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Successful vs. Effective Presentations

The audience was getting restless. The job candidate had flipped through about 70-80 complicated slides in the first 45 minutes of their job talk. He then looked up and announced, "I'll have to speed up if I'm going to get through all my slides." Impressed by his thoroughness, the department made him an offer.

Increasingly, it is possible to achieve a degree of success in biomedical research despite an inability to effectively communicate scientific information. Audiences are increasingly satisfied with gaining only superficial understanding from a talk and massive volumes of data give the appearance of comprehensiveness. Leaders evaluating performance are themselves often creatures of the quantity over quality culture.

Talking faster to cope with time constraints may make the speaker feel good but it does nothing for the audience. Ditto for microscopic fonts or those slides with 8 or more graphs. Sadly, such speaking strategies are increasingly "adequate."

Three paradigm shifts are needed to move from successful to effective presentations:

1) Presentations must be designed for audience needs and they must be evaluated by what the audience learns, their increased ability to raise interesting questions, and to see the connections with their own research.

2) Presentations must be designed around a narrative showing. Only the data relevant to the narrative should be shown. We must move away from "data dump."

3) Presentations need to identify uncertainties, potential sources of error, and future strategies for closing these gaps.

An effective speaker will also be successful, but a successful speaker may not be effective in today's biomedical research culture.

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