And Now, a Powerpoint Presentation

I am currently at a conference, wherein we get no sleep and drink far too much.  I’m sure this is not peculiar of my field. 

It’s an exciting time, learning the latest stuff, seeing the newest methods, and meeting famous people.  It’s the craziest thing running into some of these professors.  I’ve read all of their papers, I desperately try to meet all their grad students and postdocs, and my only goal is to see the famous person and say something GENIUS, something that will make them remember me and think that I’ve got promise.  And then I meet the famous person, and instead of this grey-haired giant, this wise scientific paragon, I see…a tiny little Japanese lady, dressed to the nines and with the most offensive purse I’ve ever seen (rainbow sequins).  A lively, geeky guy, with glasses, bounding around and excited about everyone.  A sweet, charming mother of two, who wins everyone over and then tells them all about her children, and adds in just WHAT is wrong with their experiments.  Of course, some of them are the grey-haired gods, in suits and with cultured accent.  But the new old school seems to be ripped jeans and iPhones. 

In the afternoon session, I got bored.  And in my boredom and jetlag, I have compiled a list.  A list of things that you shall NOT do during your big presentation in front of 350 people.  A  scienceblog did one recently, but unfortunately I am afraid I am too jetlagged and out of it to link to it.  If someone knows what I’m talking about, let me know.  But the current list as it stands is below, though I am sure much will be added to it.

1) Do NOT spend your entire presentation with your back to the audience (two of them did, spent the entire time staring up at their powerpoints, gesturing vaguely with their arms).
2) Never use pale green on a white background to emphasize a point, unless you want to emphasize our eyestrain.
3) There is no reason to give a “I will talk about intro, methods, data, and conclusions” outline when you talk will be 20 minutes or less.
4) Make sure you can pronounce brain areas better than our current president.  It is not pronounced “nuke-ulus accumbens”.
5) You have a WHOLE SCREEN!  All to yourself, you lucky guy!  Use it!  Do not make your graph a tiny square in the middle that no one can see from the third row back.
6) You may not want to use the acetylcholine abbreviation ‘Ach’ if you are Scottish.  Otherwise we read it and think you’re exclaiming about something “sensitivity, ach!”
7) There is NEVER an excuse for a semicolon in a powerpoint.  Ever.
8) If you must use a screen capture, have the grace to crop the image so that we don’t have to see the remnants of your Google toolbar. 
9) Check your powerpoint for misspellings before you talk in front of several hundred people.  If you screwed up it might be “extreem”.
10) Try not to leave your mouse arrow hanging out in the middle of the screen for 3/4 of your talk.
11) Avoid the happy trigger finger for your slide advancer.  Damn!  You just gave away that really cool graphic on the next slide!  For the fourth time. 

And the quote of the day “Animal research and human research have many differences that have to be overcome.  For instance, in most of the human population, we aren’t dealing with highly inbred strains, but of course there are exceptions.”

EDIT:  I have MORE!  From yet more presentations that I have endured.

12) DO NOT write it down, read it aloud, and follow it with your pointer. Honestly, at this point you might as well not be there at all.
13) If your hand is shaking, don’t try to hold the pointer still over your slide, we’re all going to see it and realize how incredibly freaked out you are. Or, being neuroscientists, we will try to diagnose you will Parkinson’s.
14) I realize that you might have a monotone voice in your normal daily life, but TRY to vary it up when you give a presentation. We’re exhausted, and all the caffeine in the world is not going to make us alert when you sound like the teacher from ‘Peanuts.’
15) There are things called ‘crutch-words’. You should…um…know what your…um…crutch…um…words are…um…they can be really…um…distracting.
16) There is such a thing as too much animation. Just because *flash* your powerpoint *fly in* can do it *underline* doesn’t mean *wave like a flag* that it SHOULD *spin*. Also, if you have animations, know where they are so they don’t catch you by surprise and make it obvious to everyone that you’re giving a talk that was actually written by your post-doc.
17) It’s fine if you want to be cool and casual for your presentation, but keep your shirt buttoned. I don’t need to see a famous professor’s chest hair. Or excessive cleavage. It goes both ways.

11 Responses

  1. Great post! There’s no excuse for presentations to suck like this, thanks for your insights. BTW, my brother just took a job at Southeastern.


  2. I have another (admittedly, a pet peeve): Do not spend the entire presentation READING YOUR SLIDES. If you’re presenting at an academic conference, please make the logical leap that most of your audience has had enough education to be capable of reading unassisted. TALK ABOUT THE SLIDES INSTEAD.
    Not sure if this one has happened there. Hope you’re having a great time – remember, you can sleep on the plane ride home. 😉

  3. Hi Nancy! I actually don’t go to Southeastern, I’m just at A southeastern university, for anonymity purposes. Congrats to your brother!

    Cobalt: OH YES, I have seen more of the slide reading than I can even count. It’s so common that we don’t even think about it any more.

  4. I remember having to endure presentations given in graduate classes over the last two years (by students, usually). I’ll add a couple more to your list:

    18. Not everyone chooses to use PowerPoint. However, you must have some kind of visual. The sound of your voice is NOT enough to keep people interested.

    19. Don’t – and I mean, don’t – make your “visual” a printed hand-out sheet that will then keep your audience looking away from you the entire time.

    20. For the love of G-d, please do NOT just get up there and repeat verbatim what is in the text of your presentation. We can read.

  5. read tufte! cognitive style of powerpoint.

    he’s hilarious, and it goes far beyond what you’ve recognized (though there’s a lot of overlap). they had us read him in masters, and it helped immensely.

  6. You are wise to pick these up so early in your career. As you saw, some people continue such offenses throughout their careers.

    Dr. Isis

  7. […] life, and the first issue can be found at Blog Around the Clock.  I got two posts in!  My powerpoint presentation don’ts have apparently been approved, as well as my recent post on animal research.  There are other […]

  8. “or excessive cleavage.”

    Well, it kinda depends on whose and how boring the talk is, doesn’t it?

  9. Hi Jim! I think the goal would be to give such a good talk that cleavage wouldn’t be necessary. 🙂 If you’re displaying cleavage during your talk, you clearly don’t think your presentation of your work is enough on its own.

  10. I just finished building (and struggling with) a PPT, and so greatly enjoyed the blog on the subject. Neuro/Theatre/History – the subject may change, but the points you make stay the same.

  11. I’m adding this particular blog post to my Speech and Communication classes list of “must reads.”

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