Not every piece of research represents a paradigm shift. How is one to present research which is lower on the innovative scale? In this podcast we also discovers that a polished abstract is not enough to bring an audience to your talk. Listen in as Professor Motiwalla shares his experience.
By Jean-luc Lebrun
Santiago Ramon Y Cajal was a neurologist who shared with Golgi the nobel prize in 1906. In his excellent little book “Advice for a young investigator”, translated for MIT press by Neely and Larry Swanson, one finds some remarkable insights on the perfect scientist presenter host. In the preface to his second edition Cajal writes about scientists.
While not large, there is nevertheless a group of young enthusiasts who stay in constant communication about their ideas and feelings because of their love for science and desire to collaborate on the magnum opus of progress.
If I am to accept Cajal’s definition of true blue scientists, I cannot help but wonder where has the presenter’s enthusiasm gone? Where is the passion? Why let fear strap and padlock your passion in a straightjacket prior to delivering the scientific talk? Yes, the fear may be there, let it be. But then, be a Houdini presenter, deliver your passion, let its fire ignite interest in your work so that like-minded international colleagues from your audience desire to network with you. How do you do that? First and foremost, prior to climbing on the stage, recharge yourself with the excitement that ionized you when your working hypothesis was verified by your data. Then banish the thought of captivating minds with result outputs, because people do not celebrate outputs, they celebrate outcomes.
Nothing highlights the energetic personality of the investigator better, distinguishing him from the throng of automatons in science, than those discoveries where perseverance and logic get the upper hand over mechanics, where brain is paramount and material facilities are negligible.
Never miss a chance to present your current achievements in the context of your past work, to establish credibility through tenacity, to dazzle by the power and soundness of the thread of reasons sustaining your hypothesis, and to confound the big spenders with the frugality of your data needs because of the excellent representative and discrimination power of your data. Do not belittle or silence the story of your data if that story builds your credibility. Do not brush aside the history that led to your findings, if that history forged your expertise.
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.
Praise for When The Scientist Presents:
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!”
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.”
Can we predict the type of questions a scientist gets from VCs (venture capitalists)? And how would the BCG Matrix be of any use to the presenter scientist who is required to present the competitive advantage of his or her discoveries? Our guest, Dr. Motiwalla enlightens us. He is professor in entrepreneurship at the National University of Singapore, and sits on the board of a number of Hi-Tech companies in the US.
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
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.
Our new guest, Dr Motiwalla, Professor in the practice of Entrepreneurship at the national University of Singapore, takes scientific presentations in the realm of venture capital. He tells us three ways to keep the audience listening… to you of course. Should you not follow his advice, the audience may still be listening, but it may be to their talkative (and bored) neighbor, or some may pretend they are taking notes on their computer when in fact, they are working on their next paper.
This podcast will not explain why the word “pearl” has been associated with the word wisdom, but it will give you tips you probably can’t live without.
For those of you who are interested, the expression “pearls of Wisdom” might have biblical origins. (a person without discernment (who is not wise) is someone who casts pearls before swine – pearls here would refer to valuable words revealing the good news – Matthew 7:6)
Effects without effects video
When navigating back to an interesting slide during the Q&A session, things do not always happen as the scientist who presents would like them to! Instead of going straight to the place of interest, the desired slide releases its contents, a click, and an effect at a time, as it did during the formal presentation, until it finally reveals the complete visual. There is a better way… as this video reveals.
Why do these benefits vary according to the type of conference? Are these benefits broader than the communication of your scientific findings in a journal? Dr Mark Sinclair and Dr Alastair Curry enumerate a long list of benefits, some of which may even surprise you!
What is the potential of PowerPoint, or for that matter, the potential of any software used in presentations? Does PowerPoint present an improvement over other methods of presentations? What is the danger of PowerPoint?
Find out from our presenter experts, Dr Alastair Curry and Dr Mark Sinclair.
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).
Preempt. Nice verb, but little used. It is composed of two parts: “pre” which means “before”, and “empt” which comes from the latin “emere” – “to buy”. In essence, to prempt is to buy your way out of a potentially difficult situation before it has a chance to happen.
What is there to preempt when you present?
1) The embarrassment to have to admit that you are not the expert the audience thought you were
If you have been asked to present on behalf of the first author, chances are, that during the Q&A, you will get expert questions only the first author (not you) could answer. Naturally, you should have turned down the invitation to be a substitute, but you may not have had the choice, or you may have found the invitation to attend that conference in sunny Hawaii, just too tempting! It is best to preempt such expert questions by warning the audience prior to the q&a session that you are not the first author, and that there could be questions you might not be able to answer immediately. Of course, as its name indicates, such a preemptive move has a cost: you will not be considered an expert, and networking with experts will be limited. But it is far better to honestly set the expectations than to have to face experts noisily expressing their disappointment towards your lack of in-depth knowledge, live, in front of your audience.
2) The embarrassment to have to admit that your contribution cannot immediately solve people’s real problems
Often times, you are presenting mouth-watering research, at least in terms of potential, but it is based on modelling, or it is still at the proof of concept stage. During the Q&A, questions abound on the significance of your work, or on its manufacturing or marketability. All your answers end up sounding like “we haven’t done that yet”, “we’re looking into it”, or “this is yet to be determined.” The audience is disappointed. Your title seemed to indicate the contribution was real and had already gone beyond the experimental stage, but it was a pipe dream. Therefore, preempt such misconceptions. Set up the scope, the exact nature of your accomplishments up-front in your talk. That way, the audience will not have the wrong expectations. During your conclusion, honestly announce what are the next steps necessary to take your contribution closer to a real tangible product or application. As in the previous case, this preemptive move has a cost. It might deflate the enthusiasm of a few people in the audience, but preemting is better than to have to minimise the impact of your work during the q&a.
