Posts Tagged ‘presentations’


Friday, October 7th, 2011

SlideWe’ve heard the rules for using PowerPoint effectively:

  • 7 lines per slide
  • 7 words per line
  • No flashing animation

Not bad guidelines, but they fail to affect the key problem behind PowerPoint presentations. Slides should not provide a kind of closed captions for your talk or a repository for reams of data.

As this presentation demonstrates, PowerPoint works best as a backdrop to a speech. Use it for images, simple figures, and emphasis. Then leave it in the background and talk to the audience.

Communicating Science

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

One of the keynote speakers at the Council of Graduate Schools’ recent conference was Alan Alda. The actor may seem like an unlikely choice, but in addition to acting, Alda is also a co-founder of the Center for Communicating Science at SUNY Stony Brook.

At the conference, Alda demonstrated how he uses improvisational techniques to help graduate students speak more comfortably and intelligibly about their research. Ultimately, Stony Book hopes to require communication courses for all graduate students. Inside Higher Ed reports that several deans who heard the presentation are eager to replicate the plan in their graduate schools.

Requiring more classes may sound like a burden to graduate students, but learning to communicate more effectively will help them in all other parts of their academic lives.

Do You Know Why?

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

One of the most consistently provocative podcasts is the stream of TED talks. The acronym stands for technology, education, and design, but the topics include just about anything. In addition to presenting innovative ideas, TED speakers model how to give conference talks. They have a single argument, avoid notes, use repetition, and sit down after about 18 minutes.

Marketing guru Simon Sinek provides an example of a successful talk. He offers a clear idea with several relevant examples. He contends that what makes companies, activists, and managers persuasive to people is that they know the why behind what they’re doing. Apple, for instance, doesn’t just sell computers, it sells the core belief of thinking differently.

For medical school faculty, it’s also important to keep the answer to the “why” question at the forefront. Whether it’s organizing a lab or managing a clinic or teaching trainees, the “what” of the day’s tasks will get accomplished more effectively if everyone one knows and buys into the “why” behind the project.

To the Point

Friday, April 30th, 2010

It’s become so commonplace to give presentations with PowerPoint that delivering a talk without one grabs notice. But does the software enhance oral communication?

Edward Tufte, a professor emeritus of Political Science, Statistics, and Computer Science at Yale, has written extensively about the limitations of PowerPoint. In one famous example, he takes on NASA’s reliance on PowerPoint. When it comes to studying the Challenger tragedy, a hierarchy of bullet points seems inadequate for the task.

PowerPoint slides work best, I feel, when they illustrate a point. Images, graphs, and maps enhance the speaker’s argument. But simply putting the talk on the screen in a usually arbitrary format insults the audience and detracts from the talk.