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Transcript - 5 crucial mistakes to avoid and what to do instead when presenting your research.

A conversation with Maureen Archer (Part 2)

Published onMar 28, 2023
Transcript - 5 crucial mistakes to avoid and what to do instead when presenting your research.
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Jo: Alright. Welcome back, Maureen Archer, to this show called Access 2 Perspectives Conversations. It’s a great honor to have you here again. 

Maureen: Oh, it's fantastic to be returning. Yes, I appreciate it. 

Jo: So, for those of you who don't know Maureen, she is a dear colleague of mine. We've also co-facilitated workshops together in the past and might be doing so in the future as well. So stay tuned for any announcements in that direction. You are also serving researchers like myself who struggle with scientific writing, scholarly writing at large. You've had a fair share of experience and expertise sharing with researchers when it comes to fine tuning the English language, particularly if it's not the first language. In this show, since we spoke, we had a couple of episodes covering the importance of multilingualism and the importance of knowing a language well enough to be able to transmit information embedded in this case, the English language. So that the readers or listeners for an audience in person or on zoom or whatever, like where you present already so that the recipient of the information can actually understand and process information as intended by the person who delivers it, like the presenting researcher. And today we agreed that we focus a little bit, very much so, on presentation techniques and common mistakes to be avoided, along with suggestions and tips and tricks on how to do better, isn't it? So let's dive right in. So let's just get started. The floor is yours. 

Maureen: Sure. Yes. I've had the pleasure of working with hundreds of scientists over the past since I was in grad school. It's been over 30 years now that I've been able to help, both as a professor of linguistics as well as consultant and trainer in my business called Professional English. And English as a second or foreign language is my specialty. So I've been able to work with some of the brightest minds from around the world, over 50 countries. So it's been fantastic. And over those years and with that variety of clientele, I've really noticed a pattern of some of the most, I would say important mistakes just to avoid. And so that's what I'd like to share with your listeners today, because just some simple tricks, some simple tips, things to keep in mind can make a huge difference when they're trying to present their information orally. Be it conference talk, teaching any aspect where they're presenting the material orally can be very instructive. So if you like, I just jump into the first one. 

Jo: Yes, let's go. Yes. 

Maureen: The first one is putting too much information into one presentation. I have seen wonderful research that just gets a bit lost if it's trying to be compact into, let's say, a 20 minute presentation, it often comes down to the best thing to think of. What is the purpose of the presentation? What are you really trying to convey? Oftentimes, if you're trying to put too much information into one presentation, it's best to break it out into multiple presentations. And that can even be beneficial for one's career if you don't want to get everything in one presentation. It would be better even just for your publication and presentation portfolio to have it in multiple talks. So who is your audience and what is it that you want them to understand? If you can write down your purpose in one sentence, it's a very nice guiding sentence to help really focus on what it is that you want your audience to leave understanding? 

Jo: I have to say that I need to plead guilty on this one, and not only as a researcher, but also as an entrepreneur on my role as providing or giving workshops on a particular topic. Because I always have a level, an urge of sharing as much information as I think the audience would need and appreciate and then realizing that the feedback is often then, oh, it's not well structured. The feedback was never there was too much information. But people are not able to process all of that information that you put into a certain amount of time. 

Maureen: Yes, as you were saying that, I was thinking that it reminds me of serving a meal. If you serve someone a meal, you don't want to give them too much food because then they won't be able to eat it or it will even be bad for them, or it would be just too overwhelming. And also during a presentation, your audience is not going to memorize everything. So what are some key items that you want them to leave understanding? So yeah, that idea of saving some for later for other presentations and really clarifying, what is it that you want to highlight for that particular presentation based upon your audiences? 

Jo: Exactly. I think the comparison with food or a meal, like with a is it a precourse, the main dish, and then a dessert, which also correlates with a good structure. What's the introduction context? What's the main one piece of information you actually want to convey to the audience? And then the dessert would be maybe a little bit of storytelling and contextualizing. Again, we cannot stop the world in one day, or we cannot possibly nobody's asking us to condense five years of research into a 20 minute presentation. You have to select. And what's important for the audience to know at this point, for this purpose, for what they came for to hear. And what have you done, like each and every minute throughout your past five years? 

Maureen: Yes. And what is the purpose? Is the purpose to show how the results of your research can be applied in a certain area? If that's the case, then that's what should be the main focus, not all of your methodology or all of the background, because it's just too many details. So to give a few details of the earlier items, but then really focus on the applicability, if that is the purpose. 

