Jun 05

Using notes effectively


Have you seen a presentation where the speaker reads their notes? Or uses a power point with lots of text and reads the slides? Have you seen a speech where the speaker has troubles connecting with the audience because they are so immersed in their notes? These are no-no’s when it comes to using notes!

As many of you know, both Alli and myself are members of Toastmasters International. We frequently see questions relating to using notes in the evaluations, most typically: “Did the speaker use notes during their presentation?” It seems to be an easy aspect to nitpick. It also seems like Toastmasters encourages all their speakers to get to the point, early in their communication journey, to not use notes. I disagree. Furthermore, this emphasis on not using notes is doing a disservice to those in Toastmasters and beyond. The question should not be “did the speaker use notes” but instead “did the speaker use notes effectively?

Using notes effectively is a skill that needs to be developed, as any other aspect of communication. Notes can help with nervousness during a speech, providing cues to jump-start after forgetting your place. Notes can help build credibility by ensuring the stats/facts/etc. are properly quotes and cited. Notes can help ensure the speech is organized and timely. But using notes requires practice!

I recently gave a speech that included two quotes, one by Franklin D. Roosevelt and the other by John F. Kennedy. The quotes were integral to my message, but remembering the exact wording was taking all my practice time. I tried to memorize the quotes but realized that I was focusing on the wrong aspect of my speech development. I began to test different uses of notes to provide the biggest impact. After practicing a few different methods, my solution was having the quotes on a sheet of paper, which I kept on a table off to the side of my speaking area. When it was time to use the quote, I picked up the paper, paused while I read it to myself, then read the quote aloud, paused again, and finally returned it to where it was setting. This allowed me to use the correct wording without the forceful regurgitation.


Here are some tips for using notes:

  1. Think of notes as a road map – not every word but the important ones
  2. Use notes as an outline of your speech (include critical transitions)
  3. Include quotes/stats/facts/citations
  4. If your presentation includes a powerpoint, strategically place key words as indicators for what you want to address verbally
  5. Use your notes as built in pauses – take a moment to reflect on your notes, then begin speaking again (this also gives your audience a moment to dwell on your last comments/thoughts)
  6. Practice, practice, practice! The best way to learn what works for you in regards to notes is to practice!


We’d love to hear your suggestions, feedback, or your personal stories of effectively using notes! Add them to the comments.

Jan 25

Improve your communication skills! Attend Science Talk 2018

ST2018 ad graphicHave you ever struggled to explain why your science matters to a non-scientist? Have you ever been frustrated at the way science is covered in the media and used in policy? Have you wondered just what they’re teaching about science these days? Join us at our annual conference and find out!

SCIENCE TALK ’18​​ will unite scientists, science communicators, journalists, policymakers, students, and others for two exciting days of learning how to talk science to non-scientists or those outside your discipline. It will feature presentations, workshops, expert panels, and more. Come network with other like-minded individuals and learn new ways to tackle some of the impediments scientists face every day.

Learn more and register on the Science Talk website!


Aug 31

A request to presenters at scientific conferences

By Allison Coffin

I’m on a flight home from a conference in my field – I won’t say which one so as not to point fingers at any particular speaker. Many talks were excellent, both in the content and the delivery. But like most conferences, some were not. Many violated core rules in slide preparation. Here are the biggest violators from my latest scientific excursion.

  1. Too many graphs on one slide. Each slide should make one key point. Just one. Not two, or four. This means one graph. Then, if you want to compare that graph to another graph, build the slide. By build, I mean bring up one graph first, talk us through it, then add the second graph to the slide. Once you explain the first graph, we understand how to interpret the data, and we can more easily compare patterns. If the two graphs make different points, and don’t need to be compared, then don’t put them on a slide together – they each deserve a slide of their own.
  2. Paragraphs of text. I witness some presentations where each slide contained a block of text. Not a few bullet points, or (better yet), a conceptual illustration, but rows of text. Some was even conversational, “However, our findings reveal that this effect…” These are great words to say to the audience, but I don’t need to read them.
  3. From PCST

    From PCST

    Complete figures – straight from the paper. I witnessed slides with five tiny, lettered graphs (panels A-E!) and a complete figure legend. I know some conferences still invite participants to “present a paper”, but this doesn’t mean to literally present all of the figures intact.

