The emphasis on "slides" in parts
of this article is a bit archaic, but there are still many nuggets of
advice that can be applied to the newer technologies.
Use lots of slides. A rule of thumb is, one slide for each 10 seconds of time allotted for
your talk. If you don't have enough, borrow the rest from the previous
speaker or run through the tray again.
- Make sure each slide has plenty
of information--even if it isn't really necessary for your
presentation. It's always good for people to learn as much as possible.
Complex tables comparing your results with all the other work that has
even been done in the field with a dozen unnecessary units and at least
100 entries is a must, but equations, especially those that have 15
terms and 20 variables are almost as good. A high density of detailed
and marginally relevant data usually pre-empts penetrating questions
from the audience.
- Use small print. Anyone
who has not had the foresight to either sit in the front row or bring
a pair of binoculars is probably not going to understand the talk anyway.
- Use figures and tables directly from
published articles. This will help you achieve goals
2 and 3 and minimize the amount of preparation for the talk.
If you haven't published the work, use illustrations from an
old publication. Only a few people in the audience will notice
- Most of the rules for slides apply also for
Power Point presentations. So review these carefully. Don't
be put off by the jokes about Power Point Poisoning. People who say
that are just jealous that you've got such a slick presentation.
- Don't bother to check with the conference
organizers about their projection facilities. If you don't
have the right adaptor to connect your lap top to the projector or if
your floppy disk doesn't fit into any of the computers in the room,
you can always get the audience to gather round your computer or you
can just tell them how fabulous the slides would look if only they could
- Be sure to use all the bells and whistles.
Have your titles appear in an explosion of color in the middle.
Each point should alternate coming in from the left and right with
screeching tire sounds. Use elegant or playful backgrounds, changing
them from slide to slide for variety.
- All this will help distract the
audience from the information you are presenting, so they'll be
too confused to ask any questions.
- What's more, they won't remember
anything except the screeching tires afterwards, and they'll think
it's their fault for not paying attention. They'll tell you they
enjoyed the talk and they won't ask any uncomfortable questions.
- Use vibrant colors for the background that
make the text color shimmer. Visual illusions and after images
that cause the data to disappear if you look at the screen for more
than 3 seconds can completely distract people from the fact that it
was impossible to draw any conclusions from your data.
- Scan in lots of photos. They'll be
impressed with the resolution of your scanner. You can fill a lot of
time showing the instruments you used and scenes of the lab and a few
of your colleagues or experimental animals. This will make your colleagues
feel good, even if they didn't do much to help (they'll try harder next
Don't organize your talk in
It is usually best not to even think about it until your name has been
announced by the session chair. Above all, don't write the talk out;
it may fall into enemy hands.
Never, ever rehearse--even quietly
are best when they arise spontaneously and in random order. Leave it
as an exercise for the audience to reassemble your thoughts properly
and make some sense out of what you say.
Discuss each slide in complete detail,
especially those parts irrelevant to the main
point of your talk.
If you suspect that there is anyone in the audience who is not asleep,
return to a previous slide and discuss it again.
Face the projection screen, mumble, and
talk as low as possible,
especially while making important points
An alternate strategy is to speak very slowly, leave every other sentence
uncompleted, and punctuate each thought with "ahh," "uhh,"
"ok" or something equally informative.
Wave the light pointer around the room.
Or at least move the beam rapidly along the slide image in
small circles. If this is done properly, it will make at least 50% of
the people in the first three rows leave the room with nauseous headaches
before your question period.
Lastly, be certain to use every second
of the time allotted to you and at least half, if not all,
of the next speaker's time. This avoids foolish and annoying questions
and forces the chairperson to ride herd on the following speakers. Remember,
the rest of the speakers don't have anything important to say anyway.
If they had, they would have been signed times earlier than yours.
A FEW WORDS
FROM MERLE FOR STUDENT PRESENTERS
- Don't bother to introduce
your topic. Everyone should remember exactly what you
said your paper would be on when we went around the room last
month. You remember the details of all the other students' projects,
- If you use slides, don't try them out
ahead of time. Even if the words or graphs come up backwards
or upside town, you can tell the audience what they should be
seeing. Try to get a big fingerprint on at least one slide. That's
how the audience knows it isn't a pre-packaged talk.
- Avoid using any visual aids
to introduce the system you are working on or your experimental
design. It will take longer for you to just talk about it, and
there will be lots of simple questions for you to answer like,
"where did you get those rat livers"? That should fill
up most of the time you are allotted, so you won't have to answer
embarrassing questions about why the results are opposite from
what you expected.
- Don't use graphs or tables to display
your results. Any ninny should be able to remember which
subjects are in your control and experimental groups and what
their characteristics are.
- Never put units on graphs or tables.
After all, everyone knows that 48 always means beats/min
or is it beats/30 sec--oh well, it's probably age. The same goes
for slide titles. If the audience has to work to figure out what
the slide is about, they'll stay more in involved. This is called
- Talk fast.
Isn't there some sort of rule that the faster you talk, the faster
time moves? That way the talk will be over faster and you
can go home. Reading directly from your notes helps you
talk real fast (it also helps promote mumbling which was
suggestion #4 in the last section). Moving those ideas quickly
and quietly helps your audience start to think about which
party they're going to tonight after "House." They'll
be in a pretty good mood when you finish your talk.
