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Ad Lagendijk Ad Lagendijk 4 May 2009

Example presentation: Surviving science

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Posted in Presentations quality, Speaking in public, Tips

My example presentation
When discussing quality of presentations it helps a lot to discuss on the basis of example presentations. An example presentation is exactly what this post is about. Although I do not expect all the readers of this blog to be interested in the content of my talk, it would probably not harm to sketch the context of this speech. About a year ago I gave a 25minute presentation for an audience of about 75 physics PhD students. That day was organized by the Dutch science-supporting agency FOM especially for the students. The program included workshops on presentations, on writing papers and on career planning. I was the last, plenary,  speaker, just before the good-bye drink. My task was to give them a flavor, possibly with some humor, of what it means to pursue an academic career.

Technical aspects
The idea of posting this presentation is to show some technical details:

  1. The use of progress slides. My example is just one of the many possible ways to keep the audience all throughout the presentation informed about the progress of the presentation and about the general outline of the talk. My experience is that the use of these progress slides also helps during the preparation of the slides to keep the talk to some extent coherent.
  2. The use of the black lower band. This band is used to prevent me from using the lower part of the slide. In many rooms where presentations are given a major part of the audience can’t see the lower part of the screen. With a standard video projector (so not on a computer screen) the black band is not visible. Some people in the audience might notice an aspect ratio different from what they are used to.

From earlier comments on this blog I understand that quite some people dislike the top band (and the lower band). The text of my titles is always left-justified and never centered. The human eye can read a left-justified text much quicker than a centered text.

I agree that aesthetic aspect are important. But for me it is much more important to get the information across clearly and quickly, even if for that purpose I have to sacrifice the looks of the slides.

Availability of the present presentation
Originally I planned to upload the PowerPoint file of this presentation to SlideShare. But their software is so lousy, that it crippled my presentation (I tried three times). So the presentation is available as (a much smaller) pdf file. In case somebody wants a copy of the PowerPoint file, they should use our contact form and the 3 MB file will be sent to them.

I am curious about what people will not like about this example. Or maybe will enjoy.

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  1. Unregistered

    4 May 2009 21:54, Mirjam

    Of course, it is hard to resist an open invitation for slide bashing, but I will try to be constructive in my criticism.

    – Furst and foremost: I think sans serif fonts (e.g. Arial) are much easier to read in a presentation than serif fonts (those are better on paper)
    – Most slides are sufficiently empty, although some sentences could be shorter and do not need to be divided over two or three lines. Also, in my opinion not everything needs to be written down explicitly, after all it is a *talk* (e.g. ‘All these jobs are very important, but let somebody else do it. Help them to get those jobs.’ can be given as a spoken remark)
    – I think the bands serve a purpose and I would actually use the same (reasonable) color for the lower one as for the upper one, because it then clearly demarcates the end of the slide and one unit of information (it kinda functions as a ‘frame for your drawing’)
    – For a presentation like this, which is not a real ‘story’ but more a continuous listing of points, progress slides are fine. However, I still think that many talks (say up to 30 min.) can be given without a single progress slide as long as there is a clear storyline (2 hour movies come without progress shots – people would probably be bored if they were there). I am not sure why the last slide is a progress slide, it does not seem to serve a purpose.
    – inconsistency in alignment and lack of capitals at the beginning of some sentences makes it harder to orient oneselves

    Anything I do not mention here should be taken as positive, unless I simply forgot to include it 😉 If anyone is interested, I would be happy to volunteer one of my own short scientific presentations, which includes the use of figures, as soon as the corresponding article has been accepted (hopefully soon).

  2. Unregistered

    4 May 2009 22:31, Bram van Ginneken

    The slides are clear. Typography is not always consistent, there are several spelling errors, but that’s all nitpicking (well done by Mirjam). Clipart is corny, but the small photos are nice, they keep the audience amused (I wonder what Margareth Thatcher is doing on slide 9?).

    The contents of the talk is also very interesting. There’s one thing I like to ask and which is important for the general topic of this blog. Maybe in some future post could you explain why you talk so often about the importance of finding your own field? On slide 31 you state: Niches are for the loosers (which is by the way a spelling error).

