Monday, October 21, 2013

The Best PowerPoint Presentation I've Ever Seen

On October 8th, Science Online Vancouver offered a workshop on how to improve presentation skills. Science Online Vancouver (@sciovan) is a group of science communication advocates, researchers, students and other scientists who convene online (and in pubs) to discuss science relations and communications. We also discuss fun and excessively nerdy things, like the molar mass of moles.

The group met at Science World for a brief and engaging talk given by Martin Krzywinski (@MKrzywinski). Martin is a Bioinformatics Group Leader and research scientist at the BC Genome Sciences Centre, located near Cambie and Broadway.

Martin integrates genomics data into stunning visual design projects. His data-representation design work has been featured on the covers of Nature and Science, as well as in a full-page infographic in the New York Times. Martin's words were succinct, and his delivery was flawless. Here's a quick review of his presentation on presentations:

Your audience is intelligent, but easily bored

When a presentation gets boring, people usually start playing Fruit Ninja on their phones. Martin had no such issue with his audience. The usual mix of researchers, communicators and keener students (guilty), listened with rapt attention throughout the 90 minute presentation. Martin began by having us watch that highly entertaining collection of video dating tapes from the 80s. The video may seem frivolous, but it helped us realize that we all innately understand what makes an engaging presentation and what pitfalls look like in a bad presentation. 

For brevity, I'm going to break one of Martin's cardinal rules and 'rely on the slides' to highlight some of the useful tips he presented:
Remember: intelligent, but easily bored

Ascetic but information-rich design; I understood instantly what this slide meant

The focal location affects the audience's interpretation

Empty space is more valuable than visually dense blocks of information

"Write with your blood"

Martin had a well thought-out repertoire of simple ideas with important ramifications. For instance: he used a small visual cue as a springboard into an explanation or discussion instead of relying on large banks of text. In his words: "Write with your blood: use it sparingly". All of his speaking points seemed to be common sense, but many are egregiously ignored by many PowerPointers. 

Topic, Narrative, Delivery 

After discussing presentation design, Martin had us break into groups for a slide-design project. We had 15 minutes to choose something from the Wikipedia entry for 'Canada' and create a narrative about it in just two hand-drawn slides. My group chose 'multiculturalism'. Stories are very natural elements in the lives of humans, and we are accustomed to the formula: dilemma, climax, and resolution. We delivered a great presentation because we had been tasked with telling a story, not assembling slides.

Great presentations grip audience members- everyone loves a good story.


I can't expansively describe his presentation with any justice, for several reasons. I was too struck by the simplicity and resonance of his ideas to write much down. Martin didn't proffer a theatrical performance, or yell or use bombastic words- he delivered an engaging (and unrehearsed, as it turns out) workshop that relied more on basic ideas than stylistics or vivid slide design. 

Additionally, readers can't really get a feel for the presentation because it didn't happen on this blog. Like any good presentation, it had very little to do with the slides you see above and much more with to do with Martin's preparation, speaking points and charisma. 

It was one hell of a slideshow- you'll just have to come see for yourself next time. 

For more information on Martin and his genomics, visual design and photography pursuits, as well as the complete collection of slides he presented, click here

Check out Science Online Vancouver's blog here, where you can find our next meetup and information about our online activities. Follow us on Twitter here, and 'like' your way on over to the Facebook page here

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