Thursday, 30 July 2015

It's .pptx not .docx

A common mistake in attempting to deliver a (scientific) paper is the failure to recognise the difference between a document and a presentation. They are not the same. Perhaps the nomenclature is the start of the problem but an oral presentation is entirely different from simply reading out a truncated version of the written document.

A document, a journal article or scientific report has a required structure and is intended for the recipient to read. That may be overstating the obvious but the presentation is quite the opposite; a presentation is not to be read, neither read by the audience nor read out to them. The construct, the illustration and the delivery are all different.

The story (p1) of the paper for a presentation is concerned with delivering a "so what" of the data. It is not simply enough to recite the facts. The purpose of presentation is an interpretation and explanation of value of the work undertaken.This is the reason the presenter is asked to attend rather than simply send a written version. It is neither a precis nor a summary but an explanation of its purpose and value for that particular audience ultimately with a call to arms, a challenge or a question to leave the audience with. This should lead them to want to review the whole written piece to further their understanding.

The supportive media (p2) to such a presentation is designed to support the speaker and not deliver the whole paper in written form whilst the speaker talks. As such the media should be illustrative and not distracting. It is neither reasonable nor valuable to simply cut and paste data tables into the media as what is required and valuable in a written piece will be uninterpretable and distracting in a presentation. The role of the presenter is to guide the audience to a clearer understanding by the use of media. It is not simply to put all the data on the screen.

The delivery (p3) of this presentation is about engaging the audience. If the presenter shows no care or emotion, why should the audience? If you have no passion about your topic, no-one else will. It may be complex histological staining techniques or reviews of a series of operations but the speaker must engage the audience for the message to be effective. Verbatim reading of a script, with no emotion or intonation, whilst facing the screen, however exciting the research will leave most of the audience uninterested and unconvinced. If this has value it is essential that the speaker shows some of that value.

A presentation is a privilege. It is an opportunity to share ideas, passion and insight. Take it, don't waste it.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

This is all your fault.

It's conference season once again and I've had my vaccination booster. Sadly it will be wall to wall text dense slides, with little structure or purpose, read outloud in a terrified monotone to an audience who expect nothing more. And it's all your fault

Until we as audience members and seniors and colleagues and speakers starting actively making a difference by our reactions, encouragement, example and feedback, things will only continue to deteriorate. As a group, we recognise the abject failure of this style of presentation yet allow it to continue by our inaction. It is not the fault of those who copy or seek to attain the level of mediocrity they see displayed but the fault of those who go before, who receive, who comment and who do the same old thing because it's just easy.

The reason we present is to share insight, wisdom, research, knowledge and passion. So much of that will be lost, in time, like tears in rain. Not because of a lack of preparation, desire or wish to communicate but because of you.

"Time to die."

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Quick copy this down!

When making an academic presentation it is often valuable to quote the literature. Quote means to speak. Don't write it down, it is not valuable.

There is an increasing tendency to show references in a slide or series of slides. The value of this appears to be in adding some strength to an argument that "Fisher et al in their seminal paper said x". The reality is that if the reference is, as you suggest, seminal, then the audience will know the paper of which you speak. If it is not then their ability to write down accurately the reference you have shown on the screen will be virtually zero by the time you have moved on to your next point. Or they will be distracted from your next point as they do write down the reference, usually as it is in tiny print. A list of references at the end of your presentation simply shows you have forgotten the difference between a presentation and a document.

If you feel the audience will need or want to take the exact reference away from the meeting, then make it available in an easy manner, along with other information, perhaps even a full copy of the paper. A short url (from Google) is a quick way that many will understand or even a QR code. Such codes challenge many audiences as it often requires specific software that may not be readily available to all.

If a reference is of value, simply quote it. You wouldn't read out the exact volume and page, so don't write it either.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015


"How does one get images for a presentation?" is a question I am frequently asked. The answer is the same as so many other questions we have. Ask you friendly local search engine.

Click here.

I mostly use Google image search trying to be careful that the images I use are of good quality, freely available and, if necessary, appropriately referenced. How I make the individual choices is of course part of the creative process but I thought I'd share a few simple steps that have helped me in recent presentations.

The legal side of this is that one should ONLY use images that are available for reuse. Google can help you there. Let's work through an example.

I want to illustrate something with ice cream.

Got to Google and simply enter "ice cream". You should get 

There are 3 very helpful buttons. No1 will take you directly to images of "ice cream" with some (occasionally) helpful collections across the top. Before you get carried away (there's a lot of lovely ice cream) you need to filter the search using first the Search tools button No2, then the Size option selecting LARGE. Then under Usage Rights (No3) make your choice of appropriate options. THIS is the group from which you should chose your image. 

I then scroll through until I find one that I believe fits my purpose and click on it. Go to the individual image, make sure it is as zoomed in as possible by clicking on it and then save by right clicking. Then how you use the image within your presentation depends on your composition.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

No script.

At no time should you use a script when giving a presentation.

I know one should write paragraphs with three or more sentences that explain the initial statement but that statement stands alone. It needs no explanation, no justification, no clarification, no exceptions and no discussion. It stands entirely on its own. It is a fact. Do not use a script, of any sort.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

It's not about the slides

As Lance Armstrong famously entitled his book on "winning" the Tour de France, "It's not about the bike." So, with presentations, it is not about the slides. They are important. Without the slides it is just a talk. Ultimately the slides are supportive media (p2) and what carries a presentation is the story (p1) and its delivery (p3).

The evidence of this is at the current and amazing SMACCUS conference where great presenters were challenged by IT problems. Kudos to @emcrit and @cliffreid for persevering. What is important for a presenter to remember is that the show must go on and, as discussed earlier, if the slide set is your script or handout this will not be possible. 

The converse is also true. Extending the analogy of the bike, even the best road bike in the world will never get me on the Tour de France. Presenters must be careful that the slides set and video and visual aids (p2) do not become the show rather than the message itself. There can be little worse than people remembering you as "the man who blew bubbles in his TEDx talk" if the message itself failed.

It's not about the slides. They are important in supporting your message.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

One message per slide

In the last blogpost I suggested the best place to start improving #presentationskills is by deleting the slide set. The rationale behind that statement was not to suggest that presentations should be done without supportive media but in order for the beginner presenter to consider the purpose of their slide set.

"Once you have changed that aspect and re-established the very purpose of the media, then we can improve it."

The purpose of supportive media is in illustration of the story (p1) not annotation of it. One should illustrate the story with one single message per slide, preferably an image. One single message per slide. That's not two, or four, it's not a list, it isn't a picture of a journal article, it's not a huge spreadsheet or a complex diagram, it is one single message. The reason is because that's what illustrations do. 

More than one message will distract the audience. It doesn't matter how good you think they will be, just one at a time. A list will require reading. A picture of a journal article is worse and a massive spreadsheet will have the audience mining for something other than your point as soon as the slide changes. Just one at a time. All of these things are important but in a presentation what is essential is the audience listening to you. That is why you are there, not some furry slide changer.

When beginning the development as a presenter your first step in constructing media is to consider only one message per slide.