Science Talk Don’ts

I’m having a fantastic time at the International Congress for Conservation Biology learning about conservation marketing, citizen science, and conservation education. However, I am noticing some common communication mishaps. As there are already good blogs out there about how to create an effective scientific presentation, I would like to take the time here to point out some simple, easy-to-fix, and often overlooked presentation don’ts.

Don’t Apologize
Don’t ever apologize for your presentation or presentation style. I’ve seen a lot of people start with “I’m used to walking around the room, so if I start moving, just throw something at me,” or “I’m not going to use the microphone, so if you can’t hear me, just yell at me.” If you are aware of your flaw, then consciously practice not doing it! Don’t point it out before your talk because then the audience will just look for that flaw and possibly focus on that more than the talk. People remember the first thing you say and the last thing you say. Don’t make your first words an apology. Even with your permission, no one is going to throw anything at you. Use the microphone.

No Acknowledgement Slides
This is going to sound like science blasphemy, but I hate acknowledgement slides. Why do we need them? Does anyone really read them or care about them? Everyone understands that you are not doing the project all by yourself. This is why you have coauthors. If you want to highlight funders, simply put their logo within your presentation on the parts that they funded. Or state it during the presentation. As for the undergrads, grad students, and technicians, their name on a slide at the end of the talk does not really help them out. Thank them in person for their help on the project.

More importantly, this is your LAST chance to say something. This, along with the first thing you say, will be the most important part of your message and what you want your audience to leave with and remember. Acknowledgement slides ruin this final message and disrupt from the flow of the talk.

No Outlines Please!
Outlines are for courses and workshops that last over days, weeks, or months. Most talks only last 15 minutes (12 when allowing time for questions). We don’t need to know where you are going with the talk; we will find out very soon. Don’t waste the precious time you have to convey your message. Just start taking us there. Also, no one who presents outlines ever has a crazy order; it’s always exactly what we expect (intro, methods, results, discussion, conclusion).

Please Don’t Read to Me
We can all read. If you have something written on your slides, let us read it. If you want us to listen to you (which I highlight recommend), then don’t put text on your slide. You don’t need it. Trust me. If you absolutely think you need text, then keep it extremely simple, one sentence simple, so we can read and listen to you. Chris Parsons did this brilliantly during his talk. He embedded memes on his slide to drive home a point and create a “theme” for each slide, but still continued on with his talk. The main point of the meme related to the information he was presenting; he did not repeat what was on the slide.

Some of the best advice I ever got on giving a talk is from the North Carolina Museum of Natural SciencesScience Commedian, Brian Malow. YOU, not the slides, are the presentation. Malow states that even if there is a major computer malfunction, you should be able to give your presentation without slides. Even if you are giving a talk about wildlife photography, it is the emotion that the image evokes, and the story behind it that you should be able to describe and engage the audience with. You are not going to just show photos and say “here is a picture of a lion. This is another photo I like. This parrot is really pretty.” People are here to hear you and see you. If you are using a quote, then speak the quote. Don’t put it on the slide and read it. Give us an image that represents the quote that we can focus on while listening.

Look at the Audience
Always face the audience. When you read at, or look at your slides, we see the side of your head/neck. Your face is your most beautiful feature and it makes it easier for us to hear you. Remember YOU are the presentation.

No Formulas. Ever.
Just don’t do it. If people want the details of your model, they will email you or read the paper. We are not going to get anything out of looking at a super dense formula for 30 seconds during a presentation.

Do You Really Need the Text?
Finally, ask yourself, do you really need the text? Is the text there to help you remember what to say or to help us to understand? 99% of the time, it is the former. Images are more impactful and help people remember.


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