scientific presentations

Garr Reynolds, at Presentation Zen (a moment for fangirling, please), has a post linking to resources for scientific presentations. Often presentation advice is geared towards commercial or creative models, and while it’s helpful to extract what works/what sucks from those sorts of domains, a Zen-approach to scientific/academic presentation couldn’t come soon enough. From the editorial “Let There Be Stoning” by J. H. Lehr, which Garr links to (available in entirety here and well worth the read) I snuck this gem:

Without exception a presentation … can and should be made extemporaneously. A scientist who cannot retain in his head the essence of his latest work can hardly be said to be enraptured by his subject. If a speaker is not excited enough by his area of expertise to weave it comfortably into the fabric of his cognitive thought processes, then how can he hope to excite an audience to an acceptable level of appreciation?

Presenting scientific work we’re constrained by the need to provide a certain base level of technical information or background, and results are generally graphical or in tables–not leaving much room to get crazy with the style. But 90% of academic talks err on the TMI (too much information) side, and by doing this, often they preclude people asking questions. I attended a talk yesterday and made a conscious effort to not look at the slides unless they had a picture, table or graph, and you know what? I didn’t miss anything important at all. Sadly, the speaker relied on looking at her laptop or reading off the screen in many cases, which is just as irritating as the philosophy-model of literally “reading a paper”.

I’m determined that the next talk I give will be pared down to the bare essentials, and that the focus will be on me and my information.

Teaching presentations are of course a different kettle of fish, but I’ll re-visit those issues when they’re pressing.

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