Does an attractive presentation make you less credible? 5 myths about academic presentations

by Anneliese Poetz, KT Manager, NeuroDevNet

I have attended more presentations, academic and non-academic, than I can count. The most memorable were the ones that used slides containing attractive graphics, photos and little text, supplemented by story-telling; in fact, some of them I remember vividly even several years later. I recently worked with a scientist on powerpoint slides for a very important presentation. After rendering the slides to be more graphic and less text-heavy, this person was worried that they’d be perceived as less credible as a scientist by their peers. As a scientist, presenter, and audience member it had never occurred to me that giving (or attending) such a presentation could be a bad thing.

This made me wonder, how many other scientists are out there who think the same way? If this is a popular belief, it might explain a lot – text-heavy slides (death by bullets), often intermingled with complicated un-readable diagrams crammed onto a slide seem to be the norm in academia. There are exceptions, including Dr. SidneyEve Matrix of Queen’s University.

If you are one of these academics, let me dispel some myths right now:

Creating visually appealing slides is both an art and a science.

Creating visually appealing slides is both an art and a science.

1) Scientists, including your peers, are human beings too. As such, they appreciate visuals just as anyone else would. Slides that do not help you make the point that you are talking about should either a) be removed, or b) reworked to be more visually appealing. How do I know this, you might ask? I am a scientist myself and I have attended a broad range of presentations both good and bad. Put yourself in their shoes – how would you feel if you had to hear your own presentation as it is right now?

2) Being a good presenter with good (or no) slide filled with bullet pointsslides as an aid does not reduce your credibility as a scientist. In fact, what does reduce your credibility is having slide after slide of bullet points that you need to read to the audience – this is what we refer to in Knowledge Translation as “death by bullets”. Slides should be thought of as a visual supplement that is primarily for the audience’s benefit, to help you make your point using visuals that are related to what you are talking about.

3) You don’t have to tell them every detail in your presentation. Cramming your slides full of tables with all the stats, margins of error, etc. is not going to help if your audience can’t read it. Ask yourself, what is the point of what I am trying to say here? Choose the most important piece(s) of information you need from that and find a way to graphically represent it on your slide to help you make your point (using the rule of thumb: one slide per point you are trying to make). For example, if you are trying to say that a trend is increasing – create a visual (graph) that shows that, with large clear labels and graphics. If you are showing that one percentage is higher than the rest, create a bar graph to show how these measures compare with the rest (so people can instantly see that the one percentage is larger than the rest, backing up what you are saying about it), don’t put a table of percentages that people have to “work” (study) to understand. The place to provide detailed explanations is a) during the question/answer period and b) in your published scientific papers.

Iceberg analogy for content on slide4) Breaking your bullet points into one-slide-per-point-you-are-making (with a picture) does not make your presentation time longer. The “one slide per minute of talking” rule is misleading. I think it is a disservice for you to be taught this in grad school – if you follow the advice in #1 to create more visually appealing slides, this requires you to take each bullet and put it on its own slide with a picture that helps you make your point. Whether you click to the next bullet point or the next slide takes the same amount of time. Similarly, you may have one engaging slide up for several minutes while you tell a story that relates to the photo on it. So let go of the old-school rule that you gauge the length of your presentation by how many slides you have. At the end of the day, whatever the number of slides you end up with, you also need to practice and make sure you time out properly – but ensuring you stay within the allotted time for your presentation should not set the limit for the number of slides you use.

5) The slides are for the benefit of your audience, not you. I believe the reason why many (poor) presenters read their slides is because they believe the slides are for their own benefit. When I was a kid, I had to write and present a speech each year, and we were allowed to have cue-cards in our hands but we were not allowed to read from them. The bullet points on the cue cards were for the purpose of reminding us what to say next if we forgot. Many presenters use powerpoint as though the slides are cue-cards that the audience can see. In this way, the presenter has made the slides for their benefit, without thinking much about the audience. By creating visually engaging slides it still benefits the presenter by reminding them what they were going to talk about next, and shows you care about the audience by making it easy for them to get the point of what you are saying.

As part of its suite of services, NeuroDevNet’s KT Core provides advice and consultation on how to create engaging presentations.  Contact the KT Core for tips, tools, and/or advice on a slide deck you are currently preparing about your research findings.


