Sunday, March 31, 2013

A scientific approach to scientific talks

 It is paradoxical that some scientists approach teaching in a anecdotal way, rather than in a scientific way. I'm paraphrasing Harvard Physics professor Eric Mazur. Garr Reynolds has written a couple of very interesting post about presentation and education in the 21st century, that include a talk from Mr. Mazur.
By a scientific approach to presentation I mean two things. First, the use and application of the theory of the psychology of a presentation: How people think and learn, how to grab and hold people's attention, ans how people listen and see.

5 Things Every Presenter Needs To Know About People from Weinschenk on Vimeo.

The second thing is to measure how efficient a presentation is. It seems natural that if the scientific method is based on measurements, the outcome of a scientific presentation would also be measured. I have never heard or attend a scientific conference where the audience evaluates talks, or give feedback. That was exactly this measurement that made Mr. Mazur aware that he wasn't a good teacher. The measurement issue brings me to reverse engineering: Start with the end in mind! 

 Have you ever asked yourself when starting to prepare a presentation,
  • What do I want from my audience and why are they coming to see me?
  • Who is my audience?  
For the second question Andrew Dlugan from the Six Minutes blog has written several posts about audience analysis.

Although the first question is more personal, your expectations about what people are understanding and taking home can be measured. That collected data would help you improve your presentation. If people are not "getting it", your message might not me clear enough or might just not resonate with the audience. Oh yeah, people filter information.

Conclusion. Let's stop thinking we are good presentation, and start proving it by applying the theory on presentations and measuring their outcomes.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Visual examples: Creating a visual representation

It feels odd to write this post. In fact it feels odd to write about pretty slides, when the power of a talk doesn't come from them. However, memorable visuals help the audience understand better and remember longer. That's why visual storytelling matters so much in presentations. Science tells us that stories is a great way to learn, then makes perfect sense that scientists use stories in their scientific presentations. In fact, as most people are visual learners it makes sense to know and apply visual storytelling to presentations.

So here is the story of today's post. Some months ago I worked on a stack of visuals, which involved representing that a certain oral test is a bridge between education and professional life. After having found an appropriate image (Puente de Alcántara, Toledo Spain) and the talk's rehearsal. I came with a decent slide, that got noticed by the audience. If some more time in my hands, I tinkered a bit more and came up with this:
This is emotional and energetic, which engages the audience. It makes the message of the bridge come alive. It is emotional because of the emblematic image, and its use as a postcard. It says I'm showing you a picture, I'm telling you a story of how important this bridge is. It is energetic because of its tilt and the tilt of the image behind and because it goes out of the page, which actives the white space.

It makes sense (after the tinkering) to show how I put this together.
On the top left is the original image, which is fine except for the lost of detail in the foreground and the pale sky.  The image of the top right has these two enhancements, which are relatively easy and cheap (in terms of time). Once I had the image ready, I went for the text (bottom left), which is obviously in perspective to rest on the bridge.  Putting it on the image, and creating the illusion of the the letter L going across the bridge yields the bottom right image, which would be fine as a full bleed slide, and in fact is the version used on the talk.

Image credits: Puente de Alcántara by Dantla under GFD License.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Presentation guru: Nick Morgan

Nicholas H. Morgan, Ph.D.
No, in fact Dr. Nicholas Morgan is not a presentation guru, he's a presentation Jedi Master. His book Give your speech, change the word is considered —among experts in public speaking— one of the best.  What I mostly treasure about his book is PART III. Rehearsing the presentation. Most presentations suck because of their lack of preparation and feedback. Not only his book, but also his blog is amazing. Dr. Morgan's stand in Slideware is that the best slideware, is not slideware at all. He views communication as leadership, which to I completely relate to, because I believe that scientists ought to be leaders.
By the way, wanna know what other books experts consider worth the time?

Image credits: Nicholas Morgan by nfrodom1 under CC BY 2.0 license.