Greetings from the sunny Midwest of the US of A, relaxing at my parent's house after the SETAC North America meeting. After a busy week of science, networking, and some amazing Utah beers, the big conference is done, talks and meetings about future meetings and everything in between. While there’s still a lot to be done, coming back home from these conferences is always a refreshing experience, thinking about spending time with new colleagues and old friends and with new ideas and renewed motivation to spur me through the rest of the year.
As promised in a previous post, I wanted to finish off the tutorial for the five easy* steps for a perfect** presentation. I’m glad that the talk went well and that even when being placed during one of the last sessions of the conference when people are already heading home that there were a decent number of people who came to hear my talk. This post will focus on how I applied the lessons about the concepts of the story, take a bow, and break a leg to make the talk in the best way I could, even after a busy week of networking and meetings within meetings to talk about future meetings.
3. THE STORY
I had previously finished the introduction part of my story board for a previous post, and once I developed an outline for what I wanted to say I went on to make the actual power point slides. While I had given a talk about some of this data before, this time I wanted to feel more confident with how I presented the introduction and took the initiative (and a few minutes outside of my lab work) to think about how I wanted to tell this story. While narcosis is not a new topic of interest either in SETAC or for Unilever, I hadn’t yet thought about how I saw the problem and potential solutions. And while there are other experts on narcosis out there, my goal with this talk was to present my perspective based on my own background reading and my own vision of the problem. I was much happier with how these slides came out than last time, and was glad to have taken the extra time to think about the problem and the solution(s) more in-depth as opposed to just saying word-for-word what someone else had previously said.
With this revitalized excitement and a bit more ownership of my post-doc project, I found that once I made the introduction slides (which did take some time, with lots of new graphics and thoughts about how to display different pieces of information), the rest of the talk came more easily. It was just a matter of deciding which figures to show in the short amount of time I had and what was most relevant to show that addressed the questions I presented. For the methods overview and experimental background, I focused on using flow chart-style slides that depicted what questions I was answering with what analyses (see the end of the paragraph for the middle section of my slide deck). I kept these questions as headers of my slides that showed the results relevant for each section, in order to make it clear to my audience why I was presenting what I did. I avoided using tables or figures with really small font, because nothing is quite as awkward as presenting results that no one in the audience can see or interpret. Before the talk began I actually took out an entire slide because I realized during practice that it wasn’t adding anything to the presentation. I put the slide at the end of the talk as a back-up just in case there were specific questions related to it, and I found that when I took that superfluous slide out that the story flowed much more nicely.
4. TAKE A BOW
I’m in debt to my presentation co-authors on this one. Initially I had a rather messy slide summarizing the findings and listing all of the experiments we were planning on next. Thanks to a comment about the slide, I rearranged how I talked about future experiments to make it look more streamlined. I also gave a big-picture look at how the project fit in with Unilever’s aims and goals as well as the project itself. In the conclusions I presented here, I first focused on what did you learn about the problem? by breaking down results specific for the two questions I presented. Then instead of just listing out all of the things we could do for this project, I focused on looking at what still remains unanswered but is important for solving the problem? and how that fit into the overarching goals and objectives for the project on a wider scale.
I also had a slide thanking co-authors and collaborators, which I prefer to see at the end of a talk as opposed to the beginning. It keeps the flow of the presentation more smooth and makes more sense logically to thank people that helped you out with a project after you actually talk about what that project is. In addition to the acknowledgements slide, I also include a second thank you slide to thank the audience and to have a holder photo or something visually appealing. I do this so you can transition away from the acknowledgements slide and have a holding slide while you answer questions. This doesn’t leave a distracting slide full of collaborator names to look at, and doesn’t force you to use the black screen that powerpoint gives back when you finish a presentation. During my PhD I used pictures from the field sites I worked at, or happy little mosquitofish swimming around, and now I enjoy highlighting my adopted home town of Liverpool and to make a comment about how it’s not always raining in England.
One thing I forgot is to put my contact information and twitter handle on the last thank-you slide. This makes more sense than having it at the beginning, since it will be the slide that will stay on the presentation screen for longer than if it's at the first slide. Something to remember for next time!
5. BREAK A LEG!
Despite other scientists telling me that I’m a great presenter and having won a few SETAC platform presentation awards, I still get nervous and have a few moments of panic and self-doubt before any talk. Because my last talk on this project hadn’t gone that well, I was especially nervous and wanted to do really well, this time with a potentially much larger audience of peers and collaborators. No pressure! With all this in mind, I took the time I needed to practice my talk and to make sure that I had my transitions and talking points solidly in hand.
I practiced the talk two times completely through, and realized after my first go that I had no idea how to start the talk. I spend time thinking about what precisely I wanted to say once I clicked off from the title slide, and once I had that sorted out I actually wrote down what I wanted to say just to get it more 'stuck' in my mind. I didn’t’ take down my notes up on stage but when I practiced the talk a second time I jotted down the key points that I wanted to be sure to say and things that weren’t clearly written on my slides. Writing them down during the practice, but not reading them from paper during the talk, ensured that I remembered them when needed without looking awkwardly at notes or index cards while searching for a thought during the actual talk.
At the start of my talk I saw the lead author of a paper I cited, and a SETAC veteran and all-around nice guy, sitting in the audience. I thought he might show up so I acknowledged his presence in the room when I talked about his paper. Maybe a bit over the top but I feel it’s weird to talk about someone’s paper when they are sitting in the audience, so I embraced the awkward and said hi to the guy. (Follow-up note: He said hi to me after my talk and told me he really enjoys seeing where my work is going. Awesome!!).
Final hurdle for the presentation itself: My talk was being recorded, meaning that all my collaborators and Unilever folks could watch it and listen to me after the meeting. The talk I subbed in for was also recorded at the last SETAC meeting, and I remember being horrified while listening to myself. I had a bit of a cold at the time and was sniffling LOUDLY during the entire talk, all captured on audio and immortalized for SETAC history. With that memory in mind, this time I made a quick dash to the bathroom to blow my nose before the talk and paid attention to myself as I spoke, making sure to do any coughs or sniffs away from the microphone. I think this time I sounded much better, but I’ll have to force myself to listen to my talk yet again and make sure I didn’t make some other strange noises to replace the sniffling.
I also took a cup of water up to the podium with me and took one drink during the talk because I tend to have a bit of dry mouth from nervousness. I time my drinks so I don’t take too large of a gap in time between thoughts. What I normally do is grab the cup when starting a slide, hold it in my hand while talking through the slide, and then take a quick drink and set it down as I click to the next slide. It keeps the thoughts moving more smoothly but still allows me to give my parched throat a rest during the 15 minute talk.
I was happy with how the talk went, and not because I did all of slides perfectly with no awkward sarcastic comments or mis-steps over words. I felt comfortable because I was telling a story that I had crafted instead of repeating what someone else had explained and said was important. I listened to advice from co-authors to help make the finishing slides more clear and concise. I recognized that I needed to do a couple of practice runs, even though this data was not brand-new, to make sure that the story came across accurately but was also interesting. That being said, I think I did make at least one sarcastic joke about my science hidden in there somewhere, which will soon become immortalized on the SETAC website for all to hear and enjoy. Maybe if research or style blogging doesn’t work out I can always take my show on the road as a nerd comedian. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful way to give back to the world...