One of the pleasant surprises I received over the past couple of months was an invitation to give a platform presentation during this meeting. During the online registration for the conference, it was just one of the many boxes that I checked without expecting a positive response. When I received the invitation, I was extremely thrilled, and naturally, a bit nervous as well.
Like me, I’m sure many of you have been to scores of presentations by now. It’s really not hard to figure out what makes the good ones, well, good. A big picture, a story to tell, clear communication, and appropriately balanced slides are usually necessary. Then, it is all about stitching these pieces together into something lucid and compelling. Conceptually, this doesn’t seem difficult: most of the research projects presented at these meetings are quite fascinating and can potentially be of interest to many conference attendees. Unfortunately, at times, the presentations are poorly executed.
There are tons of well-known “do’s and don’ts” for giving effective presentations. There are also plenty of online resources for this sort of thing. Nevertheless, speaking from my experience, I don’t think it’s too complicated. Knowing your audience is obviously important, and sticking to your time limit requires organization and some practice. Smooth transitions between slides are absolutely critical in short talks: you don’t get time to labor your way through a long-winded discussion. People can become saturated during these two-hour sessions, and at some point, this can become like trying to drink water out of a fire hydrant – so don’t inundate them with data.
Having said that, I have no idea if I actually followed any of that advice during my own presentation. It always seems easier sitting in the audience. Once you get up there, you see the packed room, notice the tiny clock on your podium that has started to count down, and then you simply start presenting. (It is helpful that the little yellow light blinks at 5 minutes left; I doubt that I ever actually looked at the clock) If you’re like me, you get into a groove, and the details of the room tend to blur away. I do try to look out for a raised hand, but that’s not an issue during these sessions. I also occasionally try to make eye contact with someone in the audience, which helps to keep me from talking to the slides. I don’t have a loud voice, so I remind myself to stay close to the microphone. Finally, I just look for people nodding as I talk (not nodding off; this is a key distinction). I think today I did most of those things.
Anyway, it was a lot of fun, and I really hope to come back and speak again – hopefully, I’ll have tons of new things to add to my story. Thanks so much to the BPS organizers for giving me this chance.
(By the way, thanks for the great weather, San Francisco. It’s another snowy day back in the Midwest.)