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!

(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?

Continue reading “(TDD) Test-Driven Development – its use in scientific presentations”

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

Presentation traps 8 – the knowledge trap

“And here, you see…” These are the famous words that ring hollow to the blind. But the lack of knowledge leaves us just as blind – a temporary type of blindness, assuredly, but blindness nevertheless. For knowledge only lights up the world of the expert rambling along, finger pointing to familiar shapes on the laptop screen, and occasionally on the projector screen (the one everybody sees) whilst most of us in the audience, eyes stretched in front of us, grope in the dark and clutch at shadows.

The trap is common: the presenter expects all of us in the audience to be experts. We feel like the little Marys and Johnnys in primary school reading the story of the house cat. “The cat ate a mouse”, the story goes. “The rodent was fat.” At this precise moment, we all got the idea that the cat was a rodent – after all, it just ate a mouse!  The world has not changed that much for the scientist since primary school; the story just got a little more complex. “The felis catus ate a murine commensal. The mus musculus’s BMI exceeded that of a standard murinae.” At least scientists won’t mistake the mus musculus for a felis catus… or will they?

My advice to you is to look at the contents of ALL your slides from the point of view of ALL the people the title of your talk attracted. Who are they? What do they want from you? The answer is not a simple “they want to know about my contribution.” To know what they want, look at your title. Each search keyword in your title acts as a magnet attracting the expert AND the non-expert. For each keyword, the audience expects you to give new information AND background information. Redo and simplify your slides to remove the knowledge gap between you and the non-experts. And move your tough expert slides after your conclusion slide, ready to answer the experts’ questions during your Q&A.

By Jean-luc Lebrun

Image flickr; Author Dnudson

The Acknowledgment Slide

If you are like most scientists, chances are that you will place the acknowledgment slide at the end of your presentation. But if you watch one of the Hollywood award events, or attend a Nobel laureate award presentation, chances are you will hear the acknowledgments at the very beginning of the acceptance speech. Why? Because the people you recognize as being part of your success are in the room, and if you fail to mention them as in “and others too many to mention”, chances are that the ones who are in the “too many” category will be miffed or downright offended.

In a scientific talk, the presenter acknowledges 1) the corporations which funded the research (they may have a representative in the room) and 2) the individuals who had a large part to play in the success of the research (their friends may be in the room). But where should the acknowledgments be? At the beginning or at the end of the presentation? On the title slide or on their own acknowledgment slide? And how long is the list of people/organizations recognized?

Let’s start with the first question: Where does one put the acknowledgment slide?

If you were to place it at the end, as in the scrolling credits of any movie, chances are the audience will have switched off or left the room by the time the credits roll; Or chances are you will go over time in your presentation and will have to skip the acknowledgment slide. Whichever way you look at it, the perspective is bleak. Take a clue from Hollywood. The great actors demand that their names be displayed AT THE BEGINNING of the movie for a duration and a font size that match their most excellent performance (and acting fee). Fortunately, your faceless research sponsors do not demand such status. And they will be quite happy to let you mention them through the use of a Logo – so you don’t have to remember their last name. Your collaborators, however, or those who helped you hit the mark, have a name, and a face. So you have a choice: use one or the other – but not both – and don’t add an aureole around your bosses’ heads, or add glow around their names. Acknowledgments are not an ego building or a sanctification thing. They serve two functions: 1) recognize and honor the work of your collaborators, and 2) establish credibility in you and your work. Think of it this way: why should prestigious donors partake of their money or the taxpayers’ money to fund you and your work if both you and your work are not worth it!

But how long is the list?

If you are like me, you love yet you hate these song request radio programs where popular songs are played only after a long list of thanks to the caring husband, the faultless children, the exquisite grandparents, the perfect neighbors, the pet parakeet, and the fire department and rescue squad – notwithstanding the radio host in the studio, the audio technician in the soundproof room, and the janitor  who cleans up the ashtrays and turns off the lights. Therefore, be brief and instead of mentioning individual names, use collective names to mention “many people” as in “our team”, or “our department”. A photo of the team flashed briefly does wonders to establish you as a team player, and an honest and fair scientist. Those mentioned by name in writing on the title slide are the co-authors of the paper you are presenting – and only them.

