I have a growing list, the more conferences that I go to, of things that one should REALLY not do when giving a conference talk. Sadly, I see these things all the time. The good thing about this is that when I see a really good presentation, my socks are knocked off and I am inspired. The bad thing about this is that I have to see all the bad stuff that leaves my eyes rolling. Every year I add to this list, and there’s ALWAYS more to add. Behold, the bad, the ugly, and the presentations guaranteed to give your eager listeners a headache:
The 21 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”. If you are a PI, make sure you can pronounce your people’s names (YES, I have seen this), and DO NOT make fun of their names if they are unusual or foreign (seen this, too, you’d really think you wouldn’t have to warn people).
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. This can be aided by holding the pointer and then holding your arm with your other hand, or by moving the pointer in a slow glide, not trying to keep it in one place.
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. Speak slowly. Enunciate. And do not let your voice drop in volume at the end of your sentences. This is a really common, most people don’t realize they are doing it.
20. Unless you have a good reason, do not begin or end your talk with “and that’s my FIRST TALK!” I have seen people start a talk with “it is my first talk” as a way to explain they do not speak English well (or another language if they are speaking in that language). THAT is a good reason, and people are always very understanding. What I’m against is the young students bounding up there and saying, at the end of their presentation “it’s my very first talk!” in a LITTLE BABY VOICE. Yes, I saw this. What do you want, a cookie?
21. Don’t dress in a way that’s distracting. Most people would instantly think of ladies and tiny skirts and cleavage, but I’m thinking of the guy who wore a dress shirt, partially unbuttoned (like three or four down), so that his chest hair could froth forth in truly luxuriant fashion. I don’t remember a word of his talk, but BOY do I remember his chest hair (obviously, some people cannot help that, but most of them would not intentionally unbutton their shirts before a talk, either). There are also interesting stories of dudes in kilts…
Anyone else got any tips? Do’s? Don’ts?