Jason McSheene

An Outlet for Thoughts, Ideas, and Discussion

Crafting the Perfect Presentation: A Failure

Getting pied in the face for charity. (It's a lot like getting pied in the face for not-charity)

Getting pied in the face for charity. (It’s a lot like getting pied in the face for not-charity)

Not long ago, a former colleague who is currently teaching at another university in NJ invited me to give a guest lecture. At first, I was incredibly honored then instantly scared. Who am I, a lowly graduate student, to give a talk to a university genetics class? I struggled to frame the type of talk I would give, never having given an hour-long lecture before. Iteration after iteration of my outlines then slides yielded the perfectly sculpted talk. It put into context human genetics, human disease, and transitioned beautifully into my specific field of study, which is left-right patterning in the zebrafish model. All my hard work on this presentation gave me the confidence to be that super smart scientist in the front of the room, defeating all the 40-layer deep Imposter Syndrome I typically suffer. Skillfully I summarize my talk and thank my colleagues. “Questions, anyone?”

“NO!” screamed the silence of the room, composed of 2 or 3 biology professors, fewer than a dozen students, and a math professor who had an hour to kill. The content went way over their heads. The students hadn’t quite learned about transcription (how RNA is made from a DNA template) yet when my whole talk displayed data in the form of photos marking where RNA was in my multitude of normal and mutant embryos. The professors asked a couple of helpful questions but I had failed. I thought my content was perfect but what the audience could have really used was a presentation discussing the basics I take for granted.
Science nerds like me need to remember that the knowledge of which we are exploring the frontier is not always the science we need to communicate. I know, I know, it’s so cool and interesting and there is hardly anything else in the world worth studying. However, after all the education we’ve gained, we have so much worth sharing. Try to be there for the audience, not yourself.
It really wasn’t a huge disaster or anything, but it did help shape my expectations for myself and my audience. As they say, don’t worry about making mistakes but don’t make the same one twice.

Do you have any particularly memorable fails or awkward moments that you thought were going to be your time to shine?

Updated: November 12, 2015 — 9:26 am


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  1. Haha. That’s awesome. As in… I had a friend that used to say to me all the time, “You’ll laugh about it someday”. We’d find out very shortly after that that today is always that day .^_^. Anyway, I’d probably need more space than this comment box to actually answer that last question though HAHAHA! Hope you’re doing well!

    1. Oh yeah, the experience definitely did not bring me down much at all. I learned a lot about it and had a good laugh with the faculty when we went to lunch afterwards. Thanks for commenting!

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