So where exactly do you place the acknowledgments?

Either with Logos and Names on the title slide, which tends to stay on the screen for a while at the beginning of the talk, or briefly and using photos, on the slide that follows the title slide.

Oh, and by the way… The BIG THANK YOU slide… Get rid of it! Don’t let the computer take over. You are the presenter.

By Jean-luc Lebrun


Photos: Flickr. Authors: image on top- Mangee

Nothing reveals personal expertise better than questions; therefore,…

Image source: Flickr; Author :Tintin44

They were certain that their expertise would be seen through the high density of information on their slides. They were certain that removing an ounce of proof would be like losing a pound of flesh – a tragedy of Shakespearian dimension. They were certain that confidence displayed would translate into expertise perceived. But their certainties were rational myths.

Slides never proved expertise. 1) Slides prepared by an expert may be presented by a non-expert. 2) Junior scientists not yet familiar with a field of research tend to densely pack facts and points on slides so as not to forget (mentioning) them. The more a presentation looks like a condensed version of a paper (for example by keeping the reference to figures used, or by packing on one slide all the visuals illustrating a point), the more the presenter may reveal lack of expertise. Why? An expert’s understanding of a problem is such that, what is principal claim, what is central proof, and what is key impact, are easily identified. An expert can easily unpack a slide; A non-expert can’t.

Confidence never proved expertise. 1) Multiple rehearsals give most presenters a higher level of confidence which leads to a smoother delivery – regardless on their level of expertise in the presented topic. 2) Over-confidence often marks ignorance. You only know that you don’t know when you know enough. Superficial knowledge may give you undue confidence. 3) Lack of scientific expertise cannot be inferred from the nervousness of a presenter.

Correct answers to unprepared questions prove personal expertise. It is through the Q&A following a slide presentation that the  presenter reveals the extent of his or her expertise. The unpredictability of questions and the presence of other experts in attendance guarantee it – for indeed, it takes an expert to identify an expert.

In conclusion, do not try to establish your expertise through packed slides. Let it shine during the Q&A session. But for that, you need to make sure that you have time left to answer questions! Indeed, finish slightly early so that you have more Q&A time. And when one asks a question, do not answer at length, thus wasting the opportunity to be asked more expertise-revealing questions, and to identify other scientists interested in your work.

Oh, and one last thing… An expert never answers a question with “I think”. An experts knows.

I Think, Therefore I Am…. Not an Expert (non-existentialist ending to the famous René Descartes quote)

By Jean-luc Lebrun


Rules of thumb for presentations – how good are they?

Photo Flickr – by Lintmachine

People like formulas. They are expedient rules of thumb that guard against dangerous extremes. “Plan for one minute  and a half per slide”, some say, “and never put more than 5 bullets point and more than 5 words per bullet point”. Under these rules lie hidden assumptions about people’s attention span, prior knowledge of the presented topic, text readability, number of clicks needed to go through the material on the slide, audience interactivity, and more!  Presenters could be fooled into thinking that as long as these rules of thumb are followed, their presentation will be fine.

Rule of thumb #1: “Plan for one and a half minute per slide” is about as silly as telling a writer “Plan for chapters with 20 pages”. What is the purpose of this rule? It prevents presenters from putting so much information on one slide that to cover it would take more than 90 seconds. It also prevents boredom: people don’t generally like to stare at the same information for a long time. They get bored because they can read faster than the presenter can speak. Spending three minutes explaining each bullet point is as effective as administering a sleeping pill. What is important here is visual interest, not screen-time. A 30 second slide that gathers interest is fine. A two minute slide that exploits a particularly fruitful visual is fine so long as interest is maintained (let the audience be the judge of that through their questions). A slide that dynamically reveals and removes information through the use of layers can last a very long time, and it’s perfectly fine.

Rule of thumb #2: “Use not more than 5 lines and 5 words per line” (some say six lines, some say four; some say six words per line…). This is silly too, particularly in scientific presentations where long compound nouns abound. So what is the purpose of this rule? 1) to decrease the amount of text on a slide, so that the slide remains readable; 2) to prevent long lists that remove the need to try and select what is important and leave out what is less important; 3) to force the presenter to be concise as opposed to verbose; and 4) to allow the slide to be presented in less than 90 seconds; and thus maintain visual interest by not keeping the same slide on the screen too long – a point already covered above. What is important here is, again, the “Less-is-more” principle: the need to be selective to be  legible, AND to be intelligible (clear), and finally, the need to keep visual interest with something other than words.