Most conference proceedings now come in CD or DVD format instead of paper. How does that change the behaviour of the audience?
Presenters often assume that the audience they are facing is made up of experts in their field. Is that assumption valid? What can we assume our audience really knows? Should what earlier presenters say during their talk influence what we should cover during our talk?
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)
By Jean-luc Lebrun
Your formal presentation is over. You are now taking questions from the audience. Two people raise their hand at the same time. Who are you going to choose?
Is it the woman – if the two people are a man and a woman?
Is it the senior person – if one is elderly and the other one young?
Is it the foreigner – if one is from your country and the other one is not?
Actually, I would like you to consider yet another choice:
Is it the one you know – if one is known to you and the other one is not.
Here is Kevin’s advice. Kevin is a lecturer at the School of Information Systems of the Singapore Management University. He answers the question without hesitation.
“I would choose the one I do not know because I want to expand my network of contacts. Of course, time allowing, I will answer both questioners, but if there is time for only one question, at least I will possibly discover someone else interested in my research.”
Kevin is wise. The Q and A session is not just for the audience to refine their understanding of your work and identify its practical use. It is for you to identify people interested in your research, with the intent of building your network of contacts. You may have up to five minutes of Q&A. If your answers are long winded, you’ll have time for only one or two questions. Therefore, keep your answers short to be able to identify as many interested parties as possible in that short timeframe. While answering a question, keep an eye on the audience, not just the questioner – you may notice someone trying to raise their hand. If this person is a newcomer, not yet part of your address book, do not lose the opportunity to network. You may even want to briefly interrupt your answer and say “Yes, sir (madam) I will be happy to take your question next.” This accomplishes two excellent things. Firstly, it pre-empts a possible follow-on question from the current questioner thus protecting you against the trap of the prolonged time-sapping dialogue. Secondly, it provides relief to the next questioner, who knows he or she will be heard.
So who you’re gonna choose when the two people are unknown to you?
Here again, the answer is not obvious for it depends on who you are, and on what your secondary presentation goals are.
Is it the woman – if the two people are a man and a woman? If you are French, choose the woman 🙂
Is it the senior person – if one is elderly and the other one young? If you are looking for opportunities, choose the elderly person, but if you are looking for a postgrad to work in your team, choose the young scientist, regardless of gender.
Is it the foreigner – if one is from your country and the other one is not? I will let you answer that question in your comments. But if that foreigner is an elderly gentleman measuring 6 foot 2 inches, and has a slight French accent and a long nose, I recommend you choose him because it’s probably me 🙂
Dr Sinclair and Dr Curry share their favourite presenter “crimes” against the audience, and in the process, article one and article two of the universal rights of scientific audiences are drafted.
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.
Do British or american scientist-presenters have the advantage over people for whom English is the second language (ESL)? How does one reduce the impact of one’s accent? How can native English speakers make things difficult for the rest of us not born with English DNA :)?
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
Blaise Pascal, the scientist philosopher, has good advice immediately applicable during a Q&A when faced with a questioner who disagrees with the presenter.
(Thought 9) When one wishes to correct to one’s advantage, and reveal how mistaken someone is, one must observe from which angle that person is looking at things, because, usually, from that angle, things look right, and openly admit this truth, but present the other angle from which the same things now look wrong. The one who is corrected is satisfied for no mistake was made, it was simply a matter of now being aware of other perspectives; One is not angry for not being able to see all angles, but one does not want to be wrong.
During the Q&A, when people claim that your results cannot be observed in their experiments, you, the presenter, should not argue. If they say so, they do not intend to lie, and therefore, it must be true. The difference can often be explained by differences in experimental conditions, equipment, products, formulas; Naturally, there is no time during a short Q&A to review the differences, you make that clear, and you also make clear that your results are repeatable in your lab (they are, aren’t they…); However, offer your help to understand the differences by meeting with the questioner after the talk with a sentence like “I’d be happy to sit with you after the talk and try and see why you cannot get our results”. You may actually learn something interesting! What is important here is the way the audience perceives you: courteous, firm, confident, helpful. Anything else in your response could make you look arrogant, aggressive, discourteous, or not confident in your own results! Let the forceful questioner look arrogant, aggressive, or discourteous; remain the perfect respectful host.
By Jean-luc Lebrun
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).
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.
A Hyperlink is half smart because it keeps pointing to a slide even when you change the order of that slide in your presentation.
Should one present research limitations during the ten minutes of a scientific talk at a conference? Would one be breaching academic honesty and integrity if one did not present them? What has this topic got to do with how well the Q&A goes after the talk?
Find out from our cast of profs, Dr. Sinclair and Dr. Curry, in the profcast segment of this podcast.
What is the chemistry between the scientist who presents and the audience? When the presenter who precedes you gives a bad presentation, does that affect you? When you work in a field where people are divided into camps of divergent scientific opinions, does that affect you?
Our experts share with you their experience about the people who come to a talk with a bad attitude, or with their own specific agenda.