I have a confession to make: I sometimes fall asleep during seminars. I can feel it happening, and try very hard to concentrate, but when the room is dark, and the speaker is mumbling softly, facing the screen instead of the audience, and all the slides are graphs or longwinded bullet points, and the topic is slightly outside my regular field of expertise, I can’t help but nod off. I always wake up when my head falls forward, and we’re always still on the same slide, but really, that can’t be good.
This often happens during only one talk of a two-talk seminar hour, and not necessarily the second talk, so it’s not just my lack of sleep. It’s also not entirely attributable to the topic, because I’ve been fully awake and interested during talks about things I know nothing about. Someone in my department gave a talk about the 4th dimension last year. I still don’t quite understand the science/maths behind it, but it was a great talk and I listened all the way through.
This slideshow with presentation tips for slideshow talks is not specifically aimed at scientists (no, really, we need those data slides once in a while) but it does have some good advice.
I’d just like to add something to these presentation tips: please, please, please address the audience and not the screen! Honestly, I’ve attended talks where the speaker was with her back to the audience for 20 minutes. I don’t even know what she looked like!
I used to also advocate not memorizing everything word for word, but some people with terrible presentation-stage-fright told me that they sometimes black out during the talk and can only get through it if they have everything memorized literally. That allows them to keep talking on autopilot when they’re having a moment of panic. I guess that’s okay. But then don’t memorize your jokes, because they’re not funny if you’re on autopilot, and you’ll just get even more nervous if nobody laughs. Only sparingly add jokes if you’re confident about your presentation skills and your (and the audience’s) sense of humour.