There is however one rule of thumb I like… but then again, because it works for me does not mean it works for you. This rule of thumb is based on your arm length and your palm size. It determines whether the text on your slide will be readable once projected on the large screen in front of your audience. Readability of text is not to be decided on the grounds that you can read everything on your PowerPoint slide, while sitting one foot away from your computer screen. High screen resolution and brightness will even allow font size 7 to be readable! So if your arm is long enough and your hand is not super tiny, and most of all, if you do not look like a chimp, this rule of thumb might work for you.

Start your slideshow. Stretch out your arm and turn your hand horizontally, fingers pointing to your left if you are right handed, and vice versa. Move away from your computer screen until your stretched hand hides the screen. Remove your hand (but do keep it at the end of your forearm) away from the screen. If you can read everything on the screen from that distance, chances are your audience will be able to read it too, once that slide is projected. Oh, by the way, if you really want to be sure, turn down the brightness of your screen to 50% and move back one half meter more 🙂

By Jean-luc Lebrun


Effective Variant on the Assertion – Evidence Paradigm

The Assertion – Evidence paradigm, promoted by Michael Alley, does indeed force the presenter to limit the information on each slide (and less is mostly more, even in scientific presentations – see limitations). But does Assertion follow Evidence, or Evidence follow Assertion as in the traditional scientific order? To determine which order is more effective, I seeked the opinion of the scientists in the audience during my communication skills seminars. Some do not care about the order. But some prefer to see the evidence before an assertion is made – particularly if a question is raised prior to showing the enlightening visual evidence. When asked to probe this visual evidence for answers, their mind leaves the passive show-me mode to enter the active let-me-see mode. They are more involved and interested. When they discover the yet-to-appear assertion by themselves, under the friendly guidance of the presenter, they are more likely to be convinced by it and more likely to remember it when it is revealed.

Food for discussion.

Here is an example:





Text and visuals by Jean-luc Lebrun

Presentation traps 6 – the conclusion traps

Think about it. You have done your best to gather the interest of your audience around your topic for a full eleven minutes. The chairperson just looked at his watch, and corrected his sitting position to move closer to the microphone. Your talk officially ends in one minute. If you play the prolongations, it will be at the expense of your three minute Q&A time during which you intend to identify who else is interested in your research for later networking opportunities. You want to keep to time. So far, so good. You bring up your conclusion slide… and you are in danger of falling into one of three conclusion traps.

1. Your conclusion slide is a summary of your results.

2. You know you are close to the end of your talk, everything has been said, and you rush through that slide, simply reading its bullets.

3. You do a great job with your conclusion slide, and after clicking one last time the next slide button on your presentation remote, you land into one of the following slides: a) the black screen indicating the end of your presentation (a PowerPoint feature); b) the traditional Acknowledgment slide; or c) a black slide on which the words “Thank You” are written in Font size 88 – for good luck 🙂

Everything you have read so far does not explain why the image used in this post (Source Flickr, author Shenghun Lin) is that of someone running a relay race. You are about to discover why.

Conclusion trap 1 – the blind hand-over of the relay baton

The conclusion is the place in your talk where you will hand out the relay baton to those in the audience who could benefit from your scientific contribution. You want these people to read your paper, or to ask you questions, or to network with you at the end of your presentation. And you certainly want them to know how what you have discovered can be of value to them. Therefore, the conclusion slide is not about your results, your research outputs; It is about the audience “Take-Away”, your research outcomes. That is why I used the metaphor of a relay race. With your conclusion, you will hand out the part of your research that is directly applicable to the people in the audience. You might argue that “anyone is able to judge the impact of my work. I do not need to state it.” What you say is true for the experts in the room. The non-experts, however, are often unable , for lack of knowledge, to determine what these outcomes are, and how they are of value to them. You must see the hand of the next runner. You must have identified and thought about the people who were the most likely to benefit from your work. Do not hand over the baton with your eyes closed!

