Saturday blast from the past: in praise of showmanship in scientific presentations (includes polls!)

I have mixed feelings about my old post in praise of showmanship in scientific presentations. On the one hand, I’ve consciously tried to make my own conference talks more entertaining over the past few years. On the other hand, someone who gives excellent but non-showy talks recently told me about being put off by a talk that had a lot of showmanship. So now I’m wondering if I’ve started to go too far in trying to make my conference talks more entertaining.

There’s no easy way to find out, for two reasons. First, people who thought your talk was bad aren’t likely to tell you. Second, different people prefer different levels of showmanship in talks, so there’s no pleasing everyone. The optimal level of showmanship for any given audience is going to be a fuzzy moving target.

So what the heck, let’s try crowdsourcing! If you’ve seen me speak at a conference in the past few years, tell me: was my talk too showy, or not showy enough, or what?

And since most of you probably haven’t seen me speak at a conference in the past few years, here’s a broader question you can all answer:

8 thoughts on “Saturday blast from the past: in praise of showmanship in scientific presentations (includes polls!)

  1. There’s a question with a similar underlying theme on Academia StackExchange: Do academics look down on well-designed academic websites?

    The top-rated comment for that question (copied below) is just as relevant to your question about showmanship.

    I’ve never said to myself “this person’s website is too well designed.” But I have said “this person’s website is slightly annoying to use because they emphasized form over function” several times

  2. I’d really like to know whether or not people in the audience get the same take-home message from high-drama versions versus deadpan-reporting versions. (But admittedly it would be pretty complicated to get the experiment organized — would have to persuade a bunch of people to develop two versions and alternate which one they gave, then poll their audiences as to the main message ….)

  3. With 62 poll respondents, people who think that scientific presentations need more showmanship (47%) far outnumber those who think they need less (15%), with the remainder (39%) saying they’re mostly fine.

    As you’d expect, hardly any respondents have seen my recent conference talks. Of the 6 respondents, 3 thought my recent talks were just right and 3 thought they were too showy.

    • Now up to 89 votes, with a slight majority of all respondents saying that most scientific presentations need more