Friday 11 March 2011

The one hour lecture: How to captivate your audience in ten easy steps

1. Don’t rehearse

2. Have at least 100 slides

3. Don’t use Powerpoint’s ‘hide’ function: just rapidly flick through the slides that you don’t have time for - this creates a sensation that you could give them far far more exciting stuff if only you had more than an hour

4. Spend the first 30 minutes on your introduction - people are always more interested in introductions than in novel content

5. Even if you’ve been told your audience has little background in the area, there is likely to be one or two renowned experts in the room. Focus on the experts.  Be sure to impress them with your intricate understanding of the minutiae of the field. Don’t bore them by explaining the basics.

6. Be sure to check politely with the chair ‘How much longer do I have?’ as the 60 minute moment passes

7. Explain to the chair that you need, ‘Just five more minutes’ as the 65 minute moment passes. Your audience will be disappointed it’s only five minutes, but will be pleasantly surprised when you take longer.

8. Introduce the final set of killer experiments as the 66 minute moment passes: the audience will be delighted that you’ve saved the best material to the last

9. Have a slide saying Conclusions which isn’t the last slide. It creates exciting tension if they think you’ve finished only to find there is much, much more.

10. Spend at least 5 minutes on the Acknowledgements slide. Your audience is deeply interested in the many people whom your work depends on, and you should give their name, photograph, country of origin, role in the research, together with a quirky story illustrating their personality.


  1. Love it - can't wait to try it.

  2. My personal favourite (and actually made for a brilliant talk). Due to technical malfunction, give entire presentation without notes or slides. When graphs are required, draw an approximation on an acetate.

    Shall we say it was somebody you know well... :)

  3. In fact, I recently gave a talk where the powerpoint was displaying for the first 10 minutes. The audience afterwards told me how nice it was just to listen to a speaker without slides.
    Maybe we should plan a powerpoint-free conference some time.

  4. That should have said powerpoint NOT displaying.

  5. Silvia Paracchini11 March 2011 at 10:38

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. Charlie Wilson (@crewilson)11 March 2011 at 13:31


    How bad was the EP seminar this week...?

    11. (albeit a bit specialized) When describing your German-French collaboration in English, make sure that you have different slides in all 3 languages: the audience really love a linguistic challenge inbetween trying to understand your novel analysis

  7. PowerPointLess: My experience, too. If you're the only presenter of 65 at a conference with no powerpoint, people will actually remember something of what you said.

  8. Sorry Silvia! inadvertently deleted your comment.
    Silvia had written
    "And I have been to one where 20 minutes in extra time we were told (by the high profile speaker)that the intriguing data that seemed so exciting were simply the results of a wrong experiment.... "

    To Charlie and others - I have to say that although this post was inspired by a recent talk I attended, I don't think I've ever been to a talk that included all points 1-10. This is an amalgam from different talks over the years.
    Though this makes me wonder if we should start a scoring system - would give us something to do in a tedious talk, seeing how many points they totted up.

  9. Very nice :)

    "I Doubt It" also hit on my pet peeve. I've almost completely removed text from my presentation slides, except where absolutely necessary.

    What's the point of having everything you say on a slide? It would be better to just read it without the speaker there. A talk is not just about the data, but about the person talking about it, their collaborators, and the process.

  10. This does sound like something that was borne out of a bad audience experience.

    My personal favourite is the speaker that picks up the laser pointer to highlight a specific point, then continues to use it to point out each word as he/she reads it - much like lecture karaoke.

    I hate - really - people who (over)use abbreviations. Unless you have an expert audience, please avoid abbreviations they're hard to read.

    I once saw someone present at a conference who knew she wasn't very good with timing. She said as much, then started with the results, moved into the conclusion and finished with the methods and introduction.

    I eagerly await the bad talk bingo card so I can play.

  11. Great post. I ended up here after reading the post on the use of Twitter.
    Regarding the bad talk Bingo card. I am sure you will enjoy the version originally published in 2007 in Piled High and Deeper, a grad student comic strip (PhD comics).

    Sorry for the Anonymous post--I don't have my own blog or profile, and I don't Facebook or tweet.

  12. What about those presentations with graphs: as you can see here - no I'cant is just a blur like TV gone crazy. And those picture collections which show the lack of taste and tidyness. The pictures are ugly and crowd the paper so much that you don't get the story.

  13. I am probably the exception. I generally hate certain kinds of graphics. Graphics that are of the "boxes and lines" variety lead me to attempt to parse the graphic. Is it data flow or control flow? Why are arrows at each end of the line? Is one line hiding a multitude of sins? So, please don't just use drawings because text is bad. I like presentations where there is some text. Even bullets where the bullets trigger thought. Bullets as explanation, no. That is the speaker's job. The "you can't read this" slide is helpful to illustrate verbosity.
    But basically these points are great. If you want to see a brilliant presentation that breaks some of these, look no further than Simon Wardley's brilliant piece at OSCON 2010.

  14. I've been doing it wrong all this time! No wonder...

  15. 11. Always use your own laptop and make sure you turn on video projection as soon as you connect your computer. That way your audience can enjoy looking at your home screen and watch you navigate through your file system to find the correct file.