Telling it briefly

Why short presentations are preferable

Kerry Chamberlain

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[Image: Andrew Russeth  Flickr (licensed under Creative Commons)]

Over the last few years, I have become an ardent advocate of the SUSISD approach (Stand Up, Say It, Sit Down) for conference (and other) presentations, an advocate for short, sharp presentations that focus directly on the key message(s), never more than 3 or 4, that you want to get across. In short, I am a huge advocate for telling it briefly.

We have all been at conference presentations where we were bored by being told semi-irrelevant things, or worse, completely irrelevant things, or even worse again, where we were subjected to Powerpoint karaoke (why don’t some presenters realise that we can read faster than they can talk?). Longer conference presentations (and I mean the 15 minute variety) seem to force delivery of unnecessary or irrelevant content.

For example, someone who has done some great research into Type 1 diabetes and found some intriguing insights needs only to tell us about what they did, what they found, and what that means (the insights part). They do not need to tell us how widespread Type 1 diabetes is, what its long-term effects are, how it is treated, and so on. We only came to find out what is new and different, not what we already knew. Longer presentations (yes, even those 12 minute plus 3-for-questions ones) seem to promote such extraneous, scene-setting content. All reminiscent of a statement from Winston Churchill: “I’m going to make a long speech because I’ve not had time to prepare a short one.” In contrast, short presentations force direct and engaging accounts. Telling it briefly makes it more interesting and engaging.

Why is short and sharp better? Well, as Olivia Mitchell said several years ago (bit.ly/1UvhoXR), they force you to think hard about exactly what you want to say, to carefully plan what you want to say, and to have a clear focus for your presentation. They also force better advance preparation and they stay to time. Everyone in the audience gets the point(s) more easily and, a further bonus, they get to hear more presentations across a session. As Mark Dytham, one of the inventors of pecha kucha, argues, using these short formats for presentations has a liberating effect. “Suddenly, there’s no preciousness in people’s presentations. Just poetry.”

In running our Health Psychology Research Days at Massey University for the last two years, I have become completely dictatorial, and forced presenters to take on one or other one of two presentation

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Foto de Fernando Gabriel Gutierrez (Creative Commons)

formats, both short; the 5 Minute Challenge or pecha kucha. We have used these presentation formats at our recent ISCHP conferences since Adelaide in 2011 and they have been very well received – who could forget Pedro Pinto’s presentation on puberty at Grahamstown last year, or Catherine Mackenzie’s presentation on deaths from domestic violence in Adelaide, just to take two of many that stand out. However, these formats have not always been taken up quite so well by our presenting attendees. but I hope to see a lot more people taking up the challenge and presenting in these ways at our next meeting in 2017.

So what are these short formats?

Five-minute challenge (5MC) is a format where you present for only five minutes, using only five slides (plus a title slide), and where all the slides are visual (words on slides should be non-existent, or part of the image, or perhaps part of the slide design – like you could have one lovely, lonely word per slide as an image). No animations, no video or sound files, simple transitions. Here, you select those aspects of your research that you consider particularly exciting, fascinating, earth-shattering in importance, and you communicate these and why you think that. For more information, see: www.inc.com/articles/2000/05/18605.html or sbinformation.about.com/od/marketingsales/a/fiveminuteprese.htm

Pecha Kucha (PK) is Japanese (ペチャクチャ) and often translated as chit-chat, but we want it to be a litle more formal than chitchat . In this option, you present for a little longer (6 minutes and 40 seconds), but the slide parameters are more controlled, and the pace is fast. You are allowed 20 slides (exactly), and each is shown for 20 seconds (exactly) – hence your presentation is 6’40” in total. Here too, slides must be visual – no words allowed unless they are included in the image. No animations, no video or sound files, transitions are set to time in advance.

Want to know more about pecha kucha? See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pecha_Kucha  or www.wired.com/techbiz/media/magazine/15-09/st_pechakucha# or www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGaCLWaZLI4 or www.youtube.com/watch?v=5x5FB2mxvZY and there are lots more out there.

To get some inspiration, look at http://www.pechakucha.org/watch

And note that there are likely to be a pecha kucha event offered in your area – check out Pecha Kucha for a calendar of events.

Of course, heading into these new formats will create some fear and anxiety. That’s normal, but look at bit.ly/1RqvwSL or bit.ly/23C3Obq or bit.ly/1SuxTo4 or bit.ly/20Pd4FO for advice on how to make a good presentation.

Finally, if you go for these formats you need good images, and there are lots out there. You need images with a creative commons license so you don’t breach copyright. For advice on this see bit.ly/1NJW8rU and you might want to update yourself on creative commons licenses at guides.library.harvard.edu/Finding_Images  A good place to search for images is search.creativecommons.org

So as you prepare for your next presentation, start thinking about using these short and sweet formats. You will be rewarded by the reaction form your audience.

And watch for the call for papers for our next ISCHP Conference (coming soon) where we will be actively seeking these more creative presentations.

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