience as they gather their makeshift notes, their body language clearly communicate they have no inclination to answer any question.

The Vanishing. WAIT! Do not do your disappearing act, immediately closing any opportunity for questions with a lame statement like “I must have been very clear since you have no question”, and rushing off stage. The audience needs body language to be encouraged to ask questions, your warming smile will get anyone out of a state of permafrost, let it shine! Give it time to work its magic. Unfold your arms. Invite. Move towards the audience. and wait. Let the unbearable pressure of silence work its tongue loosening magic. But let that not be your tongue! It is the audience’s turn to speak.

The jargonaute. The jargonaute’s talk is for people from planet science. Unfathomable, undecipherable, impenetrable, it is not of our world. As minutes pass by, you discover that an abyss of ignorance separates you from the jargonaute. You want their knowledge, but it turns out to be your kryptonite. No question the jargonaute is an expert. No question!

Things NOT to keep in mind when you present


The first thing to keep in mind is not to keep in mind concerns that have nothing to do with your presentation, the extraneous: how do I look, who is that guy looking at me intently, why is my boss here, why are they all sitting at the back, and the list goes on. You can now dedicate yourself fully to the task at hand.

The second thing not to keep in mind is the slide mechanics that force you to take manual control of your presentation and to turn to the screen to validate the accuracy of your memory recall. If you have rehearsed enough times, you are on automatic pilot. You do not have to look at your slides when you click the “next”button on your presentation remote. You know. You can now immerse yourself in your topic and your audience.

The third thing not to keep in mind at the beginning of your presentation is your body. Passengers feels the vibration of the cabin as the plane takes off the runway. Slight body tremors may cause concern as you launch into your presentation. Your limbs may feel as though they have lost their GPS coordinates. Brain turbulence create pressure zones around the throat and feet areas demanding immediate. The salivary gland may seem to have closed shop for the day, leaving you high and dry. The sooner you remove the drag created by your body, the sooner you can retract the gear and propel yourself to glide in the friendly sky.

Where do you sit?

I want to sit as near to the stage as possible when I watch an opera or  a broadway show or the newest show at the Cirque du Soleil. Naturally, the everyone want to sit there, so these are the most expensive seats. You hear better, see better, and feel closer to the actors.

Now where do you sit in a movie theater? If you are like me, you sit in the center of the middle row, but if your intent is not to watch the movie, you may possibly sit in the back row. The back row is more secluded, whereas immersion into the story is better at the center of the middle rows and there is no getting up and down as people fill the row.

Where do you sit at a restaurant? Again, depending on your purpose, and the restaurant location you may prefer a private alcove or sit at a window table from where to admire the beautiful landscape.

Where do you sit in church? Late comer, not sure you want to be there? At the back, of course. Prideful today or filled with zeal and angelic fire? Front row, same as the preacher.

Note that where you wish to sit reflects you, your need, and your intent. But it also reflects the quality of the “performer”. Where do you sit in a breakout room when you attend a scientific talk?  Let me guess… At the back or in the aisles, ready to make a fast exit should the presenter not meet your expectations and bore you or flummox you with jargon-laden text heavy slides. However, if the topic is of great interest to you, or if you know the presenter is of the captivating sort, you will probably sit in one of the front rows.

The presenter learns much from observing where the audience sits. Who to network with (front rows) – who to win over with a great start so that they do not make a run for the exit door in the first three minutes (aisle rows) – who to ignore because they just came to find a place to rest or to busy themselves with matters unrelated to the talk (back rows).



Flickr – Benson Kua . Empty seats

The indiscrete startup screen

Customizing your startup screen is easy. Just add your favorite family or vacation photo to the gallery of pictures, select it as your start-up screen, and you are done! People do it all the time on their phone, revealing their intimate friends, their own narcissistic proclivities, or their taste for natural landscape. The default screen set by the manufacturer of your computer does not reveal anything about you. I can’t imagine hundreds of millions of Mac users express their love for El Capitan, a rock from the cretaceous age located in the American Yosemite National park. Likewise Windows 10 users may not care all that much about the 3D translucent glass frame diffusing an ethereal blue light.

The situation changes when you use your own computer to present your slides. Either when you quit your presentation or when you set it up, you will probably reveal something about you through the custom start-up screen. From the point of view of the audience, we are all curious about who the presenter is… and may enjoy that insight into the life of the presenter. But would you? I’m sure the cat you are cuddling won’t mind, but would the person next to you on the picture mind at all?

Unless this is your will, it is best to be conservative and change your custom start-up screen to the default one before you present to a large audience on your computer. Hey, do you like my friend? – he is a riot! I put him on my startup screen. Now, what do you think of me…




Untimely Automatic Line Break in PowerPoint

I recently changed the theme for this blog and all of a sudden, some of the  carefully laid out blog entry titles went haywire. Some of the class participants were prompt to point this out – as it contradicted what I say in the presentation class: DO NOT LET POWERPOINT BREAK THE WORDS IN A CHAIN OF WORDS THAT SHOULD REMAIN ON THE SAME LINE. In the following example, it makes little sense to let Microsoft automatically place p53 and GADD45 on two separate lines. At first reading, the reader thinks each line makes a separate point.  p35 and GADD45 belong on the same line.