  4. And the biggest issue – going over time. It’s impolite to your audience and the presenters after you. ‘Nuff said.

Want to avoid my list of presentation pet peeves? It’s simple. Make one point per slide, with a single graph, and a few words in the title of the slide that tells the audience the main point. If you need to compare graphs, build the more complicated structure over time, first showing one graph, then adding the next. But start with one. Your audience will thank you.

Aug 28

When the lights come up

By Allison Coffin

From all-free-download.com

From all-free-download.com

Have you ever been to a scientific talk that started, “I’d like to thank the organizers for giving me this opportunity to present my work. I’ll start with an introduction on my topic, then describe our methods…” Honestly, by this time I’ve had enough, and I’m usually checking email, or counting down until the next coffee break.

Does that make me an inattentive audience member? Maybe. But I’m not alone. How do you open your presentation in a memorable way? Here are some options.

  1. Use a memorable statistic
  2. Use a quote
  3. Ask a question
  4. Tell a story

No these aren’t original ideas, but they work, and you can open the same talk in different ways, depending on your audience. In my case, I study hearing loss. In a scientific talk, I’ll start by saying that over 10 million Americans suffer from significant hearing loss. Or, I might start by quoting Helen Keller, who said that blindness cuts you off from things, but deafness separates you from people (I’m paraphrasing here). If I’m talking to a group of students, I start by asking if they’ve ever walked out of a concert with their ears ringing (most have!). When I spoke to the Lion’s Club I started with a story about my grandmother, and some of the funny conversations we had because she couldn’t hear well. In each case, I follow my opening with a discussion about hearing loss (tailored to each audience, of course).

Does the audience always pay rapt attention? If course not – we’re human, and easily distracted by a buzzing phone or the immediate need to locate the perfect snack. Still, starting strong helps – our audience is with us at the beginning, and might stay with us for the rest of the ride.

Want to see examples of great opening lines? Check out some of these resources.

Ginger Public Speaking, with opening lines from TED talks.

More powerful openings, from Sparkol.

Share your favorite opening lines!

Apr 13

The Adversity of Neurodiversity

By Joseph Seuferling, WSU Vancouver Neuroscience student

“My name is (insert name here), and I’m an addict”. Chances are that you’ve never heard this introductory statement unless you’re a regular attendee of Narcotics Anonymous (N.A.) or Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) meetings. Such a blunt introduction is common practice for recovering addicts who participate in a 12-step recovery program. What might be a shocking introduction to most is actually an exercise in addiction recovery that facilitates acceptance of one’s addictive nature. Many practices of recovering addicts are difficult for society to understand, leading to various misconceptions.



A controversial concept, termed neurodiversity, aims to recognize neurological conditions, such as drug addiction or attention deficit disorder (ADD), as human variation rather than disease. This concept has created much debate, especially among those attempting to “cure” these conditions instead of emphasizing any strengths or weakness associated with them. Those battling with drug addiction are taught by society to hide the condition, rather than promote facing adversity and attaining sobriety. Many people with drug addiction are also diagnosed with other mental disorders, which is described as having comorbidity. If drug addiction is associated with various neurological conditions, then is our society completely missing the issue? Professionals continue treating symptoms of these conditions and ignore the holistic person.

At a younger age, I was given the opportunity through a high school program to participate in workshops with adults recovering from drug addiction. The workshops involved discussion of life challenges, and I listened to the remarkable stories of these unique individuals. The program opened my eyes to the diversity of each person I had met, the differences in how they continue to struggle every day of their lives with drug addiction. Though, most of the time drug addiction was not their only condition, they also suffered from depression, anxiety, chronic pain, autism, and ADD. Their homes, hobbies, work, romantic relationships, family, and overall livelihood are effected by their conditions. Yet, many them are successful in obtaining sobriety and control of their lives, be it through a 12-step program or through their own volition. There is no single pathway to success with a condition such as drug addiction.

