Presentations

presentation offences (10)

1. Having more slides in your deck than you actually speak to.

2. Having more text on your slides than you actually say.

3. Lack of ‘signposts’.

4. Complete lack of imagery.

5. Failure to visualise your work.

6. Failure to demonstrate relevance.

7. Using note-taking lingo as an abbr. strategy.

8. Bad design.

9. Reading from your slides.

10. Not knowing what’s coming next… or, failure to have done a practice run.

Like offence no. 1, both professors and amateurs can be guilty of this.

For the professor who commits this offence, I suspect it’s because you’ve had some underling put together the slide-deck. So you stand up full of confidence that you know all about the topic and assume you can speak to the presentation. But the thing is, if you haven’t looked at it before you get up, things are never in exactly the right order.

You’ll end up either flicking forward and back as you discover (on the spot) how you really want to tell the story or hit a speed bump every time you move to the next slide and wonder ‘What is this meant to contribute?’. Neither is at all conducive to a gripping presentation.

For the amateur who commits this offence, I suspect it’s because it just feels a bit weird to deliver the talk to yourself in the mirror. I promise you, if you are too scared to hear your own voice giving the presentation in an empty room, you will be terrified about opening your mouth in a room full of your contemporaries and role-models at a conference.

Rehearsing also helps you figure out the best moment to move from slide to slide and lodges it in your head so your nerves won’t get the better of you when you’re delivering it for real.

The bottom line is: respect the time your audience is putting in to coming, and make the most of having them there — ie. know what you want to say!

presentation offences (9)

1. Having more slides in your slide-deck than you actually speak to.

2. Having more text written on your slides than you actually say.

3. Lack of ‘signposts’.

4. Complete lack of imagery.

5. Failure to visualise your work.

6. Failure to demonstrate relevance.

7. Using note-taking lingo as an abbr. strategy.

8. Bad design.

9. Reading from your slides.

I actually don’t find it terribly offensive at an academic conference if presenters read. If you’ve carefully crafted your presentation script so that you can deliver the key content in 20mins, I’ll forgive you for referring to a printed out copy on a lectern from time to time. A quick glance over your shoulder to make sure you’re up to the right slide is OK too.

But please, don’t turn around, look at the slide and read from the screen. I can’t hear you when you turn away from the mic. And I can already read what’s on the screen… Really, how hard is it to print out your slides so that they are in front of you?

presentation offences (8)

1. Having more slides in your slide-deck than you actually speak to.

2. Having more text written on your slides than you actually say.

3. Lack of ‘signposts’.

4. Complete lack of imagery.

5. Failure to visualise your work.

6. Failure to demonstrate relevance.

7. Using note-taking lingo as an abbr. strategy.

8. Bad design

I get really excited when a presentation’s about to start and the cover slide looks fab — but most of the time it’s a false start and when the presentation gets underway the content slides are cluttered and ugly.

I know you’re not a graphic designer. But slides like this are so busy I don’t know where to focus. And its just not nice to look at.

presentation_offences_8_1 

I’m not a graphic designer either, but here are some basic tricks to make your slides passably attractive:

a. Standardise everything as far as humanly possible, e.g.: make sure headings appear in exactly the same position from slide to slide; make sure your font size is the same on every slide; and make sure text boxes and images appear in similar locations. The standard slide layouts built into Keynote or Powerpoint are designed to help you do this. It’s for good reason. But you’ll want to override them, so…

b. Get familiar with how to set the position of objects exactly so that you can align them perfectly to one another and from slide to slide. In Powerpoint you go into format autoshape/object –> position and size

c. Try and use a maximum of two fonts — not to mix and match, but to distinguish between headings and body text.

d. Negative space (blank space) is your friend. Put less stuff on your slides. Aim for one message — one step in the story — per slide. Which leads on to…

e. Don’t get sucked in to thinking that there’s a magic number of slides you should use. It’s OK to have more slides than your colleagues if your slides are simple, uncluttered and you will move through them quickly while their slides are packed full of stuff and they’ll spend 5 mins talking through each slide. In fact the audience will find yours easier to digest.

f. Find some sites that produce stuff you like to look at (e.g something like StockLayouts). Use this as inspiration for things like ‘fashionable’ colour combinations and design ideas

g. Don’t be ashamed to utilise free templates available on line.

h. Read stuff by people who know what they’re doing like this or this.

i. Watch good presentations and get inspired. I get chills watching things from TED.

presentation offences (7)

1. Having more slides in your slide-deck than you actually speak to.

2. Having more text written on your slides than you actually say.

3. Lack of ‘signposts’.

4. Complete lack of imagery.

5. Failure to visualise your work.

6. Failure to demonstrate relevance.

7. Using note-taking lingo as an abbr. strategy.

The dot points on your slides should not read like dot points you would jot down in a lecture. If the statements you want to make are so long you need to use abbreviations to fit them on the slide, then spend the time to figure out how to word it better.  Please write words in full. Even if you think the abbreviation is identifyable or widely used.

questionIn other words, do not write points like these (fictional) ones:

  • Aust. gvt. must provide ++ funding for COPS
  • Comp. company releases new GIS pkg $$$
  • News article suggests unis should inc. fees –> equity issues?

Using acronyms is OK as long as they’re introduced in full the first time you use them — or if you plan to pause a moment and explain the acronym in person — although I’d encourage you to think twice about whether they are really necessary.

presentation offences (6)

1. Having more slides in your slide-deck than you actually speak to.

2. Having more text written on your slides than you actually say.

3. Lack of ‘signposts’.

4. Complete lack of imagery.

5. Failure to visualise your work.

6. Failure to demonstrate relevance.

In all likelihood, your audience will consist both of experts in your field and of people who just thought your presentation sounded interesting. You need to be able to demonstrate the relevance of your research to that latter group. If you can’t do that, you’ll never get your research into the public sphere (or even across disciplines). If you can’t do it because your research isn’t relevant, you have problems that are bigger than I can help you with.

