Ten tips for giving a good conference presentation

Fed up of boring your audience into non-existence?   Then follow the simple Herringshaw Guide to Legendary Lecturing!


I have been to a lot of scientific conferences over the last decade or so, in the UK, Europe and North America, and have seen a lot of truly dreadful presentations.  Often they are given by high-profile academics who have been lecturing in universities for years, so to guarantee that your conference talk is as good as theirs, I recommend you follow these ten simple steps:

1. Make sure you talk for the whole of the allocated time, if not longer. Your presentation is more important than anyone else's, and audience members must not be able to ask questions, as they are here to hear you, not interrogate you. Make sure you have at least twice as many slides as there are minutes allocated for your talk, and keep speaking till the chair of the session has to drag you from the stage.

2. Cram as much text onto your slides as possible, and ideally, then read the text out to the audience. If it's small enough and dense enough that they can't read it, they will appreciate your narration.

3. Make sure your pictures are small and intricate and difficult for the audience to comprehend. If you only have one image, make sure it is densely populated with acronyms, legends and abbreviations that only you can read and understand. This will prove how complex your research is.

4. Make your background as plain and bright and white as possible, so that your audience is blinded by the contrast and can barely pick out the text. It will act as a free eye-test for them, and is therefore an act of kindness.

5. Sound as bored and monotone as possible, barely changing the pitch of your voice, especially when summarizing your new discoveries. It is the audience's job to be interested, not yours.

6. Don't just give the talk. Instead, at the start, explain the structure of the talk, perhaps saying something along the lines of, "I will now introduce the topic I shall be talking about today, starting with the introduction, in which I will introduce the talk." In doing so, you will be stepping into the exciting world of quantum presentations, when you are simultaneously giving the talk, but also talking about the talk. Your audience will be most impressed.

7. If you have the choice between a green and a red laser pointer, use the red one, as it is harder to see, and therefore challenges your audience to pay attention. To take this to another level, use a combined laser pointer and slide-advancing device, and then confuse the various buttons repeatedly, such that you leap backwards and forwards through the slides, interspersing these jumps with occasional bursts of laser beam.

8. Make sure you use serif fonts, as they are much more elegant as a typeface, and what you're searching for is to make your presentation as close to a published paper as possible.  Ideally, it should just look like the page of a journal, transposed onto a screen.

9. Make sure that every slide has a minimum of ten 8-letter words, preferably at least twenty, and make sure you introduce some impenetrable new terminology, to educate your audience and broaden their vocabulary. To further enhance this, don't explain what any of the terminology means.

10. Last but not least, try to ensure that your presentation is in a format incompatible with the system the conference organizers are using, and then make sure you don't test it out till the instant your talk is due to begin.
       Ideally, don't even bother using a computer at all, but demand to use some ancient, dusty and dark slides that work only in a carousel that you made yourself. That way, when your slides are vomited from the carousel at high speed and out across the auditorium, those well-prepared audience members who brought torches will be able to aim them at the slides as they fly past and get a fleeting personal glimpse of your subject matter.

And once you've learned to follow these ten straightforward guidelines, you can look forward to a long career of well-appreciated public presentations, and regular invitations to be a keynote speaker at international meetings.
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