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Dr. Hauss Training & Consulting Posts

Can a Slidedoc Ever be a Presentation?


Need to present the latest study on your product? That’s easy! The publisher even provides pre-made slides for the figures! Just drop them into PowerPoint and you’re set to go! You’re asked to present the pertinent results presented at a recent conference? No problem! There’s a website offering whole slide kits on conference proceedings that you can use! Life is easy!

Except…. It isn’t.

The result, all too often, is speakers bombarding the audience with an information overload, garnering blank stares trying to make sense of the projection image while the speaker’s words fall on deaf ears, the audience’s attention being completely tied up by the visual input. With glazed eyes and spinning heads, the presentation may well lead to a “wow”-effect – but probably not the one aimed for.

The fundamental problem is the question of what actual purpose the slides are going to be used for. If I use slides of conference proceedings for my personal reference, just between me and my monitor screen, then things work which might not work if I try to present the very same slide to an audience of 50, let alone 200 people.

Alone at my computer, I am the master of my time and I decide how long I look at a certain slide. If it takes me ten minutes to understand what’s going on, then I can spend ten minutes on that slide. In a presentation, it is unlikely that the speaker will present a slide that long. Any information that I have not processed by then is lost to me. And since I likely focused on the slide, some things the speaker mentioned are likely to have been lost as well.

But on the other hand, in a presentation, I do have the speaker who can give me additional information. In a downloadable slide set, any necessary explanations need to be included either in the slides themselves or in the notes.

Therefore, a distinction needs to be made between “slide documents”, which work on their own, and presentation slides, meant to work in conjunction with an oral presentation. The same applies for figures transferred one-to-one from publications.

For a presentation, a few points need to be addressed:

  • If the speaker does not speak about all the data presented, then there is the question as to whether the additional data is necessary to present at all within that presentation. The more information on a slide, the longer the attention of the audience will linger on the slide, which leaves, at best, divided attention for the speaker.
  • And then there is the issue of text size: at my computer, I can zoom as much as I want if I have trouble reading, but in a presentation, I need to keep the people in the back row in mind.
  • Lastly, there is the issue of labelling. Sometimes, people use vertical or angled labelling. On a printout, I can turn the page to facilitate reading. On my computer, I can ask the PDF reader to turn the page. In a presentation, I might have 150 people tilting their head in order to be able to decipher the labels.

Slide documents and presentation slides are two very different things using the same file format, and it is dangerous to simply transfer them as-is from one medium and one purpose to another. They each have their advantages and disadvantages which influence what works and what doesn’t in terms of usability.

Should You Use Storytelling in Scientific Presentations?

Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg – Creative Commons BY


“Another negative result – I can’t believe it!” I grumbled. As a graduate student in biomedical sciences, my search for new candidates for genes involved in a certain form of cancer had turned out empty yet again. My supervisor smiled “That’s why they call it re-search: because you have to search again and again and again!”

I was reminded of that a few years later, trying to develop new methods for the early detection of colon cancer – I had devised several approaches to find typical mutations, all of them quite clever, if I say so myself, and all of them worked splendidly – on paper. In reality, no matter how ingenious and compelling the rationale was, no matter how great a story they made, they had one fundamental flaw – they were just plain wrong.

Anyone who has been engaged in research for a substantial timeframe probably knows this frustration – but what about those who don’t? And what about those who simply can’t get used to it? In Greek mythology, there is the tale of the sculptor Pygmalion who falls in love with the statue he created and becomes incapable of loving any other woman. The Goddess of Love, Aphrodite, turns the statue into a woman. In the real world, of course, such prayers are usually left unanswered.