Lose the laser pointer! Let your slides speak for themselves!

All too often the laser pointer ruins talks for me. So many speakers use fiddling with the little red or green light as a kind of scribbling on the slide, distracting the audience from the very thing he, or she, wants us to look at. Stirring a red dot over a graph does not make it easier to see. Some of you use it almost incessantly, as if we were cats, and only pay attention when there is a moving dot to chase.

I know you are nervous. I know you find it comforting to fiddle with the laser pointer as you struggle with exactly how to explain your work. Maybe we could give you an old-fashioned ball point pen to click in and out.

Your slides should be simple enough that we should see what you are talking about. If you are worried that we are not looking at the right part of the slide, you could animate it, or put in a duplicate with that part circled. Presentation software is very sophisticated these days. If you feel the need to do something more, use your words. Say top left, or something like that. We are actually interested in your work, and are listening.

Also, remember not to go too quickly. We are unlikely to have ever seen your slides before. Every time, please explain the axes, so we know what to look at. And make the heading be a statement of importance. Say “Red fish swim faster than green fish,” not “Relationship of fish color to fish speed.” It would be great if you could have a first figure that just shows the predicted pattern, so we can get used to the way you present the data before we see the actual data.

When the laser pointer comes on, I look down. You see, for me it is also a migraine trigger. My head can begin to throb even during the seminar. If you don’t use it much, I can watch and look down before it comes on. If it is used a lot, I’ll open the Kindle on my phone, and get back to my novel. I want to hear what you have to say, but it isn’t worth a migraine.IMG_0442.jpg

Sara Kalla carefully setting up her laser-free Ph.D. talk.

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About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
This entry was posted in Presentations and seminars, Scientific meetings, The joy of teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

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