Critical Considerations for doing Stakeholder Engagement for Research

by Anneliese Poetz, KT Manager, NeuroDevNet

When I began my PhD studies in 2003 it was before terms like “Integrated Knowledge Translation” (IKT) and “Co-Produced Research” were common. In my graduate program people would joke about how their predecessors had placed a $10 bill in their dissertations only to return to the library years later to discover it was still there – nobody had read it. Wow, all that time, money and effort wasted on something that would never be used – I didn’t find it funny at all. I really wanted my research to be used, so after I crafted my research questions I went and talked to the people who I imagined would use my research: CEOs, government regulatory agencies, industry. I also attended their conferences and listened for what were the issues that were important to them. As a result of this new understanding about my end-user’s needs, I changed 80% of my research questions because I realized I was asking the wrong ones. The result was my research was found interesting and useful by those end-users that I had consulted. I completed my research in 2010, and emailed the first of 3 papers I published to the President and CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (Dr. Michael Binder). I received this email response on January 22, 2011 “Very interesting study. I have the taken the liberty of circulating to staff at CNSC. Thanks for sharing”. The results of my research which recommended ongoing stakeholder engagement, resulted in Bruce Power’s creation of several social media channels such as twitter and a community blog in 2011, and a facebook page in 2014 (I checked with an employee at Bruce Power who confirmed that these avenues for stakeholder engagement represented uptake of my research results).

It is important to involve a diverse range of stakeholders in any consultation or stakeholder engagement activity

It is important to involve a diverse range of stakeholders in any consultation or stakeholder engagement activity

Now, over a decade later, this kind of involvement of end-users including policy- and decision-makers has become a requirement of funding agencies such as CIHR. This is an important overall paradigm shift: from research that is done in isolation with no consultation or thought about who will actually use the research and whether what you are doing will be relevant to them, to a more responsive approach that is intended to meet the needs of decision-makers including practitioners. In the field of Knowledge Translation we call this “stakeholder engagement” (a stakeholder is anyone who will be directly or indirectly affected by decisions made based on your research findings).

There are several researchers who are doing stakeholder engagement. For the past several years NeuroDevNet’s Neuroethics Core has been conducting workshops and other in-person events to engage their diverse stakeholders (such as health care providers, researchers, patient advocacy groups) in their research, so that they can be responsive to their needs.  NeuroDevNet’s FASD project has engaged stakeholders in the development of their “Strongest Families” research project. Customization of the course material was achieved through phone interviews with clinicians (specializing in FASD) and families and the program is based on the needs they articulated.
And that is the key to stakeholder engagement – being responsive to the needs of your stakeholders including end-users. Stakeholder engagement can include regular in-person meetings, dialogue through social media, or other forms of communication such as teleconferences or online meetings.

If you are not prepared to be responsive to stakeholder input, then don’t engage your stakeholders. Be honest with yourself – are you prepared to change your research questions, methodological

If you don't plan to listen and respond (by adapting your research questions and/or methodology) according to what your stakeholders are telling you, don't ask for their input

If you don’t plan to listen and respond (by adapting your research questions and/or methodology) according to what your stakeholders are telling you, don’t ask for their input

approach, etc. based on input from your stakeholders? If you are not prepared to be flexible and responsive throughout the research process, then don’t ask for input. You will do more harm than good – it will cause irreparable damage to the relationship. People will feel used, and it will create distrust, conflict (which includes avoidance and refusal to use your research in decision-making), and ultimately the usefulness of your research findings will not be maximized.

Be responsive to the system in which your research occurs
The field of KT is now recognizing the importance of the entire system. If stakeholder engagement is considered “Integrated Knowledge Translation”, and IKT occurs within a system, then you as a researcher also need to be responsive to changes to the various levels of the ‘system’ in which you are doing your research. Changes to the system include: new research discoveries, new diseases, new technologies, news in another part of the world, new legislation and regulations…you get the idea.

Keys to effective stakeholder engagement summarized:
1) Make people feel valued by sincerely listening to their input, keeping them informed about the progress of the research, and closing the loop at the end of the project.

2) Use different forms of stakeholder engagement – in-person meetings are best but you can use social media to expand your networks beyond what is possible in-person, as well as to keep in touch with people in between meetings.

3) Involve diverse stakeholders especially end-users in your research design, and be prepared to be responsive to their input even if the research is already in-progress.

The main message is: successful knowledge translation occurs as a result of trust (in the source of the information being used to base policy and practice decisions on) which is a result of good relationships and ongoing relationship building. This requires several levels of flexibility and openness as a researcher. If you sincerely want your research to be useful, good stakeholder engagement is the way.

