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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>