(re)emergence.

Spring is here and I am back, albeit with a desk full of things to do other than blog.

[an aside – I love spring. I don’t know if we haven’t really had spring the other places I’ve lived (the Pacific Northwest, the South, and the desert) or if it’s just that spring is even more thrilling after a long, hard, Midwestern winter, but I’ve really come to enjoy spring and I can’t believe the energy that it provides (or the fever to do anything other than work-work, I mean I’d even rather do housework right now!).]

To ensure that blogging doesn’t stand in the way of all the work that I could be doing, the following attempts to combine the two: I’d love your very best advice for preparing (and delivering) academic presentations. Such presentations, on original research projects, are the culmination of my graduate research methods course, and I would love some pointers to share with my students on how to formulate 15 minute presentations on their work (that they’ll hopefully use as presentations at future conferences). It seems to be the one place that I find the book, The Craft of Research, lacking.

8 thoughts on “(re)emergence.”

  1. Thanks, you two. I can’t believe I missed the orgtheory post. Where’s the follow-up you promised, Teppo?

    I’m with Brayden (in the orgtheory comments) that graduate school typically doesn’t train students to do this well and I’d like to do what I can in my class to rectify that.

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  2. The presenter should:
    (a) know the target audience,
    (b) explain to the target audience why they care about what’s being presented,
    (c) maintain the focus on that important thing that the audience cares about
    (d) eliminate everything that distracts from what the audience cares about.

    Tina’s model proposal (sorry don’t know how to link) posted a few months back has elements that translate well for presentations. [Tina, I printed it out and gave it to my graduate methods class…, it was very useful. Thank you for sharing it]. Make the presentation about one core thing, which you then elaborate on. Ensure that each bit of information added the presentation does some work towards driving the audience to your conclusion. Ask yourself, why will my audience care about this given the focus of my talk? If you can’t answer that, get rid of it. If you set up the question correctly, you will explain to the audience why they should care; if you build the presentation correctly, each new bit of information remembers why they care.

    And if you use powerpoint, PLEASE plan on 2-3 minutes per slide (unless you have a lot of slides with simple diagrams that don’t require elaboration). I sat through a masters defense last week where the presentation had more than 30 slides. My students are only allowed to present on 8-10 slides in their defense.

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  3. Thanks, Corey. Your pointers would follow directly from The Craft of Research and is what I’ve told the students to make clear in their talk – topic, question, and rationale.

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  4. I think limiting number of slides is a bit tricky as it really depends on how one uses slides. As you said, Corey, if they are fairly simple (which they should be anyway) then there’s room for more potentially. On the flip side, too few slides can also be a bad thing. I once sat through a 45-minute presentation with about 4-5 slides and it was distracting. For many minutes at a time, slides would be up that no longer had any connection to what the speaker was saying. That’s not good either.

    Regarding specific slides, this page needs updating, but some of the advice may still be helpful.

    Also, folks should avoid reading passages on their slides (e.g., a direct quote). For one thing, the audience can read quicker than the presenter and will be ahead anyway. Second, I think research has shown that it’s actually more difficult to retain information when one is being read material one is reading already compared to either simply reading it or simply having it read by someone else.

    As for the content of the presentation, I agree that it is absolutely crucial both to (1) state the main research question/focus clearly up front; and (2) tell the audience why they should care. Of course, this all depends on work that’s already been completed. This reminds me that next time I teach such a course, I should tell students up front in the first week that getting these individual elements right are all necessary for a good talk in the end. I do focus on the good paper outcome, but reminding students that a bad project is unlikely to yield a good talk may be additionally helpful.

    Tina, thanks for linking to my Lifehacker post, glad you found it helpful.

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  5. Lifehacker is a great resource. The book is worth looking at, too. They have great advice about controlling your inbox.

    The best PPT tip I can give is to learn and love the “B” button. It blanks the screen and forces the audience to focus on you (instead of read the slide for the 4th time). It can work as a “punctuation mark” in your presentation, simply because people don’t expect it.

    Stick to at least 32 point font. At least. I resent speakers who make me read a lot from their slides. If you want me to do a lot of reading, consider making a handout. If you have more than 20 words on your slide, consider splitting it into 2 slides. Does your audience really need to read that bloc quote from your interview subject? Couldn’t you just read the quote to them, since you’re probably going to do that anyway?

    Power Point can be a force of good or evil. Use the force wisely!

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  6. I started writing a list of things that pertain mostly to the visual side of things (I was, after all, an undergraduate architecture major-hopefully something seeped in over the years). The list turned out longer than I realized that it would, so I apologize for it’s ultimate length. Besides Eszter’s points about the most crucial things, I would also add one additional “presentation philosophy” point that I think when I am preparing a presentation: a successful 15-minute presentation will entice audience members to want to read and know more about your work. If that is the case, then you can build professional networks (by sending a copy, keeping in touch, meeting someone personally) and developing a base of people who are going to cite your work when it is in published form and help you improve your work by suggesting other references/sources, etc.

    Again, I apologize the length and I hope the content is worth the verbosity:
    1) Start from your conclusions. Although I think that this is the best advice for any presentation, it is particularly important for a 15 minute presentation. In longer talks, important information has more opportunities to come out. Time is not a luxury in 15 minute presentations.

    2) Don’t spend a lot of time on the lit review. I think that this is particularly important for professional presentations at conferences where the lit review is quite literally summarizing the work written by the very people who are sitting in the room. In a class where people are studying different things, hit one or two slides on the background of the IMPORTANT THING. That doesn’t mean that highlighting why someone should care about your presentation is not important. That is, as Eszter points out, the most important thing. Knowing the entire background of how others got to the IMPORTANT THING is not. To the extent you need to highlight one or two articles/books to explain the IMPORTANT THING—or at least interesting thing—then that makes sense. Getting people to care is the key, particularly since, again, the very people in the audience are the pool of people are potentially going to cite your work if they find it interesting).

    3) Except in very special settings, equations are BAD. Even the best, most elegant equations take time (usually lots) to explain. If you use complex methods, then explain the intuition behind the equation (e.g. multilevel models are a way to account for the clustering of similar observations and a way to disaggregate the variance). If equations are necessary, then use words not variables (e.g. FEMALE not X_1).

    4) Highlight only relevant cells in tables in PowerPoint slides. No one can read a complete table on a PowerPoint slide. Pull the main rows/columns out of the table and just present those. If the entire table is important, consider supplying handouts. If you do have a handout, highlight the rows that you use in your presentation (bold or put a light background in the cells you discuss in the PowerPoint).

    5) The most helpful thing for me when I am making PowerPoint presentations is not to use the slide creator at all. I end up fussing over the presentation of a single slide rather than the content and flow of my presentation. Form should be a good vessel for content — form should not drive content (unless you are a postmodernist, but that is a different discussion and if that is the case, why are you using PowerPoint). Therefore, I use the outline tab in PowerPoint to lay out my presentation thinking about the one or two points that I want to highlight on each slide and think very explicitly about how those one or two points directly relate to my main conclusions (see point 1). Then, using the templates, I simply find a good template and lay out all of the slides visually once I have the information.

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