13 April 2014

Imagine you’re part of the audience attending this presentation:

Long John Silver acting like a robot

Hello, the title of my talk is “Modeling Barnacle-Induced Drag on Maritime Vessels Using Computational Fluid Dynamics-based Optimization.”

I’ll start by giving you an introduction, then I’ll talk about the results of my simulation, and then I’ll talk about future work.

As you probably know, current antifoulant compounds are unable to prevent the marine propagule attachment. The coefficient that you see in Equation 1 is estimated to be blah, blah, blah…

The promise of a warm slice of pizza is probably the only thing keeping you in your seat at this point.

What if the presentation started out like this?

Long John Silver acting like a human

You probably never thought about it, but the shipping industry spends 6 billions of dollars every year fighting mussels and barnacles.

One of the most surprising facts about these creatures is that a healthy colony of barnacles attached to the hull of an ocean liner can cause a drag of up to 60%.

It gets worse. To compensate for the decrease in speed, fuel consumption must go up by 40%, which increases costs and pollution.

Today I’m going to tell you about why this happens and what we can do to minimize it.

Given a choice between both presentations, most people would prefer to attend the second. So, why do we keep giving the first one?

The reason is fear.

We are afraid that if we edit out irrelevant details someone might ask to see them. We are afraid that if we make our content accessible it will be easier to criticize. We are afraid that if we break tradition we will seem unprofessional. So what do we do? We focus on the details, we hide behind the podium, and we bury the presentation that we really wanted to give. We don’t want to be vulnerable, so the robot takes over.

One of my heroes, Brené Brown, says we avoid being vulnerable because we don’t want to seem weak. What we forget is that when we see vulnerability in others we call it courage, but when we see it in ourselves we call it weakness.

Fear keeps us from being vulnerable, but it also prevents us from connecting with the people in the audience. You can’t be creative if you’re not willing to be vulnerable. You can’t innovate if you don’t want to make mistakes. Next time you have to give a presentation, even if your results are not as sexy as you wanted them to be, even if the experiment didn’t come out right, remember that you have a choice over who gets to tell your story: the robot or the human.