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?

In an information-rich world, most of the cost of information is incurred by the recipient. It is not enough to know how much it costs to produce and transmit it; we must also know how much it costs, in terms of scarce attention, to receive it.

Since time is the currency used to determine the cost, our Nobel laureate examines ways to condense information instead of  ways to increase its supply.

“To be an attention conserver for an organization, an information processing system must be an information condenser. … it can transform (“filter”) information into an output that demands fewer hours of attention than the input information. […] That is exactly what science is all about – the process of replacing unordered masses of brute facts with tidy statements of orderly relations from which those facts can be inferred.” (from Designing Organizations for an Information-Rich World)

You are a condenser of information. People may be happy enough to know you, knowing that, in you, lies the knowledge to solve certain problems, therefore saving them the time to acquire that knowledge. But your presentation should also be a condenser of information, focussing more on the outcomes of your research than on its outputs. Craft the headlines of your slides – these “tidy statements” as Dr Herbert Simon calls them, that replace much time/attention consuming data. Even if some evidence is required for each statement/claim made, not ALL evidence needs to be presented. And since presentation time is limited, present your evidence at a condensed level. Condense (prune, or aggregate) your multicolumn tables or multiple curve graphics. Do not copy and paste these tables and figures from the pdf file of your journal paper into the PowerPoint slide, sometimes even with their original figure caption!

By Jean-luc lebrun

Author: Jean-Luc Lebrun

This century: Writer on Scientific writing skills and scientific presentation skills, MC for scientific events, Podcaster, Radio Consultant, Trainer for Research Institutes in Engineering and Life Sciences, Singapore, and in European doctoral schools, as well as in South East Asia Universities.
Last Century: Apple Computer, Advanced Technology Group, Technology Information manager. Then Director of the Apple-ISS Research Centre – a joint venture between Apple Computer and the National University of Singapore. Producer of TV program on IT for Singapore Channel 5.

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