Conference Presentations Steve Wallace
The person who presents the research gets the credit • Paul Chu: first superconductor with a boiling point above liquid nitrogen • Maw-Kuen Wu and Jim Ashburn declined to speak and are not remembered
The presenter gets the credit Zhengzhi Sheng, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Arkansas, discovered another superconductor at an even higher temperature. Because Sheng was not a good speaker, the department chair, Allen Hermann, spoke at the press conference. Although Hermann repeatedly acknowledged the contribution of Sheng, Hermann was the one who received most of the credit.
Bad conference presentations • You’ve seen poor conference presentations • The speaker: • Sits • Reads • Speaks in a dead, low voice • Uses sentences which are long and complex • Uses technical words and phrases. • Emphasizes complicated details • Runs out of time
Principles of effective conference presentations • Talk, instead to reading • Stand up • Move around • Make eye contact with your audience • Don’t only look at one side of the room • Imitate excellent speakers • An effective talk must do two things: • Persuade you audience with evidence • Be interesting and entertaining.
Why do smart people give poor talks? • Poor speaking is a reaction to fear. • Presentations are not journal articles. They're a completely different communication, and they require different skills.
Bohr vs. Nusslein-Volhard Bohr: “Whereas Einstein tried to grasp a hidden essence by disregarding anything he thought irrelevant, Bohr insisted that nothing be left out.” – Edward MacKinnon “Bohr was much worse. His failing was that he used too many words to express any idea, wandering about as he spoke, often inaudibly.” – Sir Mark Oliphant Nusslein-Volhard: Scope moves from simple to specific Simple short sentences
Bohr’s Nobel prize acceptance speech “Today, as a consequence of the great honor the Swedish Academy of Sciences has done me in awarding me this year’s Nobel Prize for Physics for my work on the structure of the atom, it is my duty to give an account of the results of this work, and I think that I shall be acting in accordance with the traditions of the Nobel Foundation if I give this report in the form of a survey of the development which has taken place in the last few years within the field of physics to which this work belongs.”
Nies Bohr: Nobel prize acceptance • “The present state of atomic theory is characterized by the fact that we not only believe the existence of atoms to be proved beyond a doubt, but also we even believe that we have an intimate knowledge of the constituents of the individual atoms. I cannot on this occasion give a survey of the scientific developments that have led to this result—I will only recall the discovery of the electron toward the close of the last century, which furnished the direct verification and led to the conclusive formulation of the conception of the atomic nature of electricity which had evolved since the discovery by Faraday of the fundamental laws of electrochemical theory, and its greatest triumph in the electrolytic dissociation theory of Arrhenius.”
Einstein on Bohr Bohr stated “his opinions like one perpetually groping and never like one who believes himself to be in possession of definite truth.”
Christine Nusslein-Volhard • In the life of animals, complex forms alternate with simple ones. An individual develops from a simple one-celled egg that bears no resemblance on the complex structure and pattern displayed in the juvenile and adult form. The process of embryonic development with its highly ordered increase in complexity accompanied by perfect reproducibitiy, is controlled by a subset of the animal genes. Animals have a large number of genes. The exact number is not known for any multicellular organism, nor is it known how many and which are required for the development of complexity, pattern, and shape during embryogenesis. To identify these genes and to understand their functions is a major issue in biological research.
Scientific presenters • Successful scientific presenters • Ludwig Boltzmann • Albert Einstein • Richard Feynman • Rita Levi-Montalcini • Linus Pauling • Became strong presenters later in their careers • Heinrich Hertz, • J. Robert Oppenheimer • Chien-Shiung Wu • Rise above those obstacles to make successful presentations • Marie Curie
Michael Faraday on presenting “[Lectures] depend entirely for their value on the manner in which they are given. It is not the matter, not the subject, so much as the man.”
Scientists who used analogies, examples, and stories Otto Frisch when describing the size of a nucleus: “If an atom were enlarged to the size of a bus, the nucleus would be like the dot on this i.” Einstein used the analogy of “shooting sparrows in the dark”7 to describe the likelihood of producing nuclear energy with alpha particles striking nitrogen nuclei. Fred Soechting when describing his work with turbine blades in gas turbine engines: “The amount of power produced by a single gas turbine blade equals that of a Masarati sports car.”8
Issac Asimov on Linus Pauling “On March 21, 1949, I attended a lecture given by Linus Pauling.... That talk was the best talk by anyone on any subject that I had ever heard…. The talk was more than a talk to me. It filled me with a desire of my own to become a speaker.”
James Watson on Pauling’s presentations “Pauling’s talk was made with his usual dramatic flair. The words came out as if he had been in show business all his life. A curtain kept his model hidden until near the end of his lecture, when he proudly unveiled his latest creation. Then, with his eyes twinkling, Linus explained the specific characteristics that made his model—the α-helix—uniquely beautiful…. Even if he were to say nonsense, his mesmerized students would never know because of his unquenchable self-confidence.”
