Sunday, July 21, 2013

Presentation Myths: I Need a Laser Pointer

I've been periodically writing about presentation myths (see previous posts), and today I thought I would tackle another one:  the need for a laser pointer. Everyone seems to want to use one, even those speakers who clearly cannot hold the light point steadily enough for the audience to pick out what it is the presenter is trying to emphasize. I know a few colleagues whose hands are so unsteady that the laser light point literally jumps all over the screen and momentarily touches on every datapoint in view. Which one are we supposed to focus on?

Actually, the laser user I describe above is only one of several categories and subcategories. The category I call Unsteady Hands includes people who are nervous and are literally shaking from fear; people whose hands have a modest, involuntary tremor (either pathological or not); and those unfortunates who suffer from both. There is really not much these groups can do to eliminate the shaking. You would think that such people would say to themselves that this bit of technology just isn't working for them. But you'd be wrong. Instead, they resort to maneuvers such as holding the pointer with both hands or steadying the hand holding the pointer against the podium. This often doesn't work and draws attention to the fact that they can't manage with one hand.

Then there are the speakers who use the laser pointer as a reading aid by running the light along the text on the screen while they read the text to the audience. Let's call them the Readers. This group not only commits the sin of filling up their slides with a bunch of text, they add to the audience's suffering by painstakingly reading what the audience members are already perfectly capable of reading...AND they highlight the torture with their laser pointer.

Related to the Readers are the Circlers, who endlessly circle points on their slides while they are talking. Sometimes, they circle things for no good reason. I recall a colleague once commenting during a presentation that he didn't know why he was circling a particular point. Seriously? I imagine the answer is because this is a self-soothing behavior similar to the distracting habit of some speakers who jingle the change in their pockets or who rock back and forth. It's just a visual distracting behavior instead of aural.

The most dangerous are the Wavers, who wildly wave their laser light around the room like Obi Wan Kenobi, sometimes pointing at the ceiling, the walls, or directly into the audience's eyes. My husband is one of these. He's totally oblivious to the fact that he's doing it. He gets carried away with what he's talking about, excitedly points out some key piece of data on the screen with the laser point, then turns to the audience for their reaction....unfortunately while keeping his finger pressed on the laser button. Does he wonder why the audience is ducking?

I'm sure there are other types and variants, but these are the main ones that come to mind. The remote controllers that are used by a speaker to advance to the next slide are often outfitted with laser pointers, which only encourages these laser-challenged users. I say, get rid of them. Or at least invent one that automatically shuts the light off if the laser pointer is moved too erratically or for too long. Any inventors out there?

In the meantime, those of you who cannot hold the laser light point rock-steady should use another means to emphasize your point. For example, use animation to highlight things on your slides. An animated arrow or circle is an effective way to point out a key datapoint. Or animate in important numbers or text in a contrasting color. Don't get carried away, though, or my next post will be about overuse of animation. You should be designing your slides so that it is rarely necessary to point out a key piece of data or text. Important information or data should already be obvious without additional emphasis. If it's extraneous, it shouldn't be on the slide in the first place.

Stay tuned for more presentation myths....

Thursday, July 18, 2013

It's a Jungle Out There

This morning I cleaned out my inbox, deleting without opening, three invitations (to submit manuscripts) from journals I've never heard of. Such invitations have become a weekly occurrence. Even though I've set my spam filter to block emails from repeat offenders, I continue to get new ones.

Coincidentally, I received a link to a blog post about predatory publishers by Ian Woolley writing for Soapbox Science. He goes into detail about the practices of these journals, how to identify them, and about a website that purports to be a watchdog of predatory publishers. You might find it interesting and thought-provoking.