Unless you have personally dealt with drug addiction, having empathy towards those with the condition is difficult. Imagine awaking in the morning, every single day, knowing that each of those 24 hours you will have thoughts and urges to use your drug of choice. The thoughts haunt you throughout the day, during lunch and dinner, and when lying in bed before sleep. Something people don’t understand is that after 5 years, 10 years, or even 20 years of sobriety these thoughts continue, a person does not magically become “cured” of their addiction or addictive thoughts. Now, let us add comorbidity to the mix with depression, anxiety, or ADD; every day your mind is filled with thoughts of drug use, while simultaneously you have the inherent inability to focus on important tasks. On top of this, you are maintaining a job, home, family, and relationships. Surprisingly, people successfully deal with such hardship, yet society wants them to hide their condition as if it’s an embarrassment and weakness.

Neurodiversity hopes to emphasize the strengths of these people who face such adversity. Why can’t a person with ADD become a pioneer in novel teaching methods? A person with drug addiction successful in teaching or leadership? With accomplishment under the will of such conditions, these people must also possess extremely impactful positive characteristics. As an analogy, a person without these conditions is driving a car with full tread tires, while people living with depression, anxiety, drug addictions, or ADD are driving on rims. Diverse neurological populations must compensate to level with others, a feat that neurodiversity aims to recognize.

Apr 12


By Sterling Gray, WSU Vancouver Neuroscience student

If you would have asked me what neurodiversity was a couple months ago, I would most likely guess that it had something to do with the study of neurological variation. While that is not entirely wrong, the meaning of neurodiversity that has more currently been used has a much more social aspect associated with it than I had originally expected.

Neurodiversity, in the most literal sense, is the neurological differences that arise due to the natural genetic variation within the human race. This is a fact that cannot be disputed as no one person has the same neurological status as the next. Recently, in the last 20 years or so, this term has been used as a concept that the neurological differences are to be recognized as any other human variation such as eye, hair, and skin color.  This new use of the term neurodiversity is more specifically known as the neurodiversity paradigm, and relates less to the fact that every person is different and more to the idea that neurological differences should be seen as equivalent.

Currently, society seems to view others with neurological disorders such as autism and other intellectual disabilities as being neurological problems to be cured. The neurodiversity movement was founded in response to this ideology, and is actively trying to get society to accept neurological disorders as a simple variation of functioning rather than labeling people with the term “disabled”. The neurodiversity movement was founded off the autism rights movement (ARM) which began in the late 1990s, focusing on including autistic culture in society as a minority group and convincing others to accept autistic behaviors. The neurodiversity movement is mostly trying to accomplish the same goals as the ARM, but encompass all neurodiverse groups rather than autism alone.

In the past and even currently, therapies have focused on having people with neurological disorders to conform to society rather than including and accommodating for them. People with autism for example are usually expected to undergo therapies that focus on teaching neurotypical (“normal”) behaviors as opposed to teaching them coping skills. Until recently, this fact had not occurred to me, as I assume it hasn’t for many people. This is not because I have anything against people with disabilities, but rather the fact that this issue has not been readily discussed or brought up in general. If this topic were more often discussed, then inequalities among neurodiverse people would not be as prominent. I believe spreading the awareness neurodiversity is the best way to combat this issue that has been rooted into society. The more individuals aware of this problem, the more support this ideology will be able to gain; allowing for society to address the changes that need to be made to include all neurodiverse peoples.

There are a number of way you can spread awareness that do not take very much effort.

  1. Social media. Many people use social media on a day to day basis. Posting a informational video on Facebook or Twitter would be a great way for your friends and family to learn about neurodiversity.
  2. Lead by example. Just by others observing you treating neurodiverse people with respect and equality can have enough of an influence to change the way others view and treat neurodiverse people.
  3. Support those hosting events. People that are actively spreading the idea of neurodiversity in the community could always use help. Those hosting events could use volunteers or donations to support the movement and allow word to spread even more readily.

