Become a Better Presenter by Changing the Way You Read Papers

    13 July 2014

    I had to read 30 papers on ebola pathogenesis this week. When I was digging my way through paper number 7, I made a flawed observation: reading papers is boring. Most graduate students would agree with that statement, but I want to convince you that calling papers boring is as pointless as saying rocks are stupid. Boredom comes from the mismatch between the way we would like to consume information and the way it is presented. Understanding this difference can make our presentations more interesting and our stories more engaging.

    Look at Figure 3 from Bradfute2010 (it shows two different spleen sections treated with a stain that darkens apoptotic cells):


    Figure 3: Overexpression of Bcl-2 protects lymphocytes from EBOV-induced apoptosis.

    The Results section describes this figure by saying:

    Vav-bcl–2 mice showed nearly complete protection against lymphocyte apoptosis compared with wild-type littermate control mice (Fig. 3).

    That’s a fact.

    How to Design Attractive Scientific Posters That Are Also Effective

    04 July 2014

    Aesthetics matter:
    attractive things work better.
    —Donald Norman

    I’m going to a conference in a few weeks and I have to give a poster presentation, so I’ve spent these past few days thinking about posters: why we use them, and how to make them more awesome. It doesn’t matter if you’re using a poster or slides, a presentation works when you tell a story that the audience can relate to. The medium is secondary, its only goal is to enhance the story. Having said that, I agree with Mr. Norman that good-looking posters get more attention than ugly ones. Let’s dissect a few of them and extract some useful guidelines.

    Just looking

    How to Write Awesome Abstracts

    29 June 2014


    Seminar and conference organizers ask speakers to submit abstracts before they give a presentation. They do it because abstracts have the potential to convince people who could benefit from attending your talk to actually show up. Unfortunately, most abstracts are only effective at keeping attendees away.

    A Good Looking Pipeline

    21 June 2014

    A friend told me this week that she had to give a presentation to a general audience and that she was planning to reuse the slides she previously built back in May. I think there are some situations where it makes sense, but most of the time, reusing slides is a bad idea. I cringe every time I look at my old slides. I can believe I missed all those flaws flailing their arms at me.

    3 Ways to Obliterate Bullet Points From Your Slides

    09 June 2014

    Last week, one of my lab’s collaborators came to give a presentation about her work. She started out by explaining her role in the project:

    My role in the project

    This slide came right after the cover slide. If I hadn’t already known that the topic she was going to talk about was really interesting, it probably wouldn’t have convinced me to pay attention. What’s the problem with this slide?

    5 Things I Learned From Organizing a Presentations Workshop

    01 June 2014

    In May 2014, I hosted a 5-week “Learn How to Give Awesome Scientific Presentations” workshop. This case study is a summary of the mistakes I made and the lessons I learned. I hope that if you’ve thought about putting together a workshop, reading this will encourage you to take the leap.

    Give Your Slides a Makeover

    25 May 2014

    This past Thursday was the closing ceremony of the Awesome Presentations Workshop, a 5-week get together where we talked about how to give better presentations. The last session served as an opportunity for the people who attended the workshop to show what they had learned during the previous month. William was one of the people who presented, and he has generously agreed to let me showcase his final presentation, along with one he built before the workshop. They couldn’t be more different.

    Speak to the Newbies When You Present: Sheldon Cooper vs. Brian Greene

    21 April 2014

    Sheldon Cooper and Brian Greene are both theoretical physicists focusing on string theory. Besides the fact that Greene is an actual scientist and Sheldon just plays one on TV, they differ in one important aspect: Greene cares about his audience.

    Compare Sheldon’s condescending glare with Greene’s radiating intent in the video below.

    A Presentation is an Opportunity to Tell an Awesome Story

    11 April 2014

    I found this old ad the other day, and it reminded me of the way data is traditionally presented in academia.

    eyepatch_ad Eyepatch ads have come a long way

    There’s no story here. How did that guy lose his eye? What is that man inserting into that woman’s face? Why would I need a surgically-implanted magnifying glass?

    Writing Every Day Will Change Your Life

    10 March 2014

    I’ve spent the last 30 days writing at least one hour every day. Want to do the same? Here’s how.

    First, make a public commitment. Decide when you’re going to start writing and how many days you’re going to do it (30 days is a good starting point). Ask your friends to hold you accountable, make a bet with your cousin that you will write every day, post a daily update on your Facebook wall. Do anything to avoid having to answer the most dangerous question of all: “Should I write today?” Pondering this for any amount of time will lead to a thousand perfectly reasonable excuses on why you should skip today. Only the fear of public humiliation will keep you honest.