A mammalian cell cycle checkpoint pathway utilizing p53

and GADD45 is defective in ataxia-telangiectasia

How is one to avoid such incongruous line breaks?

You have many choices: the easy and the hard choices.

EASY: 1) Insert a carriage return at the appropriate place to avoid bad line breaks.  2) Reduce or increase the font size until the bad line break disappears. If it does not, you may have to also insert a return. 3) Increase or decrease the size of the text box by dragging its handles until the troublesome line break disappears.

HARD: 1) Insert a hard space between the words that should remain on the same line as “cell cycle checkpoint pathway” in the example title. On my Mac, the hard break character in Microsoft PowerPoint is Option+Shift+Space. 2) Rewrite your title and avoid placing more than two modifiers in front of a noun by adding a preposition to separate the long modified chain into shorter segments. 3) For those who can’t be bothered to figure out how to create the hard space (also known as the non-breaking space), they can write any character and give it the color of the background.

a mammalian cell cycle checkpoint

pathway utilizing p53 and GADD45

is defective in ataxia-telangiectasia

Adjectives like mammalian are not usually a problem, they can be separated from the noun they qualify at little readability cost. However, there is no such thing as a mammalian cycle, or a mammalian checkpoint; Mammalian belongs to cell. Long nominal chains like “cell cycle checkpoint pathway” or “checkpoint pathway” cannot be separated. While on this topic, note that for the uninitiated, a long modified noun is not easy to decode. Does “checkpoint” belong to cell cycle or to pathway? An expert would know, but not every reader is as expert as the writer. A preposition would clarify: “Checkpoint pathway of the cell cycle”, or “Pathway of the cell cycle checkpoint”, whichever represents the correct meaning. “Of” may not even be the right preposition!

Throat Clearing and Starting Blocks

Presenters, beware of public warm-ups. A warm-up is not part of a race; likewise, it is not part of a speech. You warm up before putting your feet in the starting blocks. Athletes pre-visualize what happens in the first seconds in the race as their body spring into action. They rehearse the start, again and again, and again until in are at their best.

author tableatny source BXP135624
author tableatny; Sprinter at starting block
source commons.Wikimedia.org- Flicker.

Good speakers rehearse the first words of their talk again and again, and again, until they sound their best. Good speakers do not ad-lib. Ad-libbing leads to rambling. And rambling wastes valuable time. Make these words count. Do not say what you will say.

Today, I want to talk about… Let me start by asking you… Hello, my name is  so and so and the topic of my talk is …

The first few words you tell the audience should be direct, not a reference to what you will say and do. They should call for attention, bring in the audience into your world, make them active participants.

The first few words should include a verb. Verbs do wonder. They call for action. They corral the wandering minds, the drifters. They knock on the door of their imagination.

Imagine… What would you do if…


Involve your audience from the word GO.

I love watching Ted Talks. I often analyse them with the scientists who attend the scientific presentation class. One thing TED presenters do extremely well is to bring in the audience into their world at the beginning of their talk. Joe Landolina, in an excellent presentation on his wound-healing invention, starts with the following words: “I want you guys to imagine that you are a soldier running through the battlefield. Now you are shot in the leg by a bullet severing your femoral artery. Now this is extremely traumatic and call kill you in less than three minutes.” Behind him on the gigantic screen is the picture of soldiers walking away at sunset, followed by the image of a soldier on the ground with a leg wound. The images help your imagination. You are the first hand witness to a traumatic life-threatening event.

I can hear some of you scientists already object! “Our scientific work is not traumatic. We rarely get to use emotions to pull in the audience into our topic.” Yet the presentation is about a polymeric gel that temporarily replaces the extracellular matrix scaffolding (EMC) and forms different tissues help the blood seal and vascularize a repaired wound. The presentation includes analogies (forest canopy, etc.) to bridge the knowledge gap on the EMC, as well as an animation. In this case, bringing the audience into the talk was through the application of what was created (the gel). But you could bring the audience in through the context surrounding your work.

I remember a presentation which took place on June 13 2016, the day England decided to quit the European Community – Brexit day. It was about the impact of  political uncertainty on mergers and acquisitions. The presenter talked about the 2017 US elections – forgetting all about the traumatic event that happened that day! And there was also that other presentation on Fluorescent GFP tag the day after its inventor, Roger Tsien, the nobel laureate, passed away. The presenter made no mention of the fact!

Finding a relationship between your topic and what is in the eye of the media is one of the surest way to interest your audience and make your topic relevant.

To conclude: You want attention? Make your topic as close as possible to common concerns.



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 FIFO’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, for them, 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


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.


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.

Continue reading “the fallacy of the 10-minute attention span”

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


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
Continue reading “No smalltalk, please – We’re scientists.”

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 “Creating a good first impression starts early”

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

A presenter’s smile is the best probe signal to use to assess the good functioning order of the audience – so long as the probe is not faulty!

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