From Presenter Ghost to Presenter Host

To turn a host into a ghost, just add the letter G. And to turn the presenter host into a presenter ghost, just add a computer and PowerPoint. When you invite other scientists to come and listen to you via the proxy of conference programs, you become a host, and the scientists who turn up for your talk are your guests. Yet, unbeknownst to you, you are sharing the limelight with a formidable co-host whose dream is to turn you into a ghost, a shadow of your own self. This co-host is the computer connected to the towering bright screen overhanging your lilliputian silhouette, a screen that plunges your face into semi darkness as effectively as the sun creates a moon shadow.

As host, you have to keep your giant co-host in its proper place: that of a servant, discreet and supportive. And for that, you have to be seen.

1) Keep the room lights full on, turning them down ONLY when a slide requires darkness for readability (fluorescent marker in protein tags for example). But for that, you will need to lose the dark slide background and go for the classic white background on which black letters stand out better even when the stage is lit. Keeping the lights on reduces the contrast between the screen and you, thus enabling you to stand out more.

2) Everything that moves on the screen attracts attention away from you. Therefore, remove these gratuitous animated gif files that constantly move on the screen, or the loop in looping video clips that mesmerize the audience and remove you from the apple of their eyes.

3) Everything that moves on the stage attracts attention away from the screen. Therefore, do not turn into a pillar of salt. Move, use gestures.

4) Disable your co-host out for at least twenty seconds, with a black slide or a B-Key; and enjoy the renewed eye-contact with the audience while your co-host is blindfolded and muted.

5) Keep constant eye-contact with the audience, but for that you will need to be so well prepared that you know without looking at the screen what appears on it as you click the advance button on your presentation remote. The people in the audience do not look at a host who does not look at them.

6) Vary your voice intonation and volume, they act as audio gestures, re-centering on you the attention of the audience.

7) Reduce the amount of information on each slide. When people have read a slide, having nothing else to read, they have no choice but lay their eyes back on you!

8 ) And for Pete’s sake, do not let the computer thank the audience and announce the Q&A. You are the host, aren’t you!!!

9) Do not stand behind the lectern. You want your whole body to be seen, not just a truncated version of you. Wear a wireless mike and use a presentation remote to be able to move away from your computer.

10) Be pleasant to look at :), not an disheveled eye sore.

By Jean-luc Lebrun

Image source: Flickr. R Motti. XXVII

Presentation Traps 10 – The room trap

By Jean-luc Lebrun


Your phone rings. The receptionist tells you the Japanese visitors have arrived. You take the elevator down five floors to the ground floor where the two meeting rooms are. Many people use them, and the furniture frequently gets changed to fit the requirements. You asked for a simple U-Shape table arrangement to accommodate 8 Japanese visitors in the “Small 1” meeting room. As you welcome the visitors, you are given a handwritten note from Suzan, the facilities manager, informing you that the room has been changed due to unforeseen circumstances and that you are now presenting in the “Big 1” – the tables have been arranged in U-Shape as requested.

The only problem is that the “Big 1” is a room for fifty people. The visitors come in and fill in half of the left side of the U-Shape – the side exactly facing the lectern… but perpendicularly. All heads turn right to face you, twisting necks; People bend their torso or move chairs back and forth to get a better view of you. Furthermore, last night you downloaded your presentation in the computer of the “Small 1” meeting room -and your USB drive containing your presentation is five floors up.

The “Small 1” room has a simple audio out cable that fits into the presentation computer and is always on. The “Big 1” has an audio mixer with multiple BNCs,mini stereo Din, XLRs and Mike jacks. The mixer is turned off, you need computer audio out, and the labels on the mixer are totally cryptic. On top of the lectern hiding the presentation computer, is a brief note that suddenly explains why the “Small 1” is taken and why the mixer is turned off: the room’s computer has been removed for repair.You then realize that you had assumed that each room would have a working computer and therefore failed to tell Suzan that you needed one.

As you are wondering what to do, the maintenance man appears with a tall ladder with the intent to change a broken light bulb. He had been told the day before that the room was not occupied since the computer was down. All the Japanese heads turn towards him, then back to you… You’ve reached bottom, or so you think.

A drop of water falls on your head. You look up. All Japanese heads look up,  and everybody discovers at the same time the fresh water stain probably caused by a leak in the lavatories upstairs. You return your eyes down to your guests, you raise your hand to apologize, and in the process knock down an empty stainless steel jug from which a large cockroach escapes, flying out and landing on the chair occupied by the head of the Japanese delegation. You swear. They hear you. Now, you have really reached rock bottom.

