How Not to Make a Presentation
I attended another mostly dismal ASA
meeting. What wasn’t dismal was the
setting in Montréal and the efficient and
effective organization of the conference
by the ASA. What made it dismal were
the many presentations that lacked basic
standards of quality.
- Some presenters tried to present too
much material in too short a time
and too small space. For example,
many detailed tables were accompanied
by seemingly endless commentary,
which was sometimes cut
short by the session presider.
- Some presiders were ineffective
in controlling the session, leaving
the last presenter with little time
to present, and leaving the audience
with no time for discussion or
- PowerPoint slides were often
read by the presenter word-forword,
wasting time since audience
members could read them independently
while the presentation
- Many PowerPoint slides featured
complex diagrams that defied easy
- Some presenters mumbled. (One
wonders what goes on in their
- And, of course, there were the
usual convoluted soporific papers
of words on words.
Sitting through paper presentations
such as these leaves one with sympathy
for our students. Obviously, these criticisms
do not apply to all sessions and all
papers, but they do describe too many of
What made me think about the sessions
and papers was the following: I
bumped into a friend whom I had not
seen since the last meeting; I asked him
what he had been doing. He briefly
described his most recent research project
and over the next hour we discussed
it with my raising questions, offering
ideas, and he thinking out loud about the
project. It was intellectually stimulating.
And so I thought to myself: Why can't
the organized sessions be more like this?
What makes an ideal meeting? A
meeting where each person talks (i.e.,
does not read) his or her paper for, say,
eight minutes—presenting two or three
ideas or findings, which then leaves time
for discussion. This makes the meetings
more collegial and intellectually useful.
The presenter could collect email
addresses of those interested and send a
detailed paper to them.
I suggest, then, that those who plan
the program for the 2007 and subsequent
meetings urge participants to make the
meetings more satisfying by structuring
their presentations in this way.
Dean Harper, University of Rochester