Rather than seeing neurodiverse people as having an issue, but as being different as all humans are, allows for a peaceful coexistence for everyone. The terms “retarded” and “handicaped” are becoming phased out for the negative connotation they hold against those that have neurological differences. This way people will not look down upon others that are different from the norm and others that are different don’t have to feel bad about the way they are.


Apr 12

Neurocriminology: What can a brain scan tell us about criminal behavior?

By Hannah Turner, WSU Vancouver Neuroscience student


What if I were to tell you that neuroscience could predict whether an adolescent was likely to grow up to be a criminal? Or that scanning the brain of a criminal could predict the likelihood of recidivism, especially in cases involving violent offenders? Are you able believe that such a fate could be determined by your brain?


From nytimes.com

From nytimes.com

Neurocriminology is a developing subdiscipline of neuroscience that looks to answer these questions. Neurocriminologists seeks to better understand and establish the neurobiological basis of criminal behavior by exploring correlations between anatomy and functionality of the brain and the occurrence of crime. Criminal behavior is a significant threat to public health and there are considerable social and economic costs to incarceration. Further dissecting the “why” of criminal behavior and crimes committed using neuroscience could have substantial benefits to our society as a whole. Developing a neurobiological profile of a criminal could allow for the prediction and even the eventual prevention of crime in cases of timely intervention.


Psychopathy, also known as anti-social personality disorder, can be a significant predictor of violence and criminal behavior. The disorder tends to emerge in childhood and is characterized by a variety of symptoms including lack of empathy, impulsivity and flat affect. Psychopaths as a whole are up to twenty-five times more likely to be incarcerated and up to eight times more likely to violently recidivate after release compared to the non-psychopathic population. They can be viewed as a sizeable strain on society when you consider the violent acts they sometimes commit against innocents and the economic costs associated with their incarceration.


As neurocriminologists have begun to explore the minds of psychopaths using imaging techniques, they have found striking abnormalities in certain regions. Dysfunction has been seen across many studies in the frontal cortex, orbitofrontal cortex and the amygdala specifically, which are all implicated in moral judgement and decision making. With increasing reliability of the neurobiological profiles that researchers are building, we are getting closer to painting an accurate picture of the brain of a psychopath. If brain scans were to be used to determine if an incarcerated criminal was truly a psychopath, they could be a tool to evaluate the likelihood of recidivism. This technique could be especially helpful in instances when violent offenders are up for parole and being considered for release into society. But does this violate the rights of criminals? Would any criminal volunteer to have their brain scanned and chance being labeled as a psychopath? Would it be ethical to make scans like this mandatory?


From upenn.edu

From upenn.edu

There are other applications of these profiles being developed by neurocriminologists and researchers that are even more problematic. Given that the disorder tends to emerge in childhood, the brains of children exhibiting violent tendencies or a lack of empathy could be scanned to evaluate for markers of psychopathy or criminality. Although this presents an opportunity for intervention early on in life when the brain is more plastic, it clearly raises some questions. Is it appropriate to label a child as a psychopath? To be placed into a category that has such negative connotations and stigma so early on in life could be a substantial disadvantage. A child of course is unable to consent to such a thing, so is it appropriate for parents to submit their children for these kinds of studies?


In many ways neurocriminology sounds like a tool that could be used to protect society at large, but advances will come with ever steeper costs and continually perplexing ethical questions. As this subdiscipline of neuroscience progresses there will be more opportunities to protect public interests, although often times this could be at the cost of the rights of an individual. Neurocriminology presents an unexpected dichotomy between public health interests and the freedoms that we have as American citizens.



Apr 10

Affordable & Professional Scientific Communication 101

By Cole Dawson, WSU Vancouver Neuroscience student

Cole pic1


When you need to present information to a large audience on a budget, turn to posters. Not familiar with the ins and out of poster making? Don’t worry, I’ve got some tools to take to your next poster session that will make you appear organized and professional. To start off, what are posters used for? Posters are a great way to put your research into the public eye without needing to provide all the text heavy paragraphs in the published paper itself. Scientists use poster sessions to lay out the methods and outcomes of their research, often occurring at conferences in a sea of other presenters. How can you stand out at these poster sessions with thousands of others trying to get their research out into the world? I’ve laid out 7 major steps to follow when putting together a poster that, if followed correctly, will help represent your data in the best way possible.