If you think this advice is a bit risky, here are some
suggested by Pratt and Ropes that you can rely on.
- Slides must be well designed,
simple and readable by everyone in the audience. It is worthwhile to use professional slide
preparation services if available.
- Use as few slides as are really
needed and can be
discussed in the time allotted. As a general rule, one slide for each
1 or 2 minutes of presentation is all that will be effective.
- Devote each slide to a single
fact, idea, or finding. Illustrate major points or trends, not detailed data. Do not show long
or complicated formulas or equations. Each slide should remain on the
screen at least 20 seconds.
- Use the absolute minimum number
of words in titles,
subtitles, and captions. Remember that standard abbreviations are acceptable.
- Make sure at least one slide
is in upside down or sideways. This relieves the tension in the room :-)
- A rule of thumb for the minimum
height of readable lettering (size) is 3 mm on the finished slide. Do not make slides from
illustrations or tables that were prepared for publication. They are
rarely satisfactory. A good way to test your material is to stand away
1 foot for every inch of original copy width. If you can't read it from
that distance, then your audience will not be able to react to it either
when it is projected.
- Color adds attractiveness,
interest, and clarity to slide illustrations and should
be used whenever possible. If you use color, remember that contrasting
colors are easier to see.
- Use 2" x 2" paper or plastic
mounted slides, designated for a 35 mm slide projector. Be sure that they
are clean and in good physical condition.
- Critically examine every slide
and try out the entire set under adverse light conditions
before using them at a meeting. It is sometimes impossible to provide
excellent light conditions at meetings.
Mark a large positioning dot
or make a notch in the lower left hand corner of each slide when it is made so that it may
be read; rotate 180 degrees for loading into a carousel. Number every
slide in proper sequence, and give them to the projectionist exactly
as you wish them shown.
- If flying to the meeting, hand
carry slides on board so that they don't get lost if baggage
- An introductory and concluding
slide can much improve
the focus of your talk.
- Do not use more than three
or four vertical columns--six
to eight horizontal lines. Any more and the information will not
- Do not used ruled vertical
or horizontal lines. They
distract the eye and clutter the slide.
- Whenever possible, present
data by bar charts or graphs instead of tables
- Generally, do not use more
than one or two curves on one diagram; three to four are maximum, but only if well separated.
- Label each curve. Avoid using symbols and legends
- Write the talk out in advance so that your ideas are
logically organized and your points clear. At the very least, write
out a detailed outline. Cover only the essential main points and
leave the details for your publication.
- Rehearse. If possible, give your talk to one or two
colleagues and ask them for suggestions. If the talk runs longer
than the allotted time, eliminate the least essential material and
- Speak slowly and clearly. Word choices should be simple.
Use active words, short sentences. Words should enhance visual material.
- Stay within your allotted
time out of consideration
for the other speakers and the audience.
WORDS TO STUDENTS FROM MERLE
- Begin promptly and crisply.
Don't waste 1-2 minutes shuffling through your cards
(or finding your Power Point on the computer) while you work up
the nerve to begin. Have a starting sentence worked out. Memorize
that sentence and say it as soon as you get up to the podium.
Once you hear your voice, you'll have started and everything else
Chris Jarvis suggests that in addition to memorizing your first
sentence, you write it on a card in case you get up in front
of the audience and blank out for a second or two.
- Look at your audience from time to time
(especially when you start out with your memorized sentence).
They're not waiting for you to make a mistake. They're either
cheering you on or not even paying attention because they're thinking
about the talk they are about to give.
- If you are giving a joint presentation,
rehearse with the other person so you don't leave something
- Don't start out by apologizing for
the weaknesses in your project or talk. Unless you are giving
your Nobel Prize acceptance speech, most talks you give on your
research will be a version of works in progress. Focus on a clear
description of your question and the rationale behind your experimental
- Speaking of the Nobel Prize, be sure
to acknowledge sources of grants or other financial support.
You might want more in the future, and showing appreciation for
what you got this time lets the funders know you did something
with it. It's also a good way to let other students know what
sources of money might be available to them. Acknowledge funding
sources in the abstract or paper you write too.
- Show your data in a form that can be
If the data support your hypothesis clearly,
strengthen that argument by showing how you eliminated other
- If the data don't support your hypothesis or
even eliminate it, that's even more interesting. Speculate
about what that might mean (a new hypothesis? a control
that needs to be added? a reason why some measurements
might be inaccurate? a suggestion for an experiment that
should be done next?)
- Your listeners might be thinking about these options, so
show them that you've been thinking about them too.
- REHEARSE, REHEARSE, REHEARSE. It
feels funny to talk to your bathroom mirror or lecture at your
roommate, but it's worth it.
Time those rehearsals.
the talk will take 2-3 times as long as it takes to just read
it from your notes. The number of extra breaths, ums, waiting
for a slide, finding an overhead, etc. all increase the time it
takes to get out what you planned to say. Don't be in the position
of having the moderator tell you there are 2 minutes left when
you've just finished telling people what you're going to talk
AND HAVE FUN!
It's a great opportunity to impress yourself with
how much you've accomplished.
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