How to give the best scientific presentation — EVER!

Twelve Steps to Academic PowerPoint Perfection

Andrew Maynard
Feb 8 · 4 min read

For anyone who’s spent more than a couple of minutes at a scientific conference, or had the pleasure of someone using their pet PowerPoint deck to “science-splain” them on the finer points of of their research, it should be pretty obvious that scientists aren’t always the best at communicating about what they know and do.

This struck me afresh at a meeting a couple of years ago.

I was sitting through a series of earnest but painful PowerPoints given by young researchers. And an awful truth hit me.

It wasn’t that these scientists hadn’t been taught how to communicate well. They’d actually been taught the opposite — how to communicate badly. And by their mentors and peers no less!

And so, in my frustration, I came up with an anti-guide to giving the Best Scientific Presentation Ever!

This is that guide, polished up a bit since it’s first incarnation:


12 steps to giving the BEST SCIENTIFIC PRESENTATION — EVER!

1. Don’t pre-load your presentation

The 5 minutes you spend fumbling with your USB stick will establish you as a real pro.

Pro tip: Try running your presentation from Google Drive or Dropbox, but don’t log into your account until you get to the podium. Your audience will be awed and amazed as you try and remember your login credentials and search for the file you need.

2. Act as if you’ve never used PowerPoint

Remember, you’re an intellectual giant, not a computer nerd — own it!

Pro tip: Look at the screen cluelessly until someone shows you how to start the presentation, or scroll through your slides without entering presentation mode.

3. Never check your presentation beforehand

There’s nothing that delights an audience more than missing images, jumbled formatting, and weird fonts.

Pro tip: Just mumble “it didn’t look like that before” and you’ll have your audience rolling in the aisles.

4. Cram as much onto each slide as you can

Combining small fonts, multiple plots, and half a dozen images on each slide works especially well.

Pro tip: The less people understand what you are trying to say, the more they’ll respect you.

5. Use tables with lots of data

If you’ve got it, flaunt it — no-one cares if they can’t make sense of your data, or even read it.

Pro tip: The more significant figures you use in your data points, the smarter you’ll look.

6. Make your plots really complex

The more incomprehensible your plots are, the more of an expert you’ll appear.

Pro tip: Make your plot really small. And if you want to take things to the next level, try putting 6–8 plots on each slide.

7. Use bullet points — as many as possible

Don’t worry that no-one will be able to read all of your bullet points. The important thing is that they had the chance.

Pro tip: Bullet points avoid time making slides that could be better spent in the lab.

8. Apologize for unreadable slides

Apologizing for slides that are unreadable helps build rapport with your audience. If even you can’t read them, even better!

Pro tip: Use phrases like “I know you can’t read this, but …”

9. Remember, everyone loves a video fail

Embedding videos in presentations that don’t play when you need them is the mark of a true scientist.

Pro tip: Clicking the video repeatedly while looking clueless makes you look especially smart — especially if you say repeatedly “it worked before.”

10. Use as many slides as possible

Remember: the quality of your science is measured in slides per minute, not on content.

Pro tip: Prepare a generic 500-slide deck and use this wherever you go, whatever you’re asked to talk about.

11. Embrace obfuscation

Remember, the less understandable people find you, the smarter they will think you are.

Pro tip: Jargon is your best friend, followed closely by acronyms. Use them liberally, and you’ll reach genius status in the eyes of your audience in no time!

12. Over-run your time

Over-running is the mark of a truly accomplished scientist.

Pro tip: Don’t give a damn about anyone following you — that’s their concern, not yours.


Just in case it isn’t clear (and you can never be too sure), the only thing you’ll achieve if you follow these roles is to make a complete ass of yourself. Sadly, many people have still to get the memo it seems …


UPDATE: By popular demand — the Best Presentation — Ever PowerPoint Bingo Card — feel free to down load and use liberally :)

EDGE OF INNOVATION

Exploring the cutting edge of emerging technologies and responsible innovation

Andrew Maynard

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Director of the ASU Risk Innovation Lab & author of “Films from the Future” — a unique take on future tech & ethical innovation http://bit.ly/filmsfromthefuture

EDGE OF INNOVATION

Exploring the cutting edge of emerging technologies and responsible innovation