Welcome to 'The Art of Scientific Presentations'!


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At some point, all of us are faced with the challenge of talking about our research in public. Whether we're speaking to our colleagues, an audience at a professional conference or even our family and friends, it can be a struggle to get across the results of months (or years!) of work in only a few minutes.

In this seminar, we'll talk about ways to improve scientific or professional communication. More importantly, students will have the chance to experiment with several different presentation methods and see what method works best for them. By the end of the semester, I hope that we'll be better equipped to discuss our research with both experts and non-specialists. I also expect that students will have put together a set of visual aids that they'll be able to use later in conference presentations, job interviews or public outreach.

As a 'pre-work' assignment, I'd like you to read two articles on presentations and professional communication.

The first article is called 'Let there be stoning' [PDF] and was published by the journal Groundwater in the mid 1980s. The tone of the article is pretty aggressive but it makes several good points about problems that you often see at professional conferences.

Second, have a look at 'The cognitive style of PowerPoint' [PDF] by Edward Tufte. Tufte is an Emeritus Professor at Yale University who is widely respected for his writing on information design.

Please read both articles prior to our first meeting; they should provide a sneak-peek of some of the themes we'll discuss over the next few weeks and help you decide if this course is right for you.

See you on March 26, Room 445 Blegen Hall on the West Bank of the Twin Cities campus.


Is this thing on?

I am Jon, a PhD student in Civil Engineering studying mainly river meander dynamics.

I guess TED talks don't count, and otherwise I can't think of any exceptional talks. But I did just come back from a great 4 hour lecture given by Chris Keylock that was engaging, interesting, and topical. He included audience participation, relevant slides, and thinking on the fly while avoiding abstraction and wordiness. The level of the talk was perfect for the audience.

Hi! My name is Brittany, and I'm a 2nd year PhD student in Microbiology.

I've been to a number of good talks, but one of the best was probably when Dr. Frances Arnold from Caltech gave the Dagley lecture in 2012. She was enthusiastic and made some really complicated protein evolution concepts easy to follow. I find myself getting lost halfway through a lot of science talks that aren't specifically in my field, but this wasn't one of those times.

Hi everyone,

I'm Laura and I'm a PhD candidate in Geography. My work is on the politics of public transportation and the design of built environments. I'm struggling to think of a "best talk." But I was at a conference a few weeks back and watched some lackluster presentations, so I can say one thing that many middling talks in human geography share: too much writing on the powerpoint! How am I supposed to follow what you are saying AND read that huge block quote from your favorite author that you've put up in the background? Anyway, looking forward to the class.

Hi! My name is Melinda and I am a PhD student in the Department of Geography, Environment and Society.

One speech that sticks in my memory is Ben Schoenbauer speaking at the Energy Design Conference and Expo in Duluth a few years ago. He was comparing the performance of different types of water heaters - i.e. not an especially exciting subject matter. What impressed me most about his talk was how he seamlessly wove together findings from interviews with homeowners and technical details about the heating systems. He presented as an integrated whole something which could very easily have come across as only loosely related. I was also impressed by his carefully designed visuals and they way he enthusiastically handled questions from skeptical audience members.

I'm Taylor Long, a masters student in Geographic Information Science (GIS).

In January, I had the pleasure of seeing Janine Benyus deliver a keynote about biomimicry to a crowd of geodesign professionals. Her talk consisted mostly of beautiful full-screen photographs and lots of personal stories. She managed to make her interests relevant to our interests. By the end of the talk there was a palpable euphoria in the air. It wasn't so much a lecture as it was a spellbinding performance.

Hi! My name is Alex Reich and I am in the Natural Resources Science and Management MS program, investigating the environmental implications of food waste/loss and eating patterns.

While I couldn't tell you about a purely academic talk, a TED talk by my current advisor Jon Foley was one of the reasons I decided to come study at UMN.

hi guys,
my name is kai, and i'm a phd student in the department of geography, environment and society. i think my favorite talks both convey information and are able to set a captivating emotional tone through creating resonance (rather than redundancy) between writing and reading style and the use of visual material - a presentation by stuart mclean at the AAG comes to mind, as well as a job talk by nikhil anand in our department.

Hi, my name is Salman, I am a PhD student in Aerospace Engineering
One of my best presentations that I enjoyed was at Berlin University of Technology in Germany.
The Talk was about the subject of solving the problem of traffic congestion. This talk was presented in the mathematics department and I was expecting to see a large number of complex equations, but the speaker did not enter into the details of calculations, but he was able to deliver the information in an easy and clear way, supported by pictures and movies of some study cases. The show was simplified so that anyone from the public could understand the topic.

Hi All! My name is Clare, and I'm a 3rd year PhD student in the Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior Program.

A talk that sticks in my mind is one from the national meeting for ecologists last summer. One of the plenary speakers gave a talk that spanned very small scale patterns to large scale implications. It was interactive -- he started by asking the audience a provocative question, and ended by returning to that question. But, most notable was the impression it left. People couldn't stop talking about it. I appreciated his ability to both work through the nitty gritty science in a robust way, but also link that work to broader questions.

Hi! I’m Yan, a PhD student in Natural Resources Science and Management program, working on using remote sensing to detect and map natural resource change.
One of the best talks I’ve seen was given by Al Gore in 2009 TED. The topic he presented has a very close relevance with my research, which is about how climate change impact natural resource and landscape change. By using kind of PechaKucha way, mostly the slides are visual, animation and very few words. He lead the audience to go through every slide with a very fast pace, and this keeps the audience exposed to constant fresh idea and stimulation, which bring large information and won't bore those audience. Comparing Gore's similar topic talks for TED talks in 2006,2008 with 2009, I'm feeling his talk in 2009 is better since it's more compacted and easier to follow up/

I'm Amanda Meyer and I'm a PhD student in the Natural Resources Science and Management (NRSM) program. I use spatial and social science to study urban ecosystems. I truly enjoy TED talks and was delighted by the new IGNITE sessions at the Ecological Society of America conference this past August. IGNITE sessions are conference sessions meant to quickly highlight lots of research being done in a single academic area. Speakers are allowed 20 slides and 15 seconds per slide, totaling to 5 minutes of talking time. The session I attended was focused on urban ecology and featured big names in the discipline. The format and energy of the speakers kept my attention through every detail of each talk, and truly did serve its purpose to "ignite" a lively discussion afterward.

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This page contains a single entry by Scott St. George published on March 13, 2014 10:53 AM.

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