Thursday, 27 August 2015

It's not about making pretty slides

The purpose of a great presentation is to engage the audience and give them something they didn't have at the beginning of the talk. It may be a challenge, a call to arms, a new concept or a stimulus to read further. It is not a major data transfer. The techniques suggested on this blog are about achieving this. They are not about "making pretty slides." Make a great presentation.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Simple design tip #1

Justify your title, don't center it. I know that's what the template does but that means there are probably 20 million just like it being delivered today. The centre justification draws the eyes into the middle of the slide and due to the decreasing number of words per line, down the slide so the catch is either "Today" or "Here", neither of which is actually important.

Use the text justify button and (ideally) line up the text on the left of the slide. The catch now is "Amazing" and holds the eye for longer as it is easier to read: we read from the left. It is a simple design tip that changes the feel of the presentation straight away.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

I can't see the wood for the trees

I've never quite been sure of the derivation of the phrase. A perfect example of its use is in a slide such as this.

There is simply so much "going on" in this image that the audience will be unable to derive meaning from any of the images (or worse still from the speech) because they are trying to decide which image to actually look at. Help the audience and simply project each image as required. (It's a Grade IV Liver laceration)

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Performance anxiety

My recent trip to a scientific conference allowed me to muse on many things including presentation skills. Most disappointing was not the standard of presentations constructed but the issues of poor delivery (p3) It is not enough to have a great idea if that idea cannot be transmitted. Delivery of your presentation is a essential part of its success.

Some quick pointers on delivery.

One speaker managed to look from the audience to the screen 54 times during a 5 minute, 10 slide minute presentation. This is hugely distracting and ultimately the audience will give up on one of the targets; either concentrating on the speaker (unlikely) or on the screen (unhelpful). Clearly this is a sign of nervousness. It will be improved by practise.

In spoken word, very few people stumble with their script. Even if you do, the audience has no concerns. If one attempts to read from a script one of three things will happen. You will simply read it out, verbatim. And unless you are an actor of some calibre this will be expressionless and disengaging. If you manage not to read it, you will     stumble    not over important words or concepts but over meaningless adverbs and unnecessary adjectives. Even if you have practised well, you will still check, intermittently and obviously, that you are correct. This will    interrupt   your flow and ensure that the top of your head is viewed on a regular basis. If you need a script, then you also need to practise more. A audience will easily forgive the stumble of a speaker without a script but bore quickly of someone with a script doing the same.

This has been highlighted earlier but once the pointer starts pointing at points the pointer of the pointer's point is quickly lost to the point at which the pointer is pointing with a pointer at every point, pointlessly. If you need to highlight something on a slide that is much more effectively done in the construction (p2)

The value of text on a slide is poor to useless. Making lists and revealing lines on a slide is only a marginal improvement but is exceptionally patronising to an audience if this is more than about 3 lines. Worse still is running through a slide of multiple lines of a slide, rapidly, bringing in each line as you speak. The audience will be distracted by every change and will be unable to hear anything.

If the speaker stands on the stage, attempting to hide behind the podium, huddled and hunched, failing to engage the audience in eye contact and looking down at notes or monitor this gives the very clear message that this presentation has little value. If the speaker believes this, they should not be on the stage. If the speaker believes their work has value then their body language needs to reflect this. Yes it is scary. We all feel scared. Fake it 'til you make it.

6. Speak into the microphone

Larger auditoria require some form of amplification. If the microphone is fixed then it is essential that the speaker recognises the limited direction and area within which they must speak. Turning to face the screen (unnecessary) will often be outside this zone and render speech inaudible. As soon as you turn back the volume will increase. As the speaker's attention is on the screen and not the audience few speaker perceive the problem. Look at the audience through the microphone. If you can't see the microphone, it can't hear you. (Radio mikes present additional and more comedic fails)

So, how to avoid these issues? Practise helps a lot. This cannot be emphasised enough. Practise in an appropriate sized auditorium and in front of a real audience if you can. Have a friend critique your performance and ideally watch a video. This will show you what ticks you have, where you look, how badly you perform with a script and how like a baby Jedi you appear waving your light sabre around. Watch previous sessions of you conference and be aware of what happens to previous speakers. Can you hear them, are you distracted by their activity. Note things to avoid.Stand tall when you take the stage. Stare the audience in the idea and tell them what you feel, what is important and why they should listen. THAT'S why you're there.

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.