Increasingly conference rooms are being built with two screens, one oriented toward the left and one toward the right. I'm not talking about large conference halls, I'm talking about classroom size rooms. In the new stem cell building at Stanford there were two high definition plasma screens on the front wall of a moderately sized conference room. Their picture was sharp, but too small for the audience tor had easily. Eventually we had to replace them with a more traditional projector illuminating one large central screen.

But the major reason to work with only one screen is that the pointer is a critical element of a presentation. It connects the presenter's words with the visual signal coming from the slide. You don't want the audience looking at a screen without the pointer. So tell everyone to sit on one side of the room and only use one screen.

One nice feature for large conference halls is technology that allows a digital pointer arrow, operated from a laptop, to simultaneously illuminate all the screens. For room designers, this is a critical technology if you want to have more than one screen.

Today I attended a major cancer center's weekly seminar. I had never visited this center, so I was looking forward to getting a sense of the culture, even if I couldn't understand all the material related to imaging agents in glioblastoma.

What I witnessed was unfortunately, not uncommon in biomedical research. I don't mean to pick on this center, or this speaker, it's what I've seen throughout my career and at many institutions.

Although this was the regular weekly center-sponsored talk, only about 30-35 people attended. More striking was the audience composition, which based on looking at the ages, I guess only 2 or 3 faculty attended. The rest were probably graduate students and postdocs. Rare is the Cancer Center that really does pull faculty together (they do however look interactive in written grant proposals!).

The presentation was also pretty typical; about 50-75 very complicated slides in 50 minutes, a thematic question buried somewhere in the talk, and little evidence that the speaker was concerned about what audience was comprehending or whether they were even listening. Had the speaker taken a look, he would have seen audience members furiously doing emails, surfing the web. A few were dozing

After the 50 minutes, ~75 slides, AND ZERO audience interaction , the remaining faculty member (the Center Director crept out early) asked the audience if there were any questions. There were none and about two thirds of the room starting emptying. Feeling a bit sheepish, the remaining faculty member posed a question as people continued to file out.

Again no particular criticism on this Center or this speaker. It's way too typical. We need to rethink how we communicate science.

Too often the speaker creates a narrative that differs from that portrayed on the slide. The speaker's role is to explain the slide. The speaker needs to create a synergy between the oral and visual presentation.

If you portray something on a slide and don't discuss it, you need to ask yourself, "Why it is on the slide?" Remember every unnecessary detail on a slide makes it more difficult for the audience. If you don't discuss it, it probably shouldn't be on the slide. Conversely, if you are going to discuss a point, it should normally be reinforced by a visual on the slide.