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Talking the Talk

December 30, 2021

Presenting at a Scientific Meeting Soon? We're Here to Help!

The 58th ASH Annual Meeting is right around the corner, which means some of our readers are preparing to take the podium.

Whether you're a novice speaker taking the stage for the first time or an expert who could find his or her way to the podium blindfolded, you could always use a refresher on how to make your presentation count. As Mikkael A. Sekeres, MD, MS, editor-in-chief of ASH Clinical News, wrote in an editorial, "No matter how many times you're fortunate enough to be invited to present your research at the ASH annual meeting – and for me, it hasn't been that often – you still get nervous during that long, quiet walk, and hope against hope that you won't be the guy who trips while climbing up the stairs."

We culled through other gems from our archives to compile tips and tricks from experts in their field about what to do – and not to do – during an educational or scientific presentation.

Presenter Talk Pretty One Day

With apologies to David Sedaris.In an earlier "How I Teach" column, Morie A. Gertz, MD, chair of internal medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, provided his top 10 list of what to do – and what not to do – during a presentation. The basic idea: "Tell them what you are going to tell them; then tell them; and then tell them what you told them."

#1 Don't fall in love with your data.

Many individuals feel that they have to address every single piece of evidence in existence to educate the audience on the topic being discussed. That's a great danger because, often, the presentation turns into a recitation of minutiae.

#2 Know your audience.

Every audience is different – if you try to give the same talk to medical students and practicing physicians and your colleagues, you're making a grave mistake. Tailor your talk to your audience, their comprehension, and their training level. In a similar vein, an academic presentation is not the time to test out some new jokes.

#3 Don't over-complicate things.

Follow the "KISS" principle: Keep It Simple, Scientist. Experts tend to become so familiar with their data that they may overestimate what their audience really understands. That's not to say that you should dumb down your presentation, but try to find the balance between over-simplifying and making higher-level information understandable.

#4 Narrow your focus to key data.

Most presentations tend to be too dense with respect to the data being presented. Similar to point #1, you need to focus on the key points that are representative of other published data.

#5 Don't forget to provide a learning objective.

Relevant talks should – and those that qualify for CME credit are required to – have learning objectives. Of course, if you do provide a learning objective, it should go without saying that you need to follow through with it. For instance, if you begin your talk by stating the objective of, "The learner will understand the newest therapies in myeloma," then don't spend half of your talk discussing the biology of the disease unless it relates directly to the function of the therapy. So, when you're reviewing your presentation, look at your learning objectives and ask yourself, "Have I met those objectives?"

#6 Follow the rule of "one minute per slide."

I regularly see people who are scheduled for a 30-minute talk but show up with 70 slides. This is a big mistake. It's important to discipline yourself – for your own sake, that of the audience, and that of the presenter following you whose time you might be cutting short.

#7 Don't forget to focus on the patient.

It is very difficult, particularly with a clinical audience, to talk about data outside of the context of patients. To help the audience better understand the results of the research, I will always lead off my talks by discussing a patient who exemplifies a specific diagnostic or therapeutic dilemma. This provides a frame of reference at the launch of the discussion – and gives audience members the opportunity to see how the data could apply to their own practice.

#8 Incorporate questions in your talk.

Questions are a great tool for audience engagement – it helps to break up the monotony of listening to a single person at the podium drone on for 40 minutes. Whether it's multiple-choice questions or an electronic audience response system, the questions should be oriented to your specific topic and cover relevant data.

#9 Don't assume too much about your audience's background and knowledge.

There's always the risk of assuming that the audience's knowledge of the topic being discussed is as sophisticated as your own – especially when you deliver the same talk over and over. This is simply a matter of researchers becoming inured to their own data; they may be breezing through their presentation, but they might have left the audience behind back on slide 4.

#10 Never apologize for a slide.

How many times have you heard a speaker say, "This is a very busy slide – I'm really sorry about it, but if you just look in the lower right-hand corner…"? If you have to apologize, that slide should not be shown. Period. It seems like common sense, but people do apologize for what they are showing the audience, and it's insane!

The bottom line: "Effectively delivering a research presentation boils down to a basic principle: understand what you can and cannot do in the time you've been given. There is not a topic in the world, no matter what it is, that you can't talk about for two-and-a-half hours. But you have 10 minutes, so do it in 10 minutes – no matter what you are presenting. It could be earth-shattering research that's going to win the Nobel Prize, but you are getting 10 minutes for that abstract presentation, so work with it."

Are you guilty of any of these sins? Do you have any other advice for presenters? Share your experiences of presenting at a scientific meeting by Tweeting us @ASHClinicalNews.

Adapting to Scientific Meeting Climate Change

There's no doubt that presenting at a scientific conference today has changed dramatically in the past 10 – or even five – years. As science and scientific discovery have evolved, so have the communication and connectivity within the scientific world and with the public.

Gone are the days of hard-disk slides packed into a suitcase and carted to the convention center. The advent of smartphones, YouTube, Twitter, virtual meetings, texting, media presence, and even easy access to cameras means that information presented at major medical meetings is often instantly public. That immediacy has far-reaching implications for how presenters choose to share their information.

Physicians active in the scientific meeting arena spoke with us about this rapidly changing environment and how researchers can adapt.

Forget everything you knew about presenting at a scientific meeting.

Ulyana Desiderio, PhD, director of scientific affairs at the American Society of Hematology (ASH): "In the last 10 years, people have had to adjust to knowing that they can step off the podium and have dozens of emails, texts, or Tweets discussing the results they just finished presenting."

Irene Ghobrial, MD, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts: "Presenting research at a meeting is not a one-way road like it used to be," said "When you give a presentation to convey findings or a message in 2015, it's a two-way conversation."

Embrace crowd-sourcing.

Michael J. Fisch, MD, medical director of the Medical Oncology Programs at AIM Specialty Health in Deerfield, Illinois: "[With Twitter and social media] I have a much broader network of people I can contact about specific points or float ideas by; I can Tweet a question to crowd-source information for my presentation. The people I know and my network of connections are vastly bigger than they used to be."

Social media is your friend …

Dr. Fisch: "Bright, young investigators who are full of good ideas can become widely known through social media. Some people have quickly outpaced their similarly talented colleagues because social media increased their connections, allowing them to be noticed in a big way very quickly."

… but it can also be your enemy.

Charles Mullighan, MBBS, MSc, MD, co-leader of the hematologic malignancies program at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee: "The negative aspects of social media are similar to the positive aspects, in that people select quick soundbites to publicize. They can end up spreading only a small piece of what a presenter is saying."

Dr. Fisch: "When I have presented in recent years, I've noticed a certain number of people are looking at you, but others are checking their smartphones or typing on their devices, whether it's taking notes or Tweeting. I've even heard some colleagues say, ‘The sound of the keyboard is the new applause.'"

Tell a good story.

Dr. Mullighan: "Members of the audience have more distractions at the tips of their fingers, and presenters may have to work harder to keep the audience's attention. A good presenter and his or her mentor will spend time making their slides attractive. Presenters have to keep things concise, punchy, and visually and intellectually attractive."

Dr. Desiderio: "Clear, easy-to-read slides and an engaging speaker are always effective, but at the end of the day it has to be a well-thought-out scientific story that gets to a question that people want to hear an answer to. When the ASH Program Committee develops the Scientific Program, the decisions always come down to having spectacular cutting-edge science that brings people in the room – and keeps them there."


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