Conclusion trap 2 – the dropped relay baton

Singers know that the two places in a song that matter the most, and which they rehearse the most, are the beginning and the end. Often, because presenters do not control their time well, they rush through the conclusion slide  (and read it). Or, because presenters are exhausted by the time they reach the end of their talk and want to end it quickly, they do not even bother to comment on that slide and let the audience read while they just thank the audience for their attention. There is no call for action, no USE MY RESEARCH FOR THIS OR FOR THAT. As a result, the relay baton is not properly handed over, it is dropped on the ground before the audience has had a chance to grab it. They may still do, but the momentum gathered through your words will be lost. What a crying shame 🙁 This time with the audience is face to face. It is a time to plea, to sell, to tease, to encourage, not a time to turn your back on the audience and read in a flat low tone. Surely, having rehearsed your conclusion slide so many times, you know by heart what appears on the screen after each mouse click, and never need to turn to it.

Conclusion trap 3 – the fumbled hand-over of the relay baton

The last slide of a presentation is the conclusion slide. Don’t fumble this. It remains on the screen until one of the questions demands that you bring another slide to the screen. The reason why it is not a thank you slide is because having the computer say thank you on your behalf is demeaning. You are the host; the computer is only there for support. The reason why your conclusion slide should not be a black screen is because you must help the audience remember the main perceived advantages of your research by maintaining the conclusion slide on the screen, at least until you move to another slide in answer to a question. And finally, the reason why the last slide is not the acknowledgment slide is because acknowledgments are best given on the title slide (see trap 5 – the title trap); furthermore, time may have run out and you may have to skip that slide anyway – thus risking disappointing the sponsors attending your talk.

in conclusion – make your conclusion slide:  the last slide, the most audience-centered slide, the most rehearsed slide.

By Jean-luc Lebrun

continuity bugs in linear slide presentations

Whenever you take a non linear media and flatten it (make it linear), you introduce problems of two kinds:

1) Discontinuities in logic. The audience needs to remember what was connected to what, earlier in your presentation, to see the connection logic.

2) Discontinuity in time. As time passes, the audience remembers less and less of what they heard and saw. As a result, the memory fails to reconnect the time-broken strands of a disrupted argument.

Here is an illustration. Each square represents a slide. The slides are numbered from 1 to 5. The eroding effect of time on memory is here symbolized by the greying of colours, from dark (last slide best remembered) to grey (started to fade in memory) to dotted line (first slide, may have been presented 8 to 10 minutes before slide 5, vague or no longer remembered).

flattening problems

I assume here that all slides are equal in duration. Things worsen when slides are text heavy. We have all encountered slides that are so dense in information and take so long to explain that the audience has forgotten what was said at the beginning of the slide by the time the end of the slide is reached!

So here is my tip:

Visualize the logical connections between your slides, either as a domino or a graph. This will help you identify the potential memory-related problems your audience may face. And apply one of the following solutions to remove these problems.


The Announce technique consists in telling the audience what will be covered in the next (two) slides. The audience, once alerted, finds it much easier to keep the information of slide 1 in memory and relate it to slide 2 and 3.

The Repeat technique simply re-presents past information so as to be able to refresh fading memory (like the refresh cycle that keeps RAM memory alive!)

The Merge technique consists in keeping on the same slide all related elements, presenting them one by one (one at a time) to avoid overwhelming the audience with too much information at once, but allowing people to see past information on the same slide. Naturally, this is only possible if the slide can contain these related elements without losing readability.

The Restructure technique, as its name indicates, looks at alternative structures that would enable the contents to be presented without discontinuities.


By Jean-luc Lebrun

Robert Geroch suggestions applied to the subtitle of your talk

You will find Dr Geroch’s “suggestions for giving talks”, online. The paper is stored on arXiv.org, the open access site managed by Cornell University. I have read this excellent paper many times and recommend you do likewise. My intent is not to ask you to change the title of your  talk. As soon as your conference abstract or paper has been accepted, this title is pretty much carved in stone. It will bring the audience to you – and, justifiably, the audience expects the title of your talk to be the same as that featured in the conference program. A dull demagnetized title or a title replete with repealing highly technical keywords cannot be repaired post publication. Expect experts or sleepers to your talk. If, on the other hand, your title has centripetal appeal, if it is a centre of interest to experts and non experts alike, you can enhance its understanding and appeal, right there and then, on the title slide, by adding a subtitle that really makes your focus clear. A good subtitle is easily understood by ALL.