Jo: Brilliant. Okay, that makes sense. Totally buying.. Okay, so what's the best practice instead? We said to choose one or maximum of three. Is three also a good number? 

Maureen: Right. I would say to focus on the purpose. What is your purpose of that presentation? What do you want your audience to leave understanding realistically?

Jo:  Okay. And then the number of second messages will crystallize from there. 

Maureen: Right. And you're right, it should not be more than three. It's very nice just to have one strong singular purpose as opposed to maybe two or three, depending on the length of the presentation. If it's 1 hour, maybe three, but yeah, if it's 20 minutes, maybe one. 

Jo: Okay.

Maureen: Very nice. And the second mistake to avoid is putting too much information on one PowerPoint slide. And I understand the urge to do that. Oftentimes people will try to pack everything they want to say onto one slide and that becomes their speaker's notes and that becomes a problem because anything you put on a slide can be asked, the audience can say, oh wait, I see that number up here, tell me about that. Well, it's not really what you wanted to highlight or spend time on. So it's much better to have meaner slides that then you can talk about the details of. Instead of having everything on the slide, it should be as clean as possible and then speak the details because the focus should really be on the presenter and not on the slide. And oftentimes too, if we try to put too much information on the slide, it becomes too small and then people can't see it and then it just becomes frustrating. 

Jo: Yeah. And then they try to deliver and they're not listening anymore. 

Maureen: Exactly. Oh, actually it's a brilliant insight that we can only do one, we can only have one focus at a time. We can either be listening or we can be reading the slide. So if you put a lot of text up on a slide, there will be some people who read it through and not listen to what you are saying if you're saying something different, or they will listen and they won't read or they'll go back and forth. And it's much better to control the focus of the audience. Do you want them listening to you or do you want them looking at the slides? 

Jo: Yeah, I think there's also a common tip. I don't know how common it really is, obviously at first, but remind me of the billboard rule which I often share in my courses, which means that if you visualize or if you remember a billboard on the road that you can actually capture as you drive past in a reasonably fast car, no particular brands here. So the billboard rule says you should be able to capture the information that's written or visualized on the billboard within and in less than 3 seconds or one. 

Maureen: I love that rule for poster presentations because poster presentations. If you're in a let's say if you're in a conference that has a side room that has all kinds of poster presentations happening, it's very nice to have different levels of glancing. So you have the headlines that people can just read from a distance, and then if they get a little closer, you might have your sub ideas, the different places, but have the font big enough so that people can read it from a ten day, so they can get clean things, and then if they come closer, they can read more. So that's a really nice strategy for posters. 

Jo: And then applied to the slides of a presentation, it ensures that you will only put so few words on it, memorizing. I guess you'll be actually expected to read this within 2 seconds. So I can only put a maximum of ten words on a slide, or maybe twelve. And that's it? 

Maureen: Yeah. And it's much better to have nontext visuals if you can. Yeah. Or maybe just have your chart of your graph and talk about it instead of trying to put all of the text to explain it, because you are the one explaining it. It's very nice. And there's some amazing books out there. Death by PowerPoint is one that comes to mind. There's a nice variety out there.

Yeah. I always think, oh yeah, bullet points, get it. That's my part now.

Jo:  And then one more thing. You said that some people might be tempted to put too much text on a slide to be able to memorize what they wanted to say. I would argue I agree with you, and I would argue you still need to practice. So to know what you want to say, actually, by heart, you should not let go of that idea because the slide should only underline what you're actually saying. The people came to hear you in order to read an article. They could have done that at home.

Maureen:  I really like that. Yes. And what is the benefit of attending a presentation as opposed to just reading an article? For a presentation you really get the energy and the insight from the researcher, him or herself, and you have the ability to ask questions. 

Yeah, but what you just said is a very nice lead into my third mistake. Yeah, the third mistake is not preparing materially mentally and physically in advance. 

Jo: Wait a minute. Okay. 

Maureen: Physically, too. Yeah, physically. This is one that's not often taught. So let's start with material first, which you referenced was really knowing your material, being very comfortable with it, even sometimes especially. I've seen this in the corporate organizational world a lot where people are handed presentations by, let's say, someone up the chain of command and said, here, go present this. Well, you still need to really understand it to practice, but to read your slides, prepare your presentation aloud, not just in your head, but actually saying it and timing yourself and understanding that. Especially if you are on a panel with multiple presenters that you're, especially if you're, let's say, the third or fourth in a panel. And suddenly, instead of 20 minutes, you have ten minutes, because the people before you have taken too much time. And prepare to say, okay, if that happens, what do I really need to focus on? Which slides can I let go of or can I minimize? And just practicing that flexibility because you never know what might happen. So to prepare materially to understand and to go through and to make sure you don't have any tongue twisters in your presentation. Yeah, try to do that one. 

