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The following figure gives a quick summary of the process from data gathering to presentation of results.

Experiments (data gathering research) in the laboratory generally produce mountains of data. A critical part of the presentation process (also part of the research process) is to take that mountain of data, figure out what is important and decisive, and understand the proper context for that data (context is symbolized by the layout of the pages on the grass). You cannot proceed to the presentation until you have figured out what small portion of your data is important and explanatory.

The key point is that a slide presentation is not a "data dump." It concisely summarizes the thematic lessons learned from the research.

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.

You’ve followed all my instructions, worked really hard, and finished creating your presentation. So you think you are done, right? Wrong! Every time you give the presentation you will uncover ways to relate the same content with fewer words, fewer slides, and less overall detail. You will become more aware of the essential and non essential material and find better words and visuals. A slide presentation better and more concise with time and repetition. Less will be more! In the words of Mark Twain, "I didn't have time to write a short letter so I wrote a long one instead."

One way to short circuit that “learning” process is to us the index card method when you first think your presentation is ready to go. Write out a card for each slide and write (only) the takeaway message on each slide. Try rehearsing the presentation with only the cards. You can experiment with changing the order to see if that improves the flow of the narrative. You may find that you can remove a card or two or maybe you need to change the takeaway message for some of the cards.

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