Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Summary slides should be summarily skipped

This is a summary of my blog post. It will begin with an introduction. After this, I will present the meat of it. I will then surprise you by discussing this. Finally, guess what, I will end with a pithy conclusion.

Ok - so you think I'm overdoing it. But this is exactly how summary slides in presentations now appear to me. Once I thought they were essential; now I think they take away from the presentation.

Think about it. The audience is sitting there all ready to hear about the work you're doing; they are at their most alert and ready to engage with your topic and try to understand your results. And what do you do? You show them a slide that sends them to sleep. Either it's that pro forma slide that we've all seen before, or you can't resist talking through every single aspect of the entire talk so that there's nothing to look forward to; no-one wants to hear the same talk twice.

Perhaps there's an argument to be made for a summary slide for longer talks, especially if it's the last 30 years of some professor's work and it's going to be rambling about a bit so a bit of steering could be useful. However (thankfully) the majority of talks these days are of the 25-30 minute variety and that time spent on a zero-information-content summary slide may translate into cramming the last five slides of results into 30 seconds.

Anyhoo, this is on my mind at the moment as I'm putting together a talk for the GCC in Fulda in a few weeks time. Thing is, I'm one slide short at the moment. Hmmmm...

6 comments:

Jonas Boström said...

Well, you could do the opposite and start the presentation with a bang, a la newspapers headline style...and then everyone can safely fall to sleep ; )

Jonas Boström said...

Not that they would fall asleep...when the hear about the new interesting findings

Chris said...

I was at a meeting where the head of research said "Skip the first 5 slides, if people don't know the background they should not be at this meeting".

Noel O'Boyle said...

@Jonas: Greg Landrum has told me that that's his preferred style: knock 'em out with the main result straightaway and then fill in the details.

I have to say that I'm not crazy about that approach; it feels like the rest of the talk is going to be an anti-climax, you know, like reading the last chapter of a book before beginning at the start.

Noel O'Boyle said...

@Chris: I bet there weren't many questions :-)

Markus Sitzmann said...

Skip outline and conclusion ... after the head slide give an short introduction of the topic on slide 1, slide 2 tells why you want to talk or add something to the topic - and instead of the conclusion slide give a take-home-message (usually the last slide before the acknowledgments).

Both slide 2 and the take-home-message slide should not exceed one sentence with 10 words(!)

I am not sure if I obey this rules myself but I was taught this is latest and greatest :-)