Dr Geroch writes

“Thus, for an audience of relativists, “Linearized Fields in a Kerr Background Metric” sounds technical, “Perturbations of the Kerr Solution” sounds dull, and “Black Holes are Stable” sounds good.”

Questions are often frowned upon by editors when used as titles, but they are always acceptable as subtitles on a title slide. “Can a mesocellular siliceous foam firmly entrap a catalytic enzyme?”, “what if we could actually firmly entrap a catalytic enzyme in a mesocellular siliceous foam?”  Notice that the expectations set by these two questions are different. The first question focuses the audience on the couple of words “firmly entrap” – a method -, while the second question prepares the audience to a presentation of the outcomes of firm catalytic enzyme entrapment.

Use the subtitle to guide audience expectations, but do not let that be an excuse to skip the presentation of the keywords that brought the audience to your talk in the first place.

By Jean-luc Lebrun

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 “TheArtofSpeakingScience.com”

“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.”

Presenters with Foreign Names

Lebrun is my last name. Actually, I have no prior name, so my last name is theoretically my first name, but in fact my first name is jean-Luc. Confused? Alright, let’s start again. Lebrun is my family name and Jean-Luc is my given name. The family name is not given, it is inherited:)

My name is easy to pronounce, at least I think so, my parents think so, and so do the 200 million French-speaking people, but you might find it difficult to pronounce. Our name is a people interface. It is like a door handle. It gives access to us. It is the opening move in the networking game. Cryptic, indecipherable names are intimidating, possibly repulsive. Some will avoid talking to you for fear of mispronouncing your name – a serious offence in their culture. How would you pronounce the Vietnamese last name “Phuc”? Look here.

So when your name appears on your title slide, make sure you also provide the easy-to-pronounce short form of your name in the language spoken during the conference. “Hi, my name is  Jean-Luc Lebrun, but you can call me John”.  “Watakushino namaiwa jean-luc Lebrun desu, jonto yondekudasai”. “Ni Hao, wode mingzi shi jean-luc Lebrun, danshi ni keyi jiao wo “Yue Han”. In Singapore, people from Chinese descent often adopt an English given name to make it easier for their non-Chinese speaking friends to address them, particularly when your first name is easily mispronounced.

Telling people how they can address you, will encourage them to ask questions during the Q&A since they know how to address you in a manner acceptable to you. Put the burden of making your name easy to pronounce ON YOU, not on the audience. It will reveal your social skills and your wish to be accessible to all. Here is a movie I produced on the topic of pronouncing names.

By Jean-luc Lebrun

Pan through images with PowerPoint

Pan through an image with PowerPoint (video)

With this technique the presenter moves seamlessly and precisely inside a document larger than a slide by imitating a camera panning through the document, as if the hand moved a transparency across an overhead projector (Powerpoint inch-based offset technique).

Pan through images with Keynote

Pan through an image using Apple’s Keynote (video)

With this technique the presenter moves seamlessly and precisely inside a document larger than a slide by imitating a camera panning through the document, as if the hand moved a transparency across an overhead projector (Keynote pixel-based offset technique)

Scaling a group image+ text – PowerPoint & Keynote

Scaling objects in PowerPoint and Keynote (video)

To resize a group that includes image and text, the group must first be converted to an image; alternatively, the group can be ungrouped and text can be be resized separately from the image.It is possible to reduce the decrease in legibility associated with vertical or horizontal downsizing by choosing a font of the appropriate type. This technique is useful to prepare a conclusion slide containing scaled-down visual reminders of what was presented on earlier slides. It is also useful to ease comparison by refreshing people’s memory via a scaled-down version of a previously shown visual.

Learning from Peter Feibelman

In his marvellous little book, “A Ph.D. Is Not Enough”, solid state physicist Professor Feibelman uses a metaphor near and dear to my heart, that of the fugue.

“But in giving your talk, you should just tell a story. Its structure should be organic, invisible. Your listeners should be propelled from idea to idea with the same sense of inevitability they feel on hearing a Bach fugue.”