Jo: Can you say one? Now that we mentioned it, do you have an example of a tongue twister? Maureen: Yes, tongue twisters. Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. She sells seashells by the seashore,

Jo: I know that with Sally. But also she is actually more difficult. I'm not going to try. 

Maureen: No, but oftentimes there are words that you will have to pronounce that are difficult, like interoperability. Some words are just multi syllabic that are good to kind of warm up. To prepare mentally means to get yourself in a positive frame of mind, to have positive affirmations, encouragement. Try to get any negativity out of your mind because people are showing up to hear what you have to say. They are interested. So to prepare mentally, I also do this. Any presentation that I make, I think of myself as a teacher, not in a derogatory way, but just the fact that these are people who want the information I have to present. My goal is to give them this information in the best and clearest manner possible. 

Jo: And they have friends, they come with a friendly attitude. They may be hungry, if it’s the last time before lunch, but otherwise… 

Maureen: Keep that in mind. Yes, great. And then physically it is to warm up your instrument, your mouth. So to stretch, I usually stretch up, stretch out. I like to do some tongue twisters. I don't know if you know the Mary Poppins movie, but there's super cali fragilistic expialidocious is what she says. So anytime, even before doing any kind of talk, I will do these physical warming ups. Also, another good thing is to do some deep breathing. I do this especially right before it's my turn to speak. Just quietly take three deep breaths as I'm listening to the person who's speaking before me. Because not only does it help relax, but it gives oxygen to the brain, which is fantastic. 

Jo: Who doesn't need your Lbs? 

Maureen: A little bit physical as well. Preparation. So those are the three really nice areas to think about. 

Jo: Can I add the power pose? I love how you stress the jaw muscles and the actual apparatus to convey the information through oral presentation, but then also to gain confidence, to stretch the spine, to build a posture in front of the audience, to also take ourselves seriously and be taken seriously by the audience instead of branching and so on. But then by taking in a power pose, Amy Chad, I think is the research or tab target. We can link that also to the shonotes..

Maureen: Yeah. Fantastic. Yeah. Just as you stand up to present, stand up. Be your tallest, most confident self. It reminds me of the silly phrase, but it does work. Say fake it till you make it. 

Jo: Oh, yeah. 

Maureen: Even if you don't feel confident, have that confident pose. Stand up straight. Put your shoulders back a little bit. Look people in the eye, even if you're terrified, but just act a bit of acting. And it's amazing how it will actually affect you.

Jo:  I have another favorite Ted Talk. I think it's what Ted ad, ted Education, where they had an educated movie about the fight or flight reaction, where scientific evidence, it's normal, it's expected. Expect to be scared to either fight or flight. User reaction is to flight. Who wants to die in victory, I guess, on point. So our body is calling for flights when we are about to present, and that's a physical reaction, because we're exposing ourselves as a potential threat, even if rationally, we know this is not a threat. People are here to learn from me. But the body thinks, oh, my God, what are you doing to me? 

Maureen: First, we're stepping out of the pack and into view, and it's an exposure. But if you think the fact that you are doing it for the benefit of those who are attending, I love the idea of focusing on the audience instead of focusing on yourself, what are you giving them? You're giving them this information. They want to receive this information. Therefore your focus is on them. It's not on yourself. And most people are not focusing on you, really, anyway, they see you. But they're focusing on themselves because we're naturally self focusing. And that gave me great comfort when I learned it, I thought, yeah, they don't really care about what I look like. They want to know what I can tell them that will help them. So they don't care what jacket I'm wearing or what my hair looks like. They don't really care. It doesn't matter.

Jo:  At a conference, because I actually came. They signed up for the content and we're here to deliver the content. 

Maureen: Exactly. Yes. And also a side note for that is expected to make performance errors. We all make errors as we speak. So we're going to slip up on a certain word or we're going to search for a word that we didn't have at the tip of our tongue, and it's going to and that's normal. If you see a true transcript, there'll be a bunch of UMS and us and this. Even though we're not seeing them that often, they will still come in a little bit. So to be realistic with yourself, do not expect perfection, because there's no such thing as a perfect talk. It is just you expect the performance errors.

Maureen: And yeah, I would like to add also, let's allow ourselves to be humans. We are not robots.

Maureen: True. True. Yes, true. 

Jo: Imperfection is human. 

Maureen: Yes, exactly. Which is right. All right, would you like number four? 

