What can the scientist who presents learn from Pascal (Part 4)

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

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