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Preparing Effective Presentations
Effective presentations make learning and technical advances more likely. They also enhance the perception of the presenter in the eyes of the professional community. Boring, ineffective presentations are not paid much attention and often are quickly forgotten. Use the following guidelines to make your presentation grab attendees' attention.
- Make sure the audience walks away understanding the following five most important things a listener cares about:
a. What is the problem and why?
b. What has been done about it?
c. What is the presenter doing (or has done) about it?
d. What additional value does the presenter's approach provide?
e. Where do we go from here?
- Carefully budget your time, especially for short (e.g., 15-minute) presentations.
- Allow time to describe the problem clearly enough for the audience to appreciate the value of your contribution. This usually will take more than 30 seconds.
- Leave enough time to present your own contribution clearly. This almost never will require all of the allotted time.
- Put your material in a context that the audience can relate to. It's a good idea to aim your presentation to an audience of colleagues who are not familiar with your research area. Your objective is to communicate an appreciation of the importance of your work, not just to lay the results out.
- Give references and a way to contact you so those interested in the theoretical details can follow up.
Preparing effective displays
- Keep it simple. The fact that you can include all kinds of cute decorations, artistic effects, and logos does not mean you should. Fancy designs or color shifts can make the important material hard to read. Less is more.
- Use at least a 24-point font so everyone in the room can read your material. Unreadable material is worse than useless; it inspires a negative attitude by the audience to your work and, ultimately, to you. Never use a photocopy of a standard printed page as a display&emdash;it is difficult to overstate how annoying this is to an audience.
- Try to limit the material to eight lines per slide, and keep the number of words to a minimum. Summarize the main points&emdash;don't include every detail of what you plan to say. Keep it simple.
- Limit the tables to four rows/columns for readability. Sacrifice content for legibility. Unreadable content is worse than useless. Many large tables can be displayed more effectively as a graph.
- Don't put many curves on a graphical display; busy graphical displays are hard to read. Also, label your graphs clearly with big, readable type.
- Use easily read fonts. Simple sans serif fonts such as Arial are easier to read than fancier ones like Times Roman or Monotype Corsiva. Don't use italic fonts.
- Light letters (yellow or white) on a dark background (e.g., dark blue) often will be easier to read when the material is displayed on LCD projectors.
- Use equations sparingly, if at all. Audience members not working in the research area can find them difficult to follow as part of a rapidly delivered presentation. Avoid derivations and concentrate on presenting what your results mean. The audience will concede the proof and those who really are interested can follow up with you, which they're more likely to do if they understand your results.
- Don't fill up the slide. The peripheral material may not make it onto the display screen, especially the material on the bottom of a portrait-oriented transparency.
- Identify the journal when you give references. Smith, Bcs96 clues the reader that the article is in a 1996 issue of Biometrics, and is much more useful than just Smith 1996.
- Finally, and this is critical, always, always, always preview your presentation. You will look foolish if symbols and Greek letters that looked okay in a Word document didn't translate into anything readable in PowerPoint&emdash;and it happens!
Timing your talk
Don't deliver a 35-minute talk in 15 minutes. Your objective is to engage the audience and have them understand your message. Don't flood them with more than they can absorb. Think in terms of what it would take if you were giving (or, better, listening to) the last talk in the last session of the last day. This means the following:
- Present only as much material as can reasonably fit into the time allotted. Generally, that means 1 or fewer slides per minute.
- Talk at a pace that everybody in the audience can understand. Speak slowly, clearly, and loudly, especially if your English is heavily accented.
- Practice, practice, practice. Ask a colleague to judge your presentation, delivery, clarity of language, and use of time.
- Balance the amount of material you present with a reasonable pace of presentation. If you feel rushed when you practice, then you have too much material. Budget your time to take a minute or two less than your maximum allotment. Again, less is more.
- Practice, practice, practice the presentation with care to content, delivery, and use of time (in case you missed this recommendation above).
- Put on the microphone and be sure it works before you begin.
- Be sure everyone in the room can see your material. Make sure you do not block the screen. Move around if you must so everyone has a chance to see everything.
- Never apologize for your displays. More to the point, make apologies unnecessary by doing the material properly in the first place (see the recommendations above). Do not say, "I know you can't see this, but …" Many people in the audience will wonder why you're bothering to show the display, or, even worse, why you didn't take the trouble to make it legible.
- Don't apologize for incomplete results. Researchers understand that all research continues. Just present the results and let the audience judge. It is okay to say, "work is ongoing." Do not say, "I'm sorry that work is not done." This invites the audience to tune out or wonder why you are talking at all.
- Thank the audience for their attention.
- Open the floor to questions.
- Gather you materials and move off quickly to allow the next presenter to prepare.
- Stay for the entire session and, afterward, be available for people to ask you additional questions.