Jo: Yes, please. Okay, number four and five. These are mistakes that happen during the presentation itself. And number four is failing to give transition to keep the audience connected and focused normally. And I don't have anything to back this up, but I have read somewhere that we tend to have about a 25% efficiency rate with listening. That just means that we focus on what we hear and then we drift off. We come back and we drift off. We come back and we drift off. And we've all experienced that when we've been in presentations. We're like, oh, wow, I was thinking about lunch. But no, I need to focus on what's being said here. 

Jo: I'm so glad you mentioned that there's actually scientific evidence. I'll try and find it for you guys who are listening. Because as many of these things, unless we talk about it, it's also happening to me. And I thought I was the only one. Am I the only one in the whole audience who cannot concentrate on this really exciting and interesting talk.

Maureen:  It is very. And just think about those who have had little sleep, those who are distracted by something that's going on in their lives. They have probably even more difficulty focusing on what you're saying. So as you as the presenter, you realize that that is the reality. We're dealing with human beings who have this challenge, especially as we transition from one side to the next. It's good to both orally introduce it as well as have headings on your slides that tell the audience where we are in the presentation. What is the topic of the slide we're looking at? So if I'm transitioning, I might say, and now I'm going to talk about the methodologies for this particular research. And so then I have the methodology slide. And also when you do that, it tends to bring people in. Oh, we're going on to something new now. I hear this. So just the simple act of having transitions between each of the slides will keep your audience with you. 

Jo: When you give workshops, if you were asked to measure, which I'm doing now, like, what's the percentage of, like, highlighting, please add a transition to your slides because it's missing in a practice talk, like, is this common? Well, it's a common mistake. Like one of the common mistakes. So you see that quite often? 

Maureen: Oh, yes, very common. I think it's most common because you as a presenter know what's coming next. So you just present it as opposed to introducing it. And the nice part about introducing is you're creating that cognitive space for your audience to put that information in their heads. So you're preparing them, and so you're preparing them for the new bit of information that's coming along, and they're much more likely to not only be focused, but retain it better and be able to process it. So it's very helpful on so many levels to do that instead of just one slide after the next slide, after the next slide, after the next slide, and we're not sure where you are. 

Jo: Yeah, okay, good to know. In my scientific writing course, most often I use the title scientific Writing from a reader's perspective. And to be honest, between you and I, as if nobody else was listening, I haven't thought about the same approach, representing I mean, it's kind of intrinsic as we practice, but this is why we practice. We want to put ourselves in the audience's shoes to help them. Being able to follow our presentation and not coming from a presenter's approach, while that's regular, but actually doing the mind shift of how somebody in the audience receives information, I'm trying to convey.

Maureen:  Exactly. It is the very foundation of everything I teach about communication. Communication is not about you. It's about what you're the receiver, who is it? Because let's say you're making a presentation to fellow experts in your field. You're going to present something one way. If you're presenting it to fifth graders, you're going to present it a different way. If you're presenting it to people who are interested but don't know any of the technical terminology, you should really present it in a different way. Yeah. Instead, it's that idea of packaging everything for the audience. It's so crucial. 

Jo: It is. So now that we talk about it, it's so obvious and it's easily forgotten because we make it about us and not the topic, but it's actually about the recipient. 

Maureen: It's about the recipients because you already know the information. So, yeah, if you're just presenting for yourself, you're really wasting your time because you already know it 

Jo: And everybody else is true. 

Maureen: Yeah. Sometimes the most profound or the most simple insight. So, yeah, I really like that. Oh, this also goes to the fifth and final common mistake, I would say, and that is speaking too quickly. And this happens so often, and it's so important to slow down. It probably feels sometimes, for example, if you're speaking at the pace that I'm speaking right now, it might feel a bit slow as you're doing it. However, there may be people in the audience who are adjusting their ears to your accent. They may be those who are just adjusting to, oh, wow, now I got to function in English again, or oh, what was that word? And so just saying it slowly really helps people process it. And if you speak too quickly and people start not being able to comprehend you, then all is lost. And the other reason to speak more slowly is because you will see that the more professional speakers do that, they speak more slowly because it tends to command focus. It's like this person is relaxed, they're in control. They're speaking at a pace that's not too fast, because oftentimes if we're nervous and then we start talking too quickly, and then we can't get it out and we're just the adrenaline going. And so we tend to race because we're nervous. So if we slow down, it's that idea of standing tall and confident. Just try speaking a little more slowly as well. You'll be amazed at how people tend to focus a bit more. 

Jo: Beautiful. I also haven't seen that from this angle. Thank you. 