David L. Goodstein on Robert Feynman “[Feynman] absolutely riveted the attention of everyone in the room for the entire time he was there. His need to do that helps explain some of the racy stories he liked to tell about himself, but it also lies close to the core of what made him a great teacher. For Feynman, the lecture hall was a theater, and the lecturer a performer, responsible for providing drama and fireworks as well as facts and figures. This was true regardless of his audience, whether he was talking to undergraduates or graduate students, to his colleagues or the general public.”
Professor David Goodstein on Robert Feynman “But even when he thought he was explaining things lucidly to freshmen or sophomores, it was not always really they who benefited most from what he was doing. It was more often us, scientists, physicists, professors, who would be the main beneficiaries of his magnificent achievement, which was nothing less than to see all of physics with fresh new eyes.”
Oppenheimer’s early lectures Consider J. Robert Oppenheimer’s early lectures given at California-Berkeley in 1929. Only twenty-five years old, but already well known for his work on the quantum theory, Oppenheimer began his teaching that first semester with a class full of eager graduate students. Halfway through the semester, though, the number of students registered for his course had dropped to one.
Daniel J. Kelves on Robert Oppenheimer “Desperately eager to reach his students, his sensitivities sharpened by his own past difficulties, Oppenheimer made it a point to pay as much attention to the troubles of his charges as to the intricacies of his subject. His language evolved into an oddly eloquent mixture of erudite phrases and pithy slang, and he learned to exploit the extraordinary talent for elucidating complex technical matters.”
Result of Oppenheimer’s practice Later students found him to be “the most stimulating lecturer they had experienced.”
Nobel Prize winner Hans Bethe about Oppenheimer • “Probably the most important ingredient Oppenheimer brought to his teaching was his exquisite taste. He always knew what were the important problems, as shown by his choice of subjects. He truly lived with those problems, struggling for a solution, and he communicated his concern to the group.”
Lise Meitner on Ludwig Boltzmann (the developer of the statistical treatment of atoms) “Boltzmann had no inhibitions whatsoever about showing his enthusiasm when he spoke, and this naturally carried his listeners along. He was fond of introducing remarks of an entirely personal character into his lectures.”
Lise Meitner on Ludwig Bolzmann “[The lecturing of Boltzmann] was the most beautiful and stimulating thing I have ever heard.... He was so enthusiastic about everything he taught us that one left every lecture with the feeling that a completely new and wonderful world had been revealed.”
Eve Curie on her mother Marie Curie “On Monday and Wednesday, my mother was nervous and agitated from the time she got up. At five o’clock on these days she lectured. After lunch she shut herself into her study in the Quai de Béthune, prepared the lesson, and wrote the heads of chapters of her lecture on a piece of white paper. Towards half-past four she would go to the laboratory and isolate herself in a little rest room. She was tense, anxious, unapproachable. Marie had been teaching for twenty-five years; yet every time she had to appear in the little amphitheater before twenty or thirty pupils who rose in unison at her entrance she unquestionably had “stage fright.”
10 tips to develop confidence in conference presentations • Expect to be nervous • Prepare • Practice • Breathe • Rehearse • Focus on your audience • Simplify • Picture success • Connect with your audience • Pretend to be confident
Voice quality • You should vary your voice, so it can be more interesting for your audience. You can vary your voice in at least three ways: • speed: Speak at a normal speed, faster, more slowly, and you can stop completely! You can also pause to get your audience's attention. • tone: Change the pitch of your voice. Speak in a high tone or speak in a low tone. • volume: you can speak at a normal volume, loudly and you can speak quietly. Lowering your voice and speaking quietly can attract your audience's interest. • The important point is not to speak in the same, flat voice throughout your presentation. This will put your audience to sleep.
Face the audience and speak loudly and clearly • Don’t look at your slides makes you to speak to the screen. This quiets your voice and breaks your contact with the audience. • Look at slides on your laptop screen in front of you • If you must look at the main screen, look at it quickly and then face the audience. • Makesimple slides with short text, so you won’t have trouble knowing where you are when you quickly look at the screen.
Think about your presentation goals • In conference talks you should have at least two goals: • leave your audience with a clear picture of your contribution, • make them want to read your paper.
Focus on the main points Your audience is not going to remember details. So, less is more. You do not need to provide all the background on how you reached this interpretation. You do not need to defend the validity of your idea. You don't need to give a literature review. Give short, take-home points that they’ll remember. They can always read your paper later, but if you don’t interest them, they will not read it. Don't summarize popular ideas. Don't assume that a critic familiar to you is familiar to everyone else. Consider the audience to whom you are speaking.
Think about your audience • Most audiences should be targeted in layers: • some are experts in your specific area, • some are experts in the general area • others know little or nothing. • Who is most important to you? Can you still leave others with something? For example, target the body to experts, but make the prediction and summary to everybody.
