When I wrote the post on conference presentations, I was told, mostly privately, that the post was patronising, the things I wrote are, after all, obvious. Over the last couple of months I attended a few conferences. When I was listening to the papers, I was quietly (and privately) proud of my post. It was not patronising. It was, in fact, spot on!
Here are a few subjective impressions I had after the conferences.
1. There are still people, mostly seasoned academics, who tell the audience about what they are not going to talk about, thank their colleagues, family, fellow humans in general for their support, after which they comment on the intricacies of technical equipment in the conference room, while not being able to launch the Power Point presentation. And that all having about 15 minutes to present the paper. Usually, they don’t.
2. Presenters still start with saying that they prepared so much that there is no way in hell they would be able to present everything. I despair.
3. I heard all too many papers (mostly qualitative, I must admit) where I had no idea what they paper was about, with some wild and completely unsustainable claims, based on assumptions that only the presenter understands.
A plenary presentation of an hour which should allow time for questions still is way too little, even though the shortest presentation I have delivered was 7 minutes! My presentation lasted 5, so I could have 2 more minutes for questions.
I will, however, add a couple of things that did not feature in my original post.
5. For goodness sake, stop saying that every question you hear is great, wonderful, amazing and whatever else. There are very few questions which actually can be so described.
6. Stop defending your paper like it was your life. Consider saying: “I’ll need to re-think this’. It’s not the end of the world.
7. If you tell jokes, please do make sure they are funny(-ish). Especially, if you pause for the audience to burst laughing.
I will finish with a positive note, though. The best paper I heard, had nothing to do with anything I am even remotely interested in. Moreover I tend to dislike the kind of number-crunching the authors presented. Yet, it was a wonderful presentation: the assumptions, state of the art, methodology, results. There was one little thing I would have changed, but I didn’t comment, I knew the authors knew, they took a presentation shortcut (they did – I asked later). Moreover, one of the questions frontally challenged one of the assumptions and the author said: “Yes, it makes sense, I will re-calculate the results, compare and report back.” Wow! I was so impressed! The clarity, gap in knowledge (even though nothing earth-shattering), evidence-based claims, humility. Perfection. I even learnt something.
The paper was presented by a PhD student. Quite a number of those with PhDs could actually learn from him how to present a paper.
Finally, it might also be worth reminding colleagues that Power Point presentations can be started by pressing the F5 key. This advice was needed surprisingly often.