OK, so maybe I overdid it, but a presentation room is a dangerous place, full of potential unsuspected problems. Can the presenter prevent them all? No, but the presenter can be prepared for them all. What went wrong?

1) Never assume anything when it comes to the presentation room.

2) Always have a copy of your presentation with you, on you.

3) Rehearse in the presentation room the day of the event.

3) Be ready to do an impromptu presentation that does not rely on the computer (a flip chart will do).

4) Never put the blame on anyone because something goes wrong. You will be regarded as an incompetent person trying to discharge his/her responsibilities on others.

5) Keep control of your mouth and avoid foul language – whatever the circumstances.

This said, you don’t need to walk around with a large can of insecticide deforming your bulging trouser pocket… just in case. And when the man with the ladder comes, don’t ignore him. Recognize his presence, and ask him if he would not mind getting an umbrella, and holding it upside down above the leak while on the ladder, to avoid you being wet during your talk. By that I mean, think on your feet, and weave the circumstances in the tapestry of your talk.

Photo source: Flickr, Author Mek22.

Presentation traps 9 – the rehearsal traps

Try and find out what is wrong with the five situations described below.

1) Sylvia is in the University library facing the screen of her laptop. She came here to have a chance to be quiet and rehearse an important upcoming presentation. She methodically looks at each slide, and silently (she does not want to disturb her neighbors) rehearses what she will say.

One does not rehearse silently. You need to activate the pathway between your brain and your speaking apparatus, open wide a channel between your inaudible thoughts and your audible voice. For that, you need to rehearse at full volume, using the full range of expressive capabilities offered by your vocal chords. A library is not the best place to do that. Finally sitting is not the ideal position for rehearsing. Standing is.

2) Prasad is using the notes section of his PowerPoint presentation and writes down the talk he intends to give. To make sure he will not spend too much time speaking, he sets himself a target of a maximum note length for each slide. Then, sitting in front of his computer, he rehearses by reading the notes aloud, memorizing as much as he can in the process.

Only radio and TV professionals know how to write for the ear. Unless you are trained in the arts of oral communications, memorizing such written notes will make your speech sound unnatural. The audience knows that people don’t speak like that. Your words will be too complex, your sentences too long, etc. Finally, what dictates the time one spends on a slide is not defined by the size of the note section, but by the amount of information displayed on the slide. And remember point 1: stand up to rehearse.

3) Xiao Hong is standing a few meters away from her computer screen looking straight at it. She has entered the slide show mode and starting with the title slide, rehearses aloud keeping eye contact with the screen, moving from one slide to the next using her favorite presentation remote.

This looks like the perfect picture. What could possibly wrong with it? You should not rehearse while looking at the screen but looking away from the screen as if facing the audience. Rehearsing this way forces you to remember what is on the projection screen without having to depend on it. Each time you click, you must know WITHOUT LOOKING what will be on the screen at that time. If you constantly look at the screen, you will become dependent on it , and your transitions from one slide to another will be the unpolished “And here”,  “Next”, “On this slide”, “so, moving on…”, “And now”.

4) Tomi has rehearsed his presentation six times, from start to finish. He wishes he could rehearse a few more times but he has no more time. He is now convinced that whatever happens, he could not possibly do a better job. He hopes the Q&A won’t be too tough because that’s one thing, unfortunately, one cannot rehearse!

Similarly, you may think this is also ideal.  But actually, you can deliver an even better presentation by rehearsing some parts of your presentation more than others, like singers do. It is not necessary to rehearse the middle of your presentation as often as a) its beginning, b) its end, and c) the places when you transition from one slide to the next. Furthermore, a Q&A requires rehearsal, just as much as the presentation requires it. For that you need a mock audience to come up with unpredictable questions. As to the predictable questions, you need only look at each slide and ask yourself, what could they possibly ask me based on what they see here. Check everything: the sources of the data or of the visual (if it is not yours), the graphs, their axis, the boundary values, etc.

5) Kim is as ready as can be: many rehearsals, aloud, standing up and facing a mirror, perfect mastery of the presentation remote, perfect knowledge of which slide comes next even before it appears on the screen, perfect transitions. And all this without having to bother anyone!

