In 4 days I will be heading to the airport to catch my flight to Halifax, Nova Scotia1. From there, I will be driving with my brother to Wolfville for the Annual Meeting of the Statistical Society of Canada, where I will be presenting (Monday morning) some of the research associated with my PhD dissertation. Specifically, I will be chatting about Multivariate Poisson Spatial Mixture models. w00t!
But fear not dear readers, it’s not nearly as boring as it sounds. Well, it might be, but I’m doing everything I can to spice it up and bring some life to what most would consider a dry topic. Clearly as a Statistician I am not one of those people who find statistics dry. I am, however, someone who is easily distracted and bored during presentations. That is to say, I think a lot of presentations are painful, to say the least. In fact, whenever someone
- starts their presentation by reading their slides, I’m already thinking about something else.
- presents slides that are all text and equations, I have to force myself to stay awake – and this from someone who loves equations.
- presents to only a small subset of the audience; that is, the speaker presents something so specialized that everyone else is left in the dust – well, I’m usually one of those left in the dust.
- presents their work without any sense of passion or fun, I wonder to myself if you aren’t interested in what you are doing, why the hell would I care?
Maybe I’m a bit too harsh, but I have to think that if this is your life’s work, your bread and butter, your passion, shouldn’t you be trying to at least sell it a little bit to the audience?
Anyway, I’ve spent many hours at conferences thinking about these things (because clearly I wasn’t paying attention to the presentations). Don’t get me wrong – by no means do I think I’m a good presenter. But I do strive to be. I take my presentations seriously and I try to do what I can to spice them up and make them interesting. And I will go back to old presentations to learn from past mistakes. In fact, I was reviewing some slides from a class I taught a few years back and was appalled at how cluttered they were. But just like anything, presenting is a process – something that someone has to practice and practice and then practice some more. While I’m sure there are some people who can wing a presentation, good presenters are not typically born. It is a skill that must be developed. And I’ve learned through the years that if the presenter can tell a story that engages the audience, they have effectively won the battle. So that is what I strive to do – tell a story that justifies and explains the research that I am presenting.
Fortunately, when I was developing my presentation for my PhD defence, I was introduced to an online presentation building program called Prezi. It is an easy to use program that allows you to create a story line, instead of resorting to the standard slide after slide after slide structure. It also automatically creates some rather interesting zooming transitions that brings the story to life. It’s not a static slide but a story board. Something that draws the audience in.
I was also fortunate to have seen several excellent Ted Talks online. The common thread in all of the good presentations was the act of story telling. That is, the presenter did not rely on overly verbose slides. They instead had very simple key points or, better still, key words, around which a story was told. This forced the audience to engage with the presenter, instead of getting lost in text. It also guaranteed that the presenter had to know what they were talking about, because they couldn’t stop to read it.
Ultimately, I hope the lessons I have learned from experience and from others will elevate my SSC talk on Monday to at least the point of not being a snore-fest. I’ll let you know how it goes 🙂
Dear potential thieves; while I am away be aware that my house will be guarded by Elliot the attack cat. Do not be thrown off by his cuteness. Under that soft fuzz ball exterior is the heart of a killer. And if for some reason you get by Elliot, Almost Dr. Sean will be there to take you out. Consider yourselves warned.