The KT Core is building networks via social media (LinkedIn, facebook, twitter) and will be leading a cross-jurisdictional cross-Network in-person stakeholder consultation in year 6. If you are a NeuroDevNet researcher, trainee or partner and need help with in-person or online stakeholder engagement for your individual project(s), contact the KT Core for tools and advice.

A lot can happen in a year – report on NeuroDevNet’s KT Core

by Anneliese Poetz, KT Manager, NeuroDevNet

It’s hard to believe that on August 6, 2014 it will be one year since I started as Manager of the KT Core for NeuroDevNet. The year has flown by, and I am proud to say we have accomplished a lot in what feels like a very short time. It has truly been a team effort, both within the KT Core and with our Knowledge Translation colleagues in York’s KMb Unit.

The infographic below is a visual representation of the services we have provided to researchers, trainees and partners from August 6, 2013 – present.

Brokering: one of the most memorable relationships we brokered was between NeuroDevNet, the Maternal Infant Child and Youth Research Network (MICYRN) and the new Canadian Clinical Trials Coordinating Centre (CCTCC) prior to submission of NeuroDevNet’s renewal application June 11, 2014. By connecting these organizations and having a conversation about possible ways to work together, several concrete activities were identified and included in the application, relating to the development of NeuroDevNet’s IMPROVE Clinical Trials Network.

Events: Tamara Bodnar and Parker Holman are NeuroDevNet trainees who came up with an innovative curriculum for science teachers so kids can do an experiment and see with their own eyes what the effect of alcohol is on a developing organism. The KT Core helped by providing feedback on their event flyer and the event’s evaluation questions, faxing the event flyer to the list of schools provided by Tammy and Parker, and producing a video about the day.

Products: New things since last year are the production of almost 40 ResearchSnapshots which are clear language summaries of NeuroDevNet-supported scientific research, review and vetting of the most current social media guides based on usefulness to researchers/trainees, our youtube channel where you can find KT videos about NeuroDevNet research, and the KT blog you are reading right now! We only have 6 videos posted on our youtube channel, but we reported 11 because we helped advise on the 5 videos created for the Neuroethics Core’s CENDS video series.

Evaluation: When I started, we had David Phipps’ (Executive Director of Research & Innovation at York University, and NeuroDevNet KT Core Lead) Co-Produced Pathway to Impact Framework and an idea of what services we’d offer,

but since then we have worked together to map the services onto the framework. We have subsequently developed indicators

that will help us evaluate our services so we can make decisions about where it is best to allocate our resources to be the most useful. If our quantitative and qualitative indicators are adopted and/or adapted by other NCEs it could also be possible in the future to compare KT Services across NCEs. Interviews are ongoing, and give us qualitative information about KT successes in the Network about the needs of researchers and trainees that we can use to improve our services.  We are learning about KT successes such as Angelina Paolozza’s presentation to Adopt Ontario. After explaining her eye-tracking research and helping prospective parents understand more about kids with FASD, all of the parents told Angelina they had changed their minds and would now consider adopting a child with FASD. We will be writing and posting some of these “KT Success stories” online.

Planning: The KT Core reviewed 15 grant applications and provided written feedback on the researcher’s KT Planning strategy for their research, which was often followed by a telephone conversation. We were pleased that most of these applications were successful.

Stakeholder engagement: KT depends on relationships. Period. That’s why the KT Core is growing its networks of stakeholders online (see social media on infographic above), and is gearing up for an in-person stakeholder consultation with diverse stakeholders so we can make sure the work we are doing addresses their information needs (thereby increasing the likelihood it will be useful).   We are engaging in conversations using facebook, twitter and LinkedIn and learning a lot about our stakeholders and their information needs. Recently, we distributed the recruitment poster for the FASD Discovery Project’s “Strongest Families” study as well as a resource package for families that don’t qualify to participate. Members of NeuroDevNet can contact the KT Core to ask us to put forth questions to members of our online networks to inform their research, or to disseminate information.

Finally, we’ve refreshed the KT tools section of NeuroDevNet’s website – only the most useful tools and guides for doing KT are there, and are sub-divided into each of the services we provide.   We also provide capacity building/training by request as needed. Now that you have seen examples what we have done, contact the KT Core if you are a NeuroDevNet researcher or trainee and ask how we can help maximize the impact of your research.