Stats Made Easy

Practical Tools for Effective Experimentation

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Putting a snap into your presentation

What’s in for you to convince those funding your research that you are on the right track?

I once wrote a proceeding for a technical talk that featured active sentence structure with my familiar style of writing, in which I strive to write on a personal note (it’s all about “you”). The moderator, a PhD scientist, chastised me for not using passive language and keeping the tone impersonal (no “you” turns of phrasing allowed!). She told me that this was mandatory for a technical publication – in other words, dull my writing down to make it more boring and uninspiring.

“When it comes to writing engaging content, “you” is the most powerful word in the English language.”
-- Brian Clark, The Two Most Important Words in Blogging

Similarly, I’ve seen many engineers suck the life out of exciting discoveries. They do this by starting from the most mundane details and then methodically building their case in a “scientific manner.” Such a train of thought derails all but the most tenacious and technically-savvy reader. Granted, this must be done for academic journals, but presentations that go over the top scientifically frequently fall flat in the high-flying world of industrial R&D.

I am reading a book of short stories by a writer who captured the spirit of living on the edge – Jack London. Although he is best known for stories of Alaskan adventure, such as "The Call of the Wild," London also wrote of the rough-and-tumble world of the newspaper business in the early 1900’s – a time when William Randolph Hearst ruled the roost with his sensational journalism. I came across this good advice for aspiring writers by a character in Jack London's short story “Amateur Night” (1903):

“Be terse in style, vigorous of phrase, apt, concretely apt, in similitude. Avoid platitudes and commonplaces. Exercise selection. Seize upon things salient, eliminate the rest. … Tell it all in the opening paragraph as advertisement of contents, and in the contents tell it all over again. Then put a snapper at the end.”

Does this not tell what you need to do to put some pizzazz in your presentations? Go for it!


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