“That was ... interesting … but I didn’t understand her hypothesis,” a statistician comments, making his way to the meeting room door.
“That’s because she didn’t have a hypothesis,” a biologist replies, “just lots of data, not very believable or persuasive.”
“I couldn’t even understand her data,” a chemist adds. “And we certainly didn’t discuss it; there wasn’t enough time. Same as always.”
“Still, it wasn’t a bad presentation,” they all agree, “one of the best this year.”
We can and should expect much more of science presentations. We depend on presentations to carry out the organization’s core business, develop ideas, test hypotheses, and explore alternatives. Yet we accept levels of presentation effectiveness we wouldn’t begin to tolerate in the other, technical aspects of our work.
Of course it’s difficult to present science topics. Presenters must explain complex concepts, draw on sophisticated analyses, illustrate cumbersome theories, master advanced audiovisual tools, and convince skeptical audiences. Yet as our technical organizations strive to improve their ability to both innovate and earn profits, it’s essential that we significantly improve presentations.
We’ve lost sight of the role they should be playing in advancing inquiry. Presentations provide the major the forum, the key medium where ideas get tested, developed, refined, and perfected. If presentations are not highly effective, the process of inquiry suffers. And it’s quite possible to significantly improve presentations. With modest effort, presenters at all levels can improve their skills and impact.