Any topic can be interesting. It’s the presenter that makes it or kills it.

I went to a presentation last week that I was somewhat interested in seeing, and I have to say that it was, to put it nicely, lacking. Why? How? Let’s get into that, but before going on further, please note that this is not about a cure-all for bad presentations. This is all about two major areas that I see lacking in most peoples’ presentations. It’s also worth noting that my own presentation skills could use some polishing, to say the least, so Glass Houses and all that.

NOTICE: I also MUST preface all of this by saying (truthfully) that this person was clearly HIGHLY intelligent, and this is in no way, shape, or form an assault on intelligence, personality, etc.

My first issue was that I asked the presenter a two-part question, and he couldn’t answer it. This particular question was about a study he had cited to support one of the presentation’s five major points. Let me be clear: this was not an unreasonable question. This was a question he should’ve been able to answer. In depth. With detail. And with insight regarding the study’s limitations. Right away. Instead, he directed me to the partial, incomplete parenthetical citation in his Power Point presentation, noting that I could find the answers to my questions there. So, point one is: if you put something in your presentation, be prepared to talk about it; don’t assume no one will ask questions.

Point two: make people care about your topic. One of my early lessons in research was to always ask myself at the outset one simple question: “why do I care?” If I come up with a research question, my first step is to think about the clinical implications before I get going. That is, if this study yields significant results, are they clinically applicable? If so, then how? Do the results apply to one, few, or many? Too often, and as was the case with this presenter, researchers fail to make the results interesting or applicable to the clinicians they are targeting. I felt like I was being bombarded with boring pills at this talk, and was disappointed since I could read between the lines enough to know what the clinical implications were. Unfortunately, they were never made clear in a general way.My other major problem was that at the end, I wasn’t compelled to care about the topic from a clinical perspective. This speaks to generalizability of results, and is the source of the divide between clinicians and researchers. This is longstanding friction, and goes something like this:

Researcher: “Why don’t you ever pay attention to my research? These results are significant and potentially groundbreaking. You should use this to inform your clinical practice.”

Clinician: “Your sample is too sanitized, and does not generalize to my heterogenous and complex patient population. I also do not understand statistics very well, since my sole exposure was two courses in undergrad and another two in graduate school. Please make this easier to understand and apply.”

Researcher: “If you had read my research, you would have understood the limitations of my sample and how to correct for them.”

Clinician: “But your sample doesn’t apply…”

And so on.

I like to remind myself before giving a presentation that most people suck at giving presentations. It’s not their fault, per se, as you’re not likely to get quality feedback from an audience if they don’t have the knowledge to effectively critique your performance. This is a good example of an interesting topic gone bad due to a lack of presentation skill, which is in turn a lack of quality feedback.

I am not trying to offer specific pointers on how to present. I could write 20 posts about that. The point here is more overarching. This more of the “what you didn’t learn in school” meta-topics. So, to sum things up, please remember to:

(1) Be able and prepared to speak intelligently about anything you put on a slide or mention, and

(2) Make your audience care about your topic

Until next time –

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