  • Plan, Plan, Plan: This can’t be stressed enough. Beginning with the due date allows you to make proper milestones to attack your goal. The best part about planning the poster production, this gives time for critiques from peers to help create a simplistic, attractive, and eye-popping poster. Also, understanding that printing doesn’t always goes as planned. Make sure to give yourself proper time prior the when the poster needs to be printed.
  • Know the Guidelines: Imagine preparing for a 2×3 poster to find out you need to adjust the material to a 4×8 poster. Knowing the size of the poster plays a key role in just how much information you can present.
  • https://www.elsevier.com/__data/assets/image/0015/35043/Figure-2.jpg


    Graphics: The whole point of the poster is to use images and graphics to illustrate the story, initiate conversation. The goal of viewing a poster is to get the main point from the research, get a chance to speak with the researchers or collaborators, and not spend most your time reading. Take advantage of being able to color bars or lines that strongly emphasize the take home of each figure. There should be no more than 6 figures included in the poster, only use graphs that help truly emphasize what’s important! The most important part of including these figures is that they’re understandable. Can you easily get the takeaway from this graph or do you just lose interest? I’m sure this graph contains valuable data, maybe this is something that can be done with the addition of another graph to reduce just how convoluted it is. As scientists, it can be difficult to reconfigure how we communicate with others that don’t have the same background information that we do. Therefore, it’s important that you can explain these figures in a succinct and clear manner.

  • Text: When it comes to text, less is more. Don’t inundate your poster with so much text that passersby feels like they’re reading a novel, you should use 24-point font with nothing flashy. Most importantly, utilize bullet points! These help the reader understand the main takeaway from a section while you have the understanding to go deeper than the bullet points, if necessary. When making a poster using PowerPoint, you can zoom the material into 100% to get an idea of what the poster looks like once printed. A good rule of thumb is the 3-foot rule. This means that people should be able to see what you’re presenting 3-feet from your poster, seems simple right?
  • Headings and Titles: A title or heading should be used to guide viewers through the poster and summarize the findings. The heading should be used to drive home the main point.
  • Poster Size: Once you know the dimensions of the poster requirement for your conference or showcase, utilize all the space you can. A good way to gauge the quality of content is to have roughly 20% of your poster as “empty space”.
  • Colors: Contrast is the major key when putting together a poster but you never want to take advantage of all the options in the drop-down box that has more colors than you can count. Make sure to keep the colors somewhere between two and three throughout the poster.

These rules for quality poster presentation have time and time again been shown to produce high quality poster sessions that bring people back wanting more. Remember, the most common mistakes you can make in constructing a poster are flooding the poster with text, using a font far too small, and not planning for the appropriate dimensions. So much time and effort goes into collecting data, analyzing results, and drawing conclusions from the work. So when you’re storyboarding and compiling all the info you want to properly represent your hard work with, do you want to end up with a poster like this or this? You want to make sure you represent your hard work well. You put all the effort into collecting all the numbers and compiling data – show what you’re worth!

Apr 09

Working with visual aids

By Kathleen Darling, WSU Vancouver Neuroscience student

One of the most prevalent struggles in the scientific community today, regardless of discipline, is that of getting your message across. After all the hard work, designing experiments, acquiring funding, collecting data, running analysis. None of it truly matters if your science can’t reach an audience. But presenting your raw data is sure to get head scratches, and you can’t very well walk each and every person through the bulk of your research. This leads to the importance of visual aids in the world of science. Visual aids allow for the swift and simple translation of your content to a general audience. When used properly, they enhance a presentation, making it more memorable, and therefore more effective.

From http://i0.kym-cdn.com/entries/icons/original/

From http://i0.kym-cdn.com/entries/icons/original/

Learning how and when to use visual aids can be tricky. Too much content, you can end up with a jumbled mess. Too little thought put into the aesthetics, and you may end up with something like this. So, how do we avoid this dreaded pit of illegibility and make it to the promised land of audience engagement? There are three key things to keep in mind.

