Conference woes and PowerPoint crimes

The beetles almost killed me...but at least they're pretty.

My life for the past couple of months has been pretty much ridonculous. Here’s how it started:

Supervisor: “You should give a talk at the ESC meeting this fall.”

Me (panicking, but appearing outwardly calm): “Cool. But, um, I have no data yet.”

Supervisor: “Well, it’s two months away.”

Me (hopefully): “How about a poster?”

Supervisor: “Nah, give a talk instead. Oh, and sign up to compete for the President’s Prize. It’ll be awesome.”

Me (now really panicking): “Erm, no problem.”

Since that conversation, my life has consisted of very few things:

    1. sorting samples
    2. pinning beetles
    3. crying over a 1200 page taxonomic key
    4. SPREADSHEETS FROM HELL
    5. R
    6. PowerPoint
    7. Coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.

I recently returned from the conference that was responsible for all this insanity: The Entomological Society of Canada (ESC) annual meeting.  For the first time as  PhD student, I gave a talk about my research to my peers from around the country.

I had (very) preliminary data, which I’d only just managed to finish amassing days before the conference. I was still tweaking my slides mere hours before the talk, a position I’ve never found myself in before (and hopefully will not repeat too often – it’s a tad stressful).

Despite all this, the talk was well-received (at least, I didn’t get boo-ed off the stage) and I was pleased with my performance.

I was originally thinking that, for this post,  I’d do something like a “Tips for Preparing for Conferences on Time Whilst Retaining your Sanity”, but I clearly fail at that.

An actual PPT slide (from www.infocus.com). BURN IT WITH FIRE!

How about some tips for creating good PowerPoint slides instead?

The quality of your slides can really make or break a talk. I know that the care I put into my slides for the ESC conference really contributed to how my talk was received AND to the quality of my own performance.

I was actually rather astonished by the number of REALLY BAD PPT slides (or entire presentations) I saw at ESC that clearly violated some of the main tenets of “How Not To Do PPT”. Since the problem apparently persists in academia, I’ll consider this a public service announcement.

Here are some simple ideas that will help you make your presentations look professional:

1.  Edit your slides carefully.

2.  Use less text.

3.  Use contrasting color schemes.

4.  Avoid distracting backgrounds.

5.  Don’t overuse animations or fancy slide transitions.

6.  Be consistent (themes, colours, text, layout).

7.  Present simple, legible figures.

8.  Don’t use Clip Art.

This weekend I crafted a PPT presentation entitled, “How to Maike Terrable PowerPoint Slidez“; it illustrates these main points.  I’ll be presenting this talk to the students I’m TAing this week, to help them prepare for the presentations they’ll be delivering at the end of the month as part of their course work.

You can see a PDF of the slides here.  They’re mostly self-explanatory, except perhaps the 7th slide: just imagine lots and lots of terrible, cheezy animations, sound effects and slide transitions (yuck!)

I’d love to hear your opinions on PPT “crimes” – please share in the comments!

5 responses to “Conference woes and PowerPoint crimes”

  1. Kristina says:

    Thanks for the fun and informative post (and slides!).

    Here’s another website with some good tips and some extra links: http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/10-tips-for-preparing-a-professional-presentation/

    Preparing great slides and giving good talks is a skill that takes lots of practice! But it’s also lots of fun 🙂

    • Definitely some good pointers on that link, thanks! I actually do like making slides, for the most part. I usually like a little more time to think about and get comfy with my material before SPEAKING about them, but I don’t minding talking in front of an audience. The jitters/nervousness tends to slip away after the first minute or so!

  2. Warren says:

    Burn it with fire! LOL luv ya
    Btw I can live with clip art. Otherwise, totally agree

  3. Dallas says:

    Great post! You’re hilarious, and I totally agree that a bad presentation can kill the most brilliant of ideas. Because of how many bad presentations there are, I always find myself saying, “I hate Powerpoint” when really I just hate how it tends to be (ab)used. There’s room for brilliant presentations to be created, especially with your guidance 🙂

    Have you seen this?
    http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2011/10/the-atomic-powerpoint-method-of-creating-a-presentation.html

  4. skye says:

    Love it! I recently got back from a conference where people were taking pictures of my slides…..is that crazy? Or is that copy right? Bravo on completing this. You are terrific!

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