article, musings, Science, Science Communication

Thoughts I Have During a Science Talk

Originally published on Medium

Why don’t talks start with the punchline? Or at least, with what is the problem? In lay terms, really, even if your audience is all scientists. I want to know why I should care before devoting attention span.

  • Also, brag a bit. Your findings are the first time this has been done! That is amazing! Science is rad!
  • We’re humans, we want stories, above all. These stories just happen to involve data.

We’re not reviewers, we don’t need to see every single data set. We’ll probably trust you, and we can sniff out when you don’t have the data (and when you’re using data to cover up the lack of results).

  • Especially if I can’t actually see the data on your slides
  • Especially if it’s already published
  • Especially if you have to rely on a laser pointer which will invariably fail at the moment you have to use it
  • Minor exception given to grad students who feel emotionally attached to that Western blot* or RT-PCR* it took them three years to optimize.
  • *Does that age me?

Why so many slides?

  • Why so many words on your slides?
  • If you read off of your slides, I will check my email.

Humor is your friend.

Everyone loves nerd jokes. Especially nerds.

I hope the person who first drew the cartoon mouse that everyone uses in their slides gets royalties.

If you start a slide by saying, “I know you can’t see this, but it’s just to give you an idea…” take out the slide. The only point of slides is to be seen.

A design of a white background with plain, sans serif black font, with plain color splashes, is highly underrated.

  • Animating text/images so they appear sequentially on a slide is also underrated
  • Animating text/images because you think it’s cute is not underrated

Down first, then right. My eyes are tired from scanning across your wide-screen slides.

Practice in front of someone who will tell you that you’re saying “actually” every other word, turning every statement into a question, or that 50 slides are too many for a 15-minute talk. And then, believe them.

I want to hear your interpretations and what the significance and impact is. I don’t need you to prove the fidelity of your data. (See #3.)

Ask the audience some questions: what do you want us to think about? What feedback do you want? Take advantage of the experts in the room. Bonus: it makes the Q&A less scary.

Future directions: what questions do you want to answer (not, what experiment will you do)?

Get a pretty stock photo of your city for the acknowledgments slide, and then everyone will look at that rather than the long list of everyone you may have ever talked to about your project.

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