A first note on preparing presentations

Some people seem to have to give almost fifty presentations a year, of varying formality. Often these talks are given within a research group, so lab members are informed and can better collaborate. Here’s the text of a slide at the beginning of a 60+ slide presentation, given within a research group at one of their weekly meetings.

The first example is the original; the second is a possible revision. Afterward, I explain why we did what we did.

The original outline of the presentation:

• Change of Dephasing-Length-Limited Energy Gain Equation (3 slides)

• Curve-Fitting” Electron Spectra: New way to determine max energy of electron spectra (10 slides)

• 4 Finalized Experimental Figures (6 slides)

• Simulation Results (6 slides)

• Effective Dephasing Length (20 slides)

• 5 Proposed Simulation Figures (5 slides)

The revised outline:

1. We changed a major equation we were using (3 slides) OR “We moved from the engineering equation to the theoretical equation.”

2. We developed a new way to determine the max energy of the electron spectra (10 slides)

3. Four experimental figures for your critique: improve them now or forever hold your peace (6 slides)

4. Our major findings so far (20 slides)

5. Five proposed simulation figures: any feedback on how to improve them? (x slides)

There was one main goal: increase the action. We did this two ways:

First, some of these changes are meant to invite the audience to become more involved (the audience is now invited to do something!) For example, we made it clearer on points 3 and 4 that we wanted feedback. We also numbered the parts, so that they were easy to refer to, and they became more linear—the slide show is organized linearly, after all!

Second, we made some changes to make the researcher more active. She did not just sit there thinking up abstract nouns; she had to do a lot of work to come up with this stuff! In fact, for point 2, she even thought of writing something like, “We developed a new and improved (seventh!) way of determining max energy.” Tell them a story of your work (“we did this” or “we changed our mind about this” rather than just listing a NOUN—which is static, and it’s not clear what you’re doing with it. Also, it’s impressive that it’s the seventh way: it shows hard work, the challenge of the problem, and may even increase the sympathy and emotional interest of the audience. What a saga!

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