    Isn’t a lot of valuable research incremental in nature? Isn’t there a gradual transition from a niche to a new field? Personally I’m a bit allergic to people claiming to develop a completely new theory or methodology. This all too often turns out to be an old thing with a new fancy name or something that does not work better than existing methods but is hyped to raise grant money. I like research that combines a lot of existing theories and methods in a solid way to improve upon the state-of-the-art, even if this improvement is small. I prefer research that builds upon existing techniques and gives full credit to those techniques instead of reinventing the wheel (and giving it a different name). Often these little incremental steps make all the difference between something that works and doesn’t work. But this may be somewhat particular to my field of research (image analysis), and to my personality (maybe I’m more an engineer than a scientist).

    How many researchers truly start a new field? That depends on your definition, I guess, so what exactly is a new field? And how do you find a new field? Can you give some more concrete advice, apart from telling us to be obsessive about this?

  3. Klaas Wynne

    5 May 2009 6:44, Klaas Wynne

    Margareth Thatcher studied chemistry but clearly did not have a scientific career. I think the slides are OK. The font, Garamond, is a bit old fashioned looking and difficult to read; I’d more or less agree with Mirjam on that although a chunky slab-serif could be good too. I feel that the bands serve little purpose (apart from keeping the top and bottom clear and containing the central text) and should therefore be nearly invisible. I would use light grey. Yeah, clip art is really corny. However, my biggest gripe is that the list of “Daily life of scientist: examples” does not contain, let alone start with, teaching!

  4. Ad Lagendijk

    6 May 2009 20:21, Ad Lagendijk

    @Mirjam
    I think you were very constructive.
    I always use bold fonts, because I find the mixing of normal and bold disturbing, and I find bold fonts more legible. Bold sans-serif I find often ugly.

    “Not everything needs to be on the slide”. In some disciplines there are no slides and the orator delivers his speech. There are a number of reasons why I am very explicit on my slides as far as text is concerned: (i) Some people in the audience rather read than listen. Or (ii) they might have difficulties in understanding my language (in the majority of cases speeches delivered on a conference are given by non-native speakers to an audience consisting of a majority of non-native speakers). And (iii) the less text I have to remember the less I have to prepare my talk. In my experience talks at conferences are delivered in a pretty dark room where it is impossible to read extra notes you might have prepared.

    The last slide is a very special progress slide. I leave it there after a talk because it helps the audience to remember where the talk was all about and it might stimulate them to ask questions. I hate these long, busy conclusion slides, usually with a number of exclamation signs, where the whole talk is given all over again.

  5. Ad Lagendijk

    6 May 2009 20:23, Ad Lagendijk

    @Klaas
    As far as teaching is concerned, I agree. With the fonts I do not.
    If you do not use a different background for the title, the title becomes part of the content, which it isn’t. It is “front-matter”.

  6. Ad Lagendijk

    6 May 2009 20:34, Ad Lagendijk

    @Bram
    Indeed Margareth Thatcher studied chemistry.
    Missing spelling errors on my slides are certainly one of my (many) weak points. Although I am certainly not dyslectic, it turns out it is difficult for me to spot my own spelling errors after seeing the same text on slides over and over again. The spell-checker is also a pain often when there is math on the slides. And a good sport shows the slides as they were delivered and does not correct them after the fact.

    Your remarks on a new field are indeed very relevant. You certainly stimulated me to write a separate post on it. Which I will do shortly. And I expect and hope you will comment again. Maybe I did not make this clear enough but the purpose here was mainly showing technical aspects of slides. I chose this particular subject because physics slides are so technical for non-physicists.

  7. Ad Lagendijk

    6 May 2009 20:42, Ad Lagendijk

    I am very happy with all these comments. But I also think that the people who gave comments have thought a lot about giving presentations. My experience is that in my field the average slide contains more than three times more information (text, figures, exclamation marks, underlining, ..) than mine. But maybe this is just a bad habit by physicists. Although I very recently went to a medical symposium in Rotterdam and the slides being presented there did not make me happy.

    Putting up more slide presentations here is certainly interesting. But I would like to have a possibility of showing comments by our readers and by us on a slide by slide basis. SlideShare is certainly no good for this purpose. PowerPoint with notes together in one pdf file is better, but very static. Any suggestions?

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