You should bother more than one person and conduct at least one or two mock rehearsals in front of a small audience of people who are not familiar with the topic of your talk. That way, you can practice your warming smile without having to fake one. But more importantly, you can receive the feedback regarding the parts that people did not understand, and the parts that felt too long – AND modify your speech or/and your slides based on the feedback. Remember to also include a Q&A as part of the rehearsal.

By Jean-luc Lebrun

Microphones and how they make you sound

Video on microphones
Microphones – you love them because they extend the reach of your voice, and you hate them because they sometimes create problems: they whistle, they break down, they get in the way… Knowing how to handle them correctly and according to their varied abilities and models is a must for the presenter who wants to remain in control of how he or she sounds.

When The Scientist Presents Book Launch in Singapore today

When the scientist presents - book cover

Amazon page for the book and publisher page

Praise for When The Scientist Presents:

Roald Hoffmann
Nobel laureate in Chemistry and writer

“This is by light-years the best guide to designing and presenting lectures. Lebrun writes in a lively, direct way, and every page is brimming with good sense and practical hints. It’s just plain fun to read When the Scientist Presents, even if your lecture is perfect!”

Alastair Curry
Royal University of Phnom Penh, Cambodia & Former Senior Lecturer, University of Hertfordshire, UK

“In this masterful and enlightening contribution, Lebrun builds on his reader and writer’s guide to ‘Scientific Writing’ to expose the essential ingredients of effective scientific presentations. Fresh and entertaining, full of practical advice and highly readable, this is a most instructive and enjoyable work. Postgraduate students, supervisors and many an experienced researcher will welcome and benefit tremendously from this book, together with its wealth of accompanying resources, as an essential guide to effective communication.”

Lisa B. Marshall

Communication Expert & Blogger at “”

“Finally! A comprehensive, engaging book full of practical tips to improve the organization, the delivery, and visuals of scientific presentations. If you are serious about your professional success, then I strongly recommend you read this book.”

choose and handle presentation remotes

Video on Presentation Tools
Presentation remotes are both a blessing and a curse, depending on how easy they are to use and how familiar we are with them. They do free us from having to constantly stand by the keyboard, but misusing them turns off the audience. Strengths and weaknesses of four models are reviewed and advice for handling them is given.

The “B” key or the Black slide

B key or Black Slide video

Did you know that, while presenting your PowerPoint of Keynote presentation, you can press the letter “B” on your keyboard (or the little grey square on your presentation remote) and watch a miracle take place. At that precise moment, you, the cinderella-like presenter, turn into a beautiful princess or handsome prince depending on your gender. You, the presenter ghost lurking in the shadows surrounding the lectern, turn into a presenter host. You are finally rediscovered by an audience mesmerized  by the brightness of the screen and tranquilized by the darkness of the room. All eyes, now released from their hypnotic trance, renew contact with the most significant component of human-centered (not human-assisted) communications: YOU, the presenter.

How long should the screen remain blank?

At least 20 seconds. Short “B” keys do not work. To the audience,  it looks as though the screen is flashing on and off. People need time to focus on you. Long “B” keys, however,  may lead to rambling comments that tire your audience and make it lose the focus of your talk.

How does one get out of a “B” key?

Simply press the “B” key again. The same slide returns to the screen. Pressing the “N” key, the enter , the right arrow, or the return key sends you to the next slide but not cleanly. The slide you exit from is still shown a few milliseconds, long enough for the audience to see it.

When should presenters use a “B ” key?

1) When moving to another place on the platform or the podium also means crossing the projector’s light beam. Presenters may want to move centre stage to engage the audience, or to move from one end of the stage to the other where the presentation computer is because they need access to the keyboard. In either case, it often means getting into the path of the projected beam. The “B” key turns it off temporarily.

2) When they want the audience to focus on them, either to hear a personal story devoid of slide support, or to pause in order to summarize and introduce the next layer of information ON THE SAME SLIDE.

Why did you capitalize the letter “ON THE SAME SLIDE”?

Using the “B” key presents a small problem: when you press it again, instead of moving to the next slide of your presentation, PowerPoint remains on the same slide. If you intend to blank the screen right before you transition to the next slide/segment of your presentation, it is better to replace the “B” key with a Black slide.

The black slide differs from the “B” key because it is a permanent slide. You cannot bypass a black slide, but you can always decide not to press the “B” key if you are out of time. Other than that, the effect of a black slide is exactly similar to that of a “B” key. It effectively turns off the light from the projector without shutting it down or having to mute the video using the projector remote control.