One: Clarity. Your Sanskrit font may look funky, but how does it look from the back row of your presentation? The neon colors on the chart looked eye catching, but after a few seconds, they’re giving everyone a headache. Always be considering the perspective of your viewers when creating visual aids. If people can’t look at your content and immediately see a clear message, you’ve wasted everyone’s time. Having a good grasp on graphic design is a quick way to make visual aids that capture interest, without being abrasive.

Kathleen graphic

Two: Simplicity. Don’t show in a thirty slide PowerPoint what you could manage in five. Don’t cram a poster with multiple graphs when you can consolidate it into one. That is to say, when putting together your content, always be sure you’re asking yourself, “what is this adding to my presentation?” Is it relevant content? Think about the main point you’re trying to get across. If the visual aid you’ve created isn’t enhancing that point, it’s not doing you or your audience any favors.

Three: Presentation. Remember, visual aids are just that, an aid. The bulk of your presentation will still be you, presenting. There’s no need to add words to your slides you’re going to speak to your audience. Visual aids should contain only information it would be impossible for you to communicate otherwise. You aren’t leading a book club, you’re giving a speech, and you should treat it as such. Keeping words on your visual aids to a minimum ensures that your audience is focusing on what you’re saying.

In keeping these concepts in mind, you can create content that takes your complicated research and transforms it into something clear, concise, and consumable.

Apr 08

“Posterizing” Your Data

By Tammy Hilgendorf, WSU Vancouver Neuroscience Student

As a scientist you are known for your brains, but to be successful you must be able to present your findings in a meaningful way. Many times, it takes the form of a poster at a convention.  Exhausted and caffeine buzzing colleagues and potential employers are passing by and you only have seconds to grab their attention. Like it or not, they are judging your poster by its cover. Thankfully, Sandy Roberts, a professional graphic designer, has a few helpful tips when presenting your work.

White Space: Have a hierarchy. What do people need to know? This should be your biggest piece – what the eyes are drawn to. Descriptions should be summarized in eight words or less. Supporting this should be medium sized boxes, supported again by small boxes. It is important to have a larger piece with contrasting boxes of smaller size for bolstering effects. If your reader’s attention is grabbed they will read the smaller pieces. Then, organize this interconnected information with appropriate white space. Never feel the need to fill all the space.

tammy graphic 1Colors: Colors are uniquely related to mood. Therefore, pick colors that reflect the feeling you would like to evoke in your audience. For example, if your poster is on clean water, use greens and blues because they are soothing colors. If you were presenting on migraine, red and black would be appropriate as they are associated with danger or harm. For a unique feel, don’t use “straight” colors, use custom blends. For the migraine topic, try mixing the red with purple hues. Finally, when pairing colors use complementary or tertiary colors. Complementary colors are across the color wheel and tertiary colors form a triangle.

Text: Stay in your lane. Don’t get too fancy. The maximum fonts you want to have in presenting your research is two. As a rule of thumb, use font sizes that are derivatives of one another. If the title is 72 then subtitles should be 36. You want to make big visual steps down. Larger texts boxes may be around 24 and the smaller font 18. Your eyes will pick up on the mathematical font sizes and it will come across organized. When organizing your text, don’t center everything. It complements to have right-aligned text with centered text.

Tammy graphic 2



Know Your Audience: Graphic designers have learned to be mindful of their audience when advertising, especially cross-culturally. For example, when Gerber Baby Food started selling their product in Africa, they used the same packaging that was used in the United States. The cute Gerber baby’s face plastered on every jar of baby food stocked the grocery shelves. Unfortunately, in Africa due to high illiteracy rates, they label their products with images of its contents. You can imagine their horror! The same caution can be applied when scientists are conversing with individuals outside their field of study. Get points across with verbiage familiar to your audience. Otherwise you are going to lose your audience like the Africans lost their appetite.

These simple steps can help you educate the public about your work using a colorful, structured, and organized approach. A poster is the key to dissemination of scientific research and creating a good poster is crucial for educating the public about exciting new research.



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