Maureen: Yeah. 

Jo: Speaking slowly is a matter of authority, or it expresses control and security. also in a sense so people feel secure to listen.

Maureen: And it gives you that chance to really look for the words that you want to say as well. And so it also allows you to emphasize what you want to emphasize. And as you practice, it's actually not a bad idea to record your speech and listen and to see, am I talking too quickly at times or how is it sounding from an outside perspective? 

Jo: Okay, here's a suggestion, because I have a few friends and colleagues who speak really fast. I think I can sometimes also do the same. And now with these digital devices that we all carry in our suitcases and pockets, there's often a feature where you can not only double speed a recording, but also slow down a recording. And how funny is that stuff? Record and then increase or decrease the speed of our own voice and listen to ourselves and see what effect that has. 

Maureen: Very interesting. But I would say even the Ted Talks that you referenced, notice how slowly they often speak, right? 

Jo: Yeah

Maureen: It's very interesting.

Jo:  And these are considered fine, sometimes over polished and super polished presentation modes, right? 

Maureen: Yeah. They are often coached so that they will be able to present most confidently. And it's difficult when that adrenaline is running, but to take those three deep breaths, remind yourself to stand tall and slow down. It just has an amazing effect.

Jo:  Really. Okay, so in summary, we are going to repeat all five, and then the two of us come up with best practices instead. So don't do this instead, try that. 

Maureen: Okay. All right. So the first one is don't put too much information into a single presentation. So instead, think of what the primary purposes of that you want in that single presentation. And then also think if you have a lot of data that should be parsed into different presentations. 

Jo: Right. So less is more. 

Maureen: Less is more, often less is more. Very good. 

Jo: Okay. 

Maureen: Second one is to avoid putting too much information onto one PowerPoint slide. So kind of the same, less is more.

Jo: So people in the audience can only either listen or read.

Maureen:  Exactly.

Jo:  If you put so much text. They will read, they cannot listen. Whatever you say will be lost to at least 20%, 70% of the audience. I mean, once a while. 

Maureen: Definitely, they can only focus on one thing. They can listen or they can read. Very nice. And then failing to prepare materially mentally and physically. So I think the advice would be to take the time needed to prepare effectively, to practice it, to have that Positivity, to know that you are there for your audience to convey the information they want, and to warm up your instrument and to breathe deeply. 

Yeah. Nothing to add. Thank you. 

Maureen: Number four, failing to give transitions to keep your audience connected. So to both orally as well as on the slide, have a header that tells your audience where you are in the presentation, but to help them bring them back in from wherever their brain is at the moment. To help prepare them for the next slide by introducing it. And it's just simple. On the next slide, I'll show blah, blah, blah. And the last one is not to speak too quickly, but basically to slow down. Really enunciate and have that command of what you're saying.

Jo: Enunciate. I might have seen it before as I'm also teaching presentation techniques, but for those who don't know the English language very well, what does enunciate mean? Basically, but in a different way?

Maureen: Yeah, basically being clear about your pronunciation. Really focusing on clarity of the vowels, the consonants. 

Jo: Yeah, I remember where I saw it. 

Maureen: Yeah. And that happens if you slow down. Very nice, very good. 

Jo: Thank you so much for sharing that. You mentioned death by PowerPoint. Is there maybe one or two other references that we can add to the reference list for the reading? 

Maureen: What I can do is let me pull up some and I can share those with you and you can maybe put some links in for the podcast. That would be fantastic. Yeah, there's so much good advice. But this especially is for those scientists that I've helped over the years. These are some veterans that I thought would really help your listeners today. 

Jo: So cherry picked references will be edited and there is not an exclusive list or not an exhaustive list. Rather, it's a very exclusive list exclusively selected by you or exclusively for you. Selected by and for your listener. Thanks for listening and if you have any questions, please write in the comments or send us an email. You can, as always, reach out to Maureen for further advice. We are also here to service. If you have colleagues or group, research group who would like to build up their presentation skills, we are ready to be at your service. Yeah, and what else is there? We link all your contact details so people can reach out to you directly. And thank you so much for sharing this. I learned something new again. 

Maureen: I’m so glad to share the experience. Yes, And please share these insights with your colleagues as well. Very nice. Well, thank you, Jo. It's been a pleasure. 

Jo: Yeah, again. Likewise. Speak soon. Whenever. Well, there's always something to share. But whenever opportunity comes again, thank you. 

Maureen: Thank you and be confident. Yes, I will. Very good. 

Jo: Thank you. 

Maureen: Alright. Take care. Bye.

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