Professor Feibelman likes fugues of the musical kind, and to help you understand his point, I ought to explain what he means by “the sense of inevitability”, but without a fugue to listen to, it is an impossible task!

So, given the tremendous restrictions one faces when playing back (and Bach) music on the web, I decided to download the music score of Bizet’s Symphony in C, now in the public domain, and spend the rest of the day to enter the music score inside Logic Pro 8, hire a few Garageband instruments to play the cello, violins, viola, and basson, and give you (a royalty free) 52 seconds of the fugue contained in the second movement of the symphony (adagio). I added the sound of the bell right before the theme of the fugue is played. Listen to the mp3 file, and come back to this text, otherwise, you will not appreciate Professor Feibelman’s “sense of inevitability” comment.


I know, the music sounds robotic without quantization and cheesy without the high end Native-Instruments samples, but the purpose of this piece is not to stop you from attending an orchestral performance of Bizet’s symphony in C, or from buying Charles Munch‘s great rendition of it. The purpose of this piece is to describe the “sense of inevitability”.
The same theme is presented five times in the space of 50 seconds or so. You cannot ignore it, and you cannot forget it. Between each presentation of the theme, the composer uses musical glue to enhance the theme and bring cohesion to the piece. As more and more instruments are added, the music rises to a crescendo.  How aptly the metaphor applies to presentations! The theme of your presentation is your title. Each one of your slides refreshes that theme. Your title “organically” moulds  the structure of your presentation. From time to time, you may have a transition slide, or you may transition between two slides while the screen behind you is blanked. These transitions are the equivalent to the musical glue the composer adds between the end of the theme’s presentation and its inevitable resurgence in a richer environment.

The fugue inevitably rises to a crescendo as more and more instruments are added. In the fugue metaphor, each slide is an instrument. Your past slides have to be so clear that their theme continues to ring, reverberate in the recesses of your mind, blending harmoniously with your future slides. A fugue becomes more and more complex as the various parts contribute their melody, but not one of these parts disregards the theme of the fugue. They all support and enhance it. The end result is a harmoniously complex musical delight whose greatest strength is the focus of your attention on ONE THEME. May this be true also of all your scientific presentations, and let that theme be your title.

By Jean-luc Lebrun

Visible map and invisible shortcuts – navigation tools

The Map Slide (video)

“Keep to time” is good advice, but how? Since slide contents are the greatest time-consuming factor, it makes sense to adjust them until the presenter no longer faces the approaching wall of time with the fear of crashing into it. However, despite the best of intentions and preventive content pruning, the unexpected may bring that dreaded wall closer: an unplanned digression, a forced late start, or an improbable interruption maybe. Is the presenter ready for the unexpected? tools, such as hyperlinks and map slides demonstrated on this video, help the presenter manage time better.

The map slide is best used for long presentations. It helps the audience track your progress while revealing the overall structure of your talk. Hyperlinks are usually invisible doors (buttons, objects linking to other slides in your presentation) that allow the presenter to skip slides without the audience noticing it (thus saving time), or to insert slides on the fly as it were to answer some live questions during the talk (thus adding time).

All tools have intrinsic limitations. Hyperlinks and map slides are no exception.

The map slide (also called outline slide) is not useful in short (10-15 minute) presentations where it is preferable to go straight into your story after the audience has been hooked into it.

Hyperlinks force you to use a presentation remote with embedded mouse because you have to click on them to activate them. Without that, you are on a short leash. You are required to stand close to the lectern where your computer mouse is; this may not be the most advantageous position on the podium to host your guests scientists.

Hyperlinks, if numerous, create a labyrinth where the Minotaur (and you) could easily get lost (remember these links are supposed to be invisible).

hyperlinks gone wild

You want hyperlinks to remain invisible, so that the audience is not aware of your emergency shortcuts. But this great asset is also a great liability if you do not remember where you have hidden your precious links.To make matters worse, Microsoft PowerPoint hides non-text links in slide creation mode (thankfully, Keynote does not).

