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severalog

A few quick tips for better presentations and/or cutlery usage

Harry Caufield

Here's a tip: avoid presentations at all cost. Let someone else handle them.

Wait, no, hold on. That may be a quick tip but it's terrible advice. Everyone has to give presentations of some sort at some point in their career and/or personal life. They may be rigorously formal or may essentially be an improvised monologue at a party. When you have an idea to convey and an audience of more than a couple people,* you're giving a presentation.

Tip zero: Ensure lighting provides maximum silhouette effect. 

Tip zero: Ensure lighting provides maximum silhouette effect. 

In the sciences, our presentations usually take the form of Powerpoint and its ilk. I have to believe this software choice is mostly due to tradition rather than conscious choice. Using Powerpoint for every audiovidual-assisted presentation is like using a knife as your sole eating utensil: it'll get the job done but it'll never appear elegant.**

No matter the format, here are a few quick things to check in any presentation. They're all relatively minor and certainly not exhaustive. They're still easy mistakes to make, especially when you have to assemble a presentation with little time to spare.

  • Make sure to spell and pronounce every name correctly. You may get asked questions about the people attached to the names - or even by said people.
  • Thank those who've helped you but leave your thanks until the end.
  • Provide background early on in your presentation but never just a list of subjects. Context is key!
  • Briefly define any terms the majority of your audience isn't familiar with. Failing to do so can defeat the entire purpose of presenting.
  • If you've worked with some kind of a data set or database (and increasingly, you have, even if you're not giving a scientific presentation) be explicit about what the database contains and how it's useful. Even a frequently-used bioinformatics database like GenBank is often just referred to with phrases like "we got the sequences from GenBank." That's much like citing "the Internet" as a source in a research paper.
  • Similarly, don't talk about statistics without knowing what the statistics mean. That is, go beyond saying phrases like "the average of these values is 3.14" when you can tell the audience the context of that value. Is 3.14 higher than we'd expect? Even if it's statistically significant the context of other values, is it relevant? Did you just produce the value because it's what everyone else does and it's easy to do in Excel?

Here's the take-home message: Start programming a good replacement for Powerpoint now and your name will be lauded for centuries.

*You can even include animals in that audience if needed, though plants are only allowed if you're a magician.

** Some folks swear by Prezi but I've always found its zoom effects disorienting. Does that make me old?