I need to present more data. You don’t

A frequent question from clinicians about presentations involves “all the data I need in my presentation.” I’ve addressed this before in various posts but it bears repeating. At a scientific presentation you are not there to present your data; you are there to present your findings. The difference is huge. And essential. A scientific paper contains all your data. A scientific presentation doesn’t. The place for analysis is not from the podium.

There is a subconscious acknowledgement of this by most speakers in that they don’t read out lists and lists of data as part of their delivery. In the construction of p1 it is essential to construct a cogent argument through process but not to list every individual step within that process. This is the skill of p1 in determining what is required for the particular event and audience. The choice is made by the presenter, not the audience. They have come to hear your opinion not you simply list facts.

This selective approach is often lost when data slides are constructed for p2. Data slides should never be simply cut and pasted from a document as these are completely different media. Their purpose is to illustrate the p1, not to provide a complete list of data for the audience to then analyse. This is not about patronising audiences but about supporting your opinion. If they wish to discuss the totality of your work then supply a scientific paper.

Audiences are easily distracted. Even now you are trying to make sense of the slide above despite its lack of introduction or relevance. I have NO idea but it’s crazy how still you are trying to figure it out!

The evidence is that within 3 seconds an image must be understood or cognitive attention will be taken from elsewhere (usually the speech) and directed to interrogation of the “image.” This is the “I’m sorry for this complex slide, let me talk you through it” approach. That doesn’t work either by adding highlighting or worse the light sabre. Firstly, there is the “Where’s Wally?” response of the audience desperately scanning the image for the single fact. Secondly, they will likely be distracted by another fact which is not essential to the flow of your story (p1) and then require cognitive space and time to make sense of that. This often leads to unnecessary or unhelpful questions at the conclusion. Worse still is impaired understanding due to confusion regarding other, less important data, leading to rejection of the primary argument, not through evidence but through lack of evidence.

Importantly, this is not about misleading an audience but providing only the essential data from which to see that the conclusion drawn is appropriate. It is not about providing opportunity for alternate conclusions to be drawn. That was your role as a researcher. A presentation should present data and conclusions, not confusion.

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