Timeline showing presenter reaching multiple audiences by beginning at surface of the topic, diving into a subject, and then surfacing to gather entire audience.
Audience attention Don’t try to say too much, use handouts for all supplemental materials. Never go longer than 45 minutes — most people’s maximum attention span. If you exceed this limit, you’ll lose them at the crucial point; your conclusion.
Have a timing device • Use a watch or cell phone with a timing function. • PowerPoint’s “Presenter Tools” has a stopwatch. The problem is remembering to start the stopwatch at the beginning of your talk. • Develop your sense of timing by always using the same slide format. • Decide in advance which slides you can skip • As a beginning speaker, don’t leave your outline • Don’ttry to do something unplanned during a talk. • Practice telling a joke or a story and make your audience think you just thought of it
A short conference talk outline Title/author/university (1 slide) Abstract (1 slide) -Give the basic problem and answer. Outline (1 slide) -Give the talk structure. Motivation and Problem Statement (1-2 slides) -Why does anyone care? Related Work (0-1 slides) -Talk briefly about this, or you can eliminate this section and refer people to your paper. Methods (1 slide) -Cover quickly in short talks and refer people to your paper. Results (4-6 slides) -Present key results with implications. This is the main body of the talk. Do not cover all the results. Cover the key result well. Summary (1 slide) Future Work (0-1 slides) Backup Slides (0-3 slides)
Using quotes in your speech If you quote another source, pause and indicate the quote by saying "quote . . . . . end quote." Don't use long quotes or quote too much material. Your audience wants your ideas, not what you have found from others. If it is necessary to include long quotes, give the audience a handout Read the speech out loud as you revise. Be careful criticizing other scholars.
About PowerPoint • PowerPoint saves time compared to writing on the whiteboard. • Don’t use all PowerPoint’s fades, transitions, backgrounds and sound effects. • Talk to the audience, not the screen • One of the worst presenter mistakes is to face the screen while talking. If you do this, the audience will be looking at your back, and they won't be able to hear you.
Prepare for computer problems • many things can go wrong with the computer, the projector, the software, the connector cables, your USB, or your presentation. • Don’t assume that what works on a PC will work on a Mac. • Don’t assume your host will have the same version of PowerPoint that you do. • Bring backup • Begin making backups several days before the talk. • Use a USB, a CDROM, or some other common format. • Internet backup isn't reliable, you can't be sure you'll have a connection. • Bring printed notes or outlines • If the computer or the projector dies in the middle of your talk, you'll have no time to fix it. • Be prepared to deliver your talk without the slides. Bring printed notes.
Other presentation problems • Someone asks a question about an issue you plan to discuss later. • Answer the question briefly, and say you plan to go into detail later. • You lose your thought in mid-sentence. • Smile, say "excuse me" and start again. • You plan to go through a handout page by page but people are moving ahead of your speech. • Don't give handouts until after the presentation is over. • Give people a rough idea of where different parts are located, then people are more likely to stay with you. • Your throat dries out • Roll a tiny piece of paper into a small ball and place it between your gum and your facial tissue in the back of your mouth. It will stimulate the flow of saliva.
Someone starts a private conversation while you are speaking. • First, ask if there are questions. • Second, ask if you can do anything to clarify. • If they will not stop, continue your presentation but move nearer to them. Lower your voice or pause. • Notice your audience and respond to their needs • Take control of the environment • Distribute copies of your paper
Conference presenters can use humor to help the audience: • Remember the main points • See the big picture • Retain information longer • Interact with members of the audience • Present a sensitive idea without the audience getting angry • Feel free to express themselves • Humor takes practice • You need to make a connection with the audience by promoting interaction and openness. • You can develop humor by talking to some of the audience before the presentation
Inappropriate humor for conferences: • Don’t do the following in conference presentations: • Use prepared jokes that have no connection to your purpose • Read your jokes and stories. • Laugh at your own jokes; or start laughing before you tell them. • Announce that you are going to tell a joke; and apologize if it is bad. • Criticize the audience for not laughing. • Tell stories that make fun of others or make them look bad. • Act like you are better than others. • Use humor that the audience may not understand. • Embarrass people. • Tell dirty stories.
Don’t Write Everything and Read • Your PowerPoint presentation should: • Clarify ideas • Emphasize key points • Show relationships • Provide visual information to ensure the audience understands your message
Slides Should be Short Slides help you, and your audience, follow the flow of the talk. Not too full: 6 lines of text per slide is enough; 9 lines is a lot; 12 lines is unreadable. Bullet points should be a few words, not complete sentences. If you need more space, use more slides.
Use Big Type . Change the font size in the Preferences of the browser, when using a web presentation.
Determining Font Size Your audience may be look at the screen from 70 feet away. Fonts should be 24 points or larger
Choosing a Font From a distance, you’ll notice that the serif (Times) font and the ‘narrow’ or condensed font are more difficult to read.Don’t sacrifice readability for style. Your job is to communicate.