A Hyperlink is half witted.  Imagine you had to cross a hot stream by jumping from one stepping stone to another. If I were to remove one of the stepping stones, you would not jump. Microsoft PowerPoint 2008 for Mac jumps, landing you into hot water regardless (taking you to the wrong slide – the one with the same number as the removed slide). Smarter Apple Keynote ’09 disables the hyperlink.

Dangling Hyperlink gets attached to wrong slide in PowerPoint 2008

A Hyperlink is half smart because it keeps pointing to a slide even when you change the order of that slide in your presentation.

Link continues to point to slide even after slide is moved to another place in the presentation

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.

Presentation traps 5 – the title trap

Image source: Flickr, Author: Docman

Time after time, presenters repeat the same mistake: the title slide is on the screen behind them, they turn towards the screen, read the title, and possibly also read their name (why stop now), then immediately move on to the next slide.

Dear presenter (you don’t mind if I call you dear, do you, for I really care for you), WHY DO YOU DO THAT?

The audience can read; the chairperson can read and has probably already read aloud your name and title anyway; and I have no doubt the audience already know you can read 🙂

The title is there, on the screen, simply because it is also on the conference program, and the participants eager to attend your talk want to make sure they are in the right room when they come in. The title is not meant to be read: it is meant to be explained, to be paraphrased, to be demystified. To prepare for that, simply picture yourself having to explain your title to someone who is not quite an expert. Listen to him or her ask: “So what does it mean?”. That is what you tell the audience while your title slide is displayed. There is no need to even look once at the screen. You want total eye contact with your audience during the whole time your title slide is on the screen.

No reader ever spends much time on the title page of a book, so why should the presenter spend more time on the title slide than it takes to read it? You do not need to spend more than 30 – 45 seconds on the slide, but you definitely cannot spend less than 5 seconds. People in the audience need to reset their attention on you and on your topic as they move from one presenter to another, and that takes time. They need time to look at you, absorb you, move from a neutral to a positive attitude and like you (don’t push it though, they don’t need to love you 🙂 ) and know a little more about your title than its dry condensed word-encoded meaning. Some, usually half of your audience, the non experts, need a little help from you to increase or validate their understanding of your title. They need time to see who else is working on your research or who else is sponsoring you to trust you as an authority on your topic.

In summary,

Your  Title Slide – don’t face it, don’t read it, and don’t rush it.

And you’ll be –          more affable, more audible, more credible, and more understandable.

By Jean-luc Lebrun


What can the scientist who presents learn from Churchill (Part 1)

In her book We Shall Not Fail the granddaughter of Churchill comments on her grandpa’s speaking skills. Here are sentences that are of immediate value to the scientist who presents.

“[…]strike when the voice or pen is hot.”

If you have just published a paper, or  better, before you submit it for publication, find any opportunity to present its contents… to your peers, to your group. Don’t wait for the invitation, arrange the talk. Your pen is still hot, may be your paper has reached the final draft stage, and you want feedback. Everything is still fresh in your mind. It is by presenting that one becomes a better presenter.

“The best speakers share a common trait. […]. They never end a speech without asking their audience to rise to an occasion or to meet a challenge.”

Read President Obama’s last sentences of the inaugural address, you’ll find a call to action. But what is the call to action for a scientist? What occasion? What challenge? The occasion of partnering with you. The occasion of commenting on your work. The occasion of financing your work or extending the research scope. The challenge of removing the limitations you faced. The challenge to prove you wrong 🙂 or confirm your findings.

“Becoming a strong speaker, however, is not something to be learned from a book. Leaders need role models.”

Who is your role model? Who presents really well? Find out why. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Ghandi said that. Let their style inspire you. It does not need to be a nobel prize winner. Churchill was inspired by Bourke Cochran, a charismatic Irish American democrat, whose Google hits score less than 600 compared to Churchill’s 24.6 million!

“[Churchill’s] central tenet was simple and applies to nearly all forms of business as well as political communications: find the strongest reason in an argument and marshal all the available facts behind it.”

This also applies to scientific communications. The effect of a drug overdose is similar to that of an overdose of facts and slides during a scientific talk. The audience is in stupor. Focus on only making one point per slide. Do not present all the possible graphs that help you make that point. Use the most convincing one, and be ready to defend it and explain it in the most minute detail – if need be.

By Jean-luc Lebrun