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!”
There is no need to chit-chat at the beginning of a scientific presentation. The audience has come to hear about your topic. Get into the topic ASAP. This does not mean that you should avoid transitioning into your your topic starting from some other topics presented in earlier sessions. Either segue into it briefly, or introduce your topic immediately. “The door is open”. The audience has already entered the room where they were invited to listen to you. In the play, the house owner is clearly irritated by the comments of the person who apologizes for the intrusion. You are the host of your scientific talk, not the intruder barging in on his/her own event! An audience chatted to or addressed in a falsely submissive manner turns negative towards the presenter, out of impatience or out of freshly born arrogance (submissive humility triggers a spirit of domination in those who are prone to arrogance). An oral presentation at a conference is not a case of “knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7-8 KJV). It is an opportunity to receive feedback on your work. And here, welcoming audience interaction, encouraging questions is the way to go! “Ask, and it shall be given you”.
In conclusion: chitchatting idly at the start of a talk while waiting for the later comers to arrive, or simply to break the ice using a topic unrelated to your presentation, will upset those pressed for time, or at least pressed for contents. They are result-driven, and prone to impatience.
What applied to the beginning of your talk also applies to its end or Q&A. Do not hold on to the mike, relishing in the sound of your own booming voice, waiting for gushing praise or cameras flashes. The open door is for you to come in… and for you to leave!
By Jean-luc lebrun