The good news is the techniques to demonstrate relevance also tend to appeal to kinaesthetic learners (learn-by-doing) and adult learners. So, here are some ideas… if you have other tips on how to demonstrate relevance, please add them in comments!

a. “I was reading in the paper this morning…”
Reflect on current issues and how your research could contribute to debate. This is great if you actually have a physical article cut out from the paper, or scanned into your presentation. A sound bite from a radio interview, or a flim clip from the news would make a great alternative. Just make sure it’s actually recent.

b. “How many of you…”
This captures the breadth of the impact of your research. Maybe you’re an engineer — “Hands up how many people here have an iPod” — or a health researcher — “How many of you have had the flu this year?” — or a demographer — “How many of you have a friend who was born overseas?”. These kinds of non-rhetorical questions help the audience take a personal interest in what you’re about to tell them.

c “When I ask you about…what do you think of?”
This is great if your research contradicts established consensus or widely held belief. Even if you do this rhetorically, it gets the audience engaged. When I’m talking about immigration in Sydney, I find this works really well…

When you think of Lidcombe, where do you think most of the residents were born?

You picked one country/region in particular, didn’t you?

Well, actually, the suburb is really diverse:

Lidcombe_Country_of_birth

Source: ABS (2006) Census Tables: Lidcombe (State Suburb) - NSW Country of Birth of Person (minor groups) by Sex, Count of persons (excludes overseas visitors) based on place of usual residence, Cat. No. 2068.0

presentation offences (5)

1. Having more slides in your slide-deck than you actually speak to.

2. Having more text written on your slides than you actually say.

3. Lack of ‘signposts’.

4. Complete lack of imagery.

5. Failure to visualise your work.

This is different from using pictures. What I mean by visualisation is the diagrammatic representation of your work.

Indexed_card2186

Jessica Hagy on Indexed

If you’re reporting on quantitative results, this is easy. Use graphs and charts and (if you have spatial data too) maps. But even if you are presenting qualitative results — or (God forbid) pure theory — you should still be able to create some kind of visualisation. Use a flow chart, a Venn diagram, a knowledge map or a rich picture. This cute visualistion of different types of visualisations might provide some inspiration.

Everyone knows that there are different types of learners. Your presentation meets the needs of auditory learners (your voice), text/written learners (you will have text on slides) — now work a bit harder on giving visual leaners something to sink their teeth into. It is a visual medium after all.

presentation offences (4)

1. Having more slides in your slide-deck than you actually speak to.

2. Having more text written on your slides than you actually say.

3. Lack of ‘signposts’.

4. Complete lack of imagery.

Polaroid_croppedThe reason you are using slides (I hope) is because it adds a visual element to your presentation. Please use some pictures. They might be of your research site, or of you at work, or of your research subject. Or you can use images released under creative commons licences, like those available at stock.xchng or Wikipedia Commons. But please, make the most of the visual medium and move beyond text in bullet points.

presentation offences (3)

1. Having more slides in your slide-deck than you actually speak to.

2. Having more text written on your slides than you actually say.

3. Lack of ‘signposts’.

Every research presentation starts with a slide that looks, apart from the heading, exactly like this:

presentation_offences_3_1

But the thing is, this slide tells me nothing about what you’re going to argue. It tells me about your process , but not your logic. It foregrounds nothing of what you want me to go away remembering. A slide like this* would be so much better:

 presentation_offences_3_2

And don’t just use it at the start, flash it up as you move through your presentation so I know where you’re up to. You want me to nod “Ahhh, yes” as you move from step to step through your presentation.

*NB: this is a fictionalised research project slide.

presentation offences (2)

1. Having more slides in your slide-deck than you actually speak to.

2. Having more text written on your slides than you actually say. 

Your slides are not a way to sneak more content into your presentation. They ought to help you communicate your spoken content better. Use them to summarise — not expand upon — what you are going to say.

As an audience member, my response to wordy slides is to feel that I ought to read (and even transcribe) the content. When I do that, I stop listening to you.

Maybe you have text-heavy slides because you want people to be able to have something to leave with or download later. If this is the case, can I please ask that you provide a hand out instead? A hand out that is significantly different from your slides.

presentation offences

I was at a very interesting conference last week with some exceptionally bright and engaging speakers. But, with one exception, their presentation slides were woeful.

Conference_sml

So, starting with offence no. 1 today, I will post my top 10 Powerpoint-Pet-Peeves over the next 10 days, all of which featured during the conference:

1. Having more slides in your slide-deck than you actually speak to

As far as I can tell this can happen for two reasons — both of which disrespect your audience:

(a) You think you have to tell me everything.

This usually means I hear lots about the literature, your aims and your project method and you end up having to skip over the best bit — YOUR RESULTS. This is dumb.

Your results are your contribution. I want to know just enough about the literature and your aims to know that there’s a research gap and useful research question, and just enough about your method that I know your research design was valid. But what I really want to know is what you found and what implications that has for the way we think and act (in this case in the realm of social policy).

(b) You are using a set of slides you prepared for something else.

This is the result of a shameful apathy. If you haven’t even thought far enough ahead to delete the extraneous slides from your last presentation before giving this one you demonstrate just how little you care about the current presentation.

Maybe you think that the message you send when you flick past the slides that you don’t speak to is “I know lots more than I’ve got time to share with you today — respect my research prowess”. But all I hear when I sit in the audience is “I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to tell you today until I stood up here with my standard set of slides that I use for everything — I only have one presentation and I give it all the time”.