Sci was at a conference last week. It was a REALLY good time. As Sci advances in grad school, I feel I am beginning to come into my own, and it’s a good feeling, esp when you can walk around feeling like you have a posse of fellow grad students and post-docs who all want to collaborate.
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 them, and I say…I say…oh CRAP. Once in a while, though, the genius does come out, and then I feel that verily, Sci has BLINDED YOU WITH SCIENCE this day.
Last year at a similar conference, I ended up compiling a list of things that one should REALLY try to avoid if at all possible when giving a conference talk. There are more to add, every single time. Behold, the bad, the ugly, and the presentations guaranteed to give your eager listeners a headache:
The 19 things (and counting) you should NEVER do in a powerpoint presentation.
1) Do NOT spend your entire presentation with your back to the audience (I cannot tell you how many times Sci see this, presenters spending 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. Similar for neon yellow with pink. YIKES.
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 recent president. It is not pronounced “nuke-ulus accumbens” (AUGH, REPEAT OFFENDERS!!!)
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) If you don’t know what to do with your hands, do NOT use then to wave your laser pointer at the screen all the time. You end up with the dreadful, circling laser pointer, like a buzzard over your data. It’s one thing to circle the data your talking about, and that’s good. It’s quite another to have it circling your entire slide, slowly, over and over and over. Use when you need to, and the rest of the time, PUT IT DOWN. BACK AWAY SLOWLY.
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.
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) I realize that big bad famous profs give a lot of presentations, but please have the courtesy to prep a little. I’m saying, if the presentation is 20 minutes, give a 20 minute talk, not a 40 minute talk that you won’t make it through and have to skip through the last 20 slides worth of data. We will either assume that, despite your experience, you can’t manage your time, or (more likely) that this is your “stock” talk, that you give all the time, and you (or your post-doc) couldn’t be bothered to put something new together. It’s not THAT hard. And here’s a hint: you know it’s going to be too long when you start giving your outline and you’re already 10 minutes in.
18) Even if you did it at the last minute, KNOW your SLIDES. I actually heard a “hey, how did THAT get in here…”
19) And never, never, please never, begin or end your talk with a variation on “it’s my first talk, and I’m totally nervous”. *eyeroll*. In the best case scenario, we should not be able to TELL it was your first talk. We should assume you’ve got lots of experience. Being told that you don’t know what you’re doing doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. Statements like that don’t earn you sympathy.
Next up: presentations, the data blitz edition.