Scientific Presentations and Chinese Proverbs – part 2

Source: Flick; Author: Rob Well.

“A road is traced by the people who walk on it.”

Acknowledge others, the people who inspired you, gave you ideas. There is always a way to acknowledge someone in a presentation. Your road may still be a path, but someone cleared some branches already!

“what touches cinnabar turns to red, what touches ink, turns to black.”

A presentation is made from a painter’s palette. With distinct colors, you create a blend, a color gradient. Each new slide is different yet never far apart from its neighbors. Each new slide is fluidly linked to other colors in the palette. Work on your oral slide transitions. Avoid discontinuitiesUse B keys or black slides also.

“An ax cannot hew it’s own handle.”

Your main concern is to have others use what you have discovered. You provide the steel, they provide the handle. Your presentation should conclude with a clear statement of the significance of your work for others – their handle.

“One lie only, and one hundred deeds are now in doubt.”

In presentations, whatever you declare upfront to describe the significance of the problem and the need for a solution, has to be unquestionable, credible, rock solid. Any exaggeration (lie by amplification), or omission (lie by hiding), and your audience will now have reservations and treat your future claims with scepticism.

“No sooner has someone come that satisfaction is due.”

The audience had a choice not to attend your talk. People have come for a reason. Understand why they came, what they need, and satisfy them. You are now in debt.

“Better act with your hands once than to look with your eyes a thousand times.”

How does an audience act with hands during your talk? People raise arms  to ask questions. Each question is an opportunity for the deeper understanding that precedes adoption and action. Always leave ample time for questions. An audience who only looks at slides without moving to the next stage – is worthless to you. And by the way, use your hands, stretch them in an open gesture to ask for questions, don’t just look at the audience waiting for questions!

By Jean-luc lebrun

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

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

What can the scientist who presents learn from Pascal (Part 3)

Modesty, respect for others, are often found in famous scientists. Sir Isaac Newton (a contemporary of Pascal) did not say “If I have seen further, it is because they were all as blind as a bat”. He wrote “If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of Giants”. These qualities are also found in Pascal:

(Thought 43) “Certain authors, speaking of their works, say: “My book,” “My commentary,” “My story,” etc. They are just like middle-class people who have a house of their own on main street and never miss an opportunity to mention it. It would be better for these authors to say: “Our book,” “Our commentary,” “Our story,” etc., given that frequently in these, more belong to other people’s than to them.”

How are these qualities found in your presentation?

1) By acknowledging those who, directly or indirectly, contributed to your work.

2) By never failing to mention the source of the visuals you borrowed from other people.

3) By never comparing your work to other people’s work through the use of adjectives only, usually with the intent to demonstrate that you and your work are the greatest. The very people you slighted may be attending your talk, and sharpening their knives. Compare based on undisputed facts that you are ready to defend.

An audience senses arrogance as quickly as it senses fairness.

By Jean-luc Lebrun

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