Monday, December 15, 2014

What Makes Presentations So Hard

So you’ve timed yourself a hundred times. You knew exactly when to say what in which way. You knew you’d have it all right, until you started your presentation.

I don’t think I have a stage fright. But every time during a presentation, I’ll surprise myself quite a bit by saying what I didn’t expect and skipping what I always wanted to say. For Mod3 proposal presentation, it took me more than 4’ (12’ averaged for each person) whereas during rehearsals I only needed 3’30’’. What makes real presentations so different?

Maybe the lighting wasn’t right, so that I couldn’t see the emphasized texts as clearly. Maybe the remote control wasn’t quite sensitive, and a lot of the animations were delayed. But I think the real reason is that talking to a group of audience is always different from talking to myself. For the real presentation, I need to maintain proper eye contact, and I need to engage them as much as I can. What this means is that I need to adjust my talk to align it with the audience’s interests and expectations. Apparently, if the audience is bored by my rehearsed scripts, I need to speak say something that doesn’t sound as rehearsed. If they had an inflection point judging from their confused looks, I should probably spend a bit longer explaining what I just said. For Mod3 presentation, I heard a little chuckle from the audience when I showed the 2,000 experiments that we were planning to do. I then paused and joked that this is what would suit grad students perfectly as science research is being done now. I don’t personally think this is a particularly well-thought-out comment, but this small spontaneity was completely not planned and helpful for engaging the audience. Also unexpected was Agi’s question about scaling up the experiments – we kind of assumed that doing these 2,000 experiments wouldn’t be a big problem if people had done it almost 10 years back. But not only were we able to suggest a few ways to automate the experimental procedures to further improve our proposal, we were inspired to look at what we neglected and think more deeply into the nature of our experiments.

To summarize, interacting with real people is always unpredictable; no matter how well prepared we are, there will always be a few moments where things start to deviate from what we originally planned. I think this is what makes presentations particularly challenging but particularly fun. From now on, instead of over-rehearsing my talk, I will also focus on ways to engage the audience and get ready for the pleasant surprises for my future presentations.

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