Communication Tips

The 2014 Postdoc Research Symposium was fortunate to have the help of many judges who gave of their time and effort with judging oral and poster presentations.  Thank you to the following judges for lending their expertise to the event:
Dr. Karen Bradley Dr. Allison Kinney
Dr. Sylvain Dore Dr. Michelle Mack
Dr. Thierry Dubroca Dr. Connie Mulligan
Dr. Kevin Folta Dr. William Puszyk
Dr. Kenneth Gerhardt Dr. Gezan Salvador
Dr. Chris Hass Dr. Weihong Tan
Dr. Marguerite Hatch Dr. Li Yin

This year's judges provided individual feedback to the presenters, and also provide the following tips, advice and information to all postdoc presenters for their improvement in communication and presentation skills:

From Keynote Workshop Presenter: Kevin Folta
A Few Good Tips in Science Communication

  1. The best science is arrested if not communicated.  Make every effort to share your discoveries, make them understandable to public audiences.  Think about how you’d describe your findings to a non-scientist in an elevator, and practice that message.
  2. Write every day.  Start a blog and paraphrase the scientific work in your field for a common audience.  Write about the scientific facets of a controversial topic.  Practice generating clever prose.
  3. Cool it, scientist.  Yes, we know you’re smart.  Dial it down a notch and talk to us.  Communicate.  The best talks, grant proposals and papers make the problem understandable and urgent, the effects clear and personal, and the solutions realistic and immediate.  Tell a story-- don’t crush the reader or listener in jargon and statistics.
  4. Remember your audience.  The opportunity to share your science might be rare. When you are asked to write, speak, or report about your work think about your audience, spend time considering how to make the message most appropriate and effective.  Always prepare well and leave them wanting more.
  5. Understand rhetoric.  Revisit the ancient art of how to frame a persuasive campaign.  Use it. Read about how advertisers reach an audience.  Use these devices in your presentations, proposals and papers.
  6. Don’t forget about “priming”.  Psychology says that we make decisions in our brains before we know we made a decision.  Make your work beautiful.  Only submit it if it has a halo—if it screams about your care, attention to detail, and professionalism.

Kevin Folta’s Ten Commandments for Early Career Scientists

  • If it’s stupid, and it works, it’s not stupid
  • Control what you can control, not what you can’t control
  • If you don’t ask, you don’t get
  • Measure twice, cut once
  • It is better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it
  • You are the captain of your own ship
  • Second place is the first loser
  • Don’t sacrifice good enough for better
  • It takes money to make money
  • Crisis and opportunity are intertwined
  • Luck is the residue of proper design and hard work
  • Surround yourself with people that like you and know CPR
  • Give them more than you promised

Judges' Feedback and Suggestions:

  • Presentation should be a complete story rather than pieces.
    e.g.  One presentation did not have any data, but only background and research design.
  • Presenters whose primary language is not English need to practice in front of English-speaking colleagues many times to be corrected, and need to memorize sentence by sentence. This is a great way to improve English.
  • Great presentations by the participating postdocs
  • People were trying too hard to convey complex data sets or data heavy figures without really trying to engage people in the reason for doing their science.
  • Some of the orals and a lot of the posters appeared unrehearsed which made it more difficult for the participants to convey their research, this also meant that there was a lot of overrunning. 
  • As general advice presenters should make sure that they present at more meetings and rehearse their presentations either in the lab or with a journal club / peer group.
  • PDs need to get good at time economy in their short presentations. 
  • I also would like to see PDs EXPLICITLY state what they did.  Big group projects frequently lend the most impactful results, but how much did the presenter do?  Some clearly contributed close to all of it.  Others maybe a single figure.   This should be a criterion for scoring.
  • I firmly believe that practice is the best answer. They should take every opportunity to speak. Find a journal club they’re interested in and give a talk even if they’re not signed up for the class.
  • Also, postdocs always have the ability to guest lecture for a professor in a class (just volunteer, most professors won’t say no) and this is a great experience in speaking and teaching (I recommend this to my grad students as well).
  • Be mindful of your audience! DO NOT USE ACRONYMS unless they are extremely common to the whole scientific community.
  • Do not use technical jargon in your title or abstract (keep it simple and clear to any one, not just scientist in your field).
  • Limit number of words/text on slides and poster. Remember that this is not a paper/publication - the goal is to convey concepts visually and auditively. The graphs and your speech should carry all the information necessary.
  • Properly label visual aids, pictures, plots. Make sure the units/labels are places on the axis of plots.
  • Whether it is a talk or poster present a story with a continuous flow. Draw the audience into your field and engage them into why your work is important
  • Practice, practice, practice! Ask colleagues, advisors, mentors, and friends to be your practice audience. Ask them for feedback.
  • Make sure you stay on time. If you are given 10 minutes for your talk or 5 minutes for your poster, practice so you stay within the given time frame
  • Be mindful of the requirement of the symposium/conference. The UF postdoc symposium is geared toward a lay audience, so make your presentation/poster accessible for that lay audience!
  • You are presenting your work to teach it to others: make sure the audience leaves with a take-home message! Make a strong conclusion that people can remember.
  • I think the most important information for presenters is to start their poster presentation by explaining the problem they are addressing giving a brief contextual basis.  This should be followed by a very brief overview of what they did and what they found.  They need to think like those "sound-bytes" on the evening news and not go on-and-on-and on....  The listener will ask questions probing further if given the opportunity.  If the presenter hogs all the time, there will be no discussion and the listener/judge will get bored, lose attention and want to move on (they are only human!).  The winners were presenters who had developed these quick presentations and they did not ramble on and on so, as a judge, I wanted to have more time to talk and that's the best outcome to aim for.  The presenters need to practice, practice, practice these short sound-bytes (out loud with a stop-watch) which should be a couple of minutes long.  Of course, if further questioning is necessary, the presenter should be prepared with those answers too and have them ready.
  • A bad presentation occurs when the presenter assumes the listener/judge immediately knows what his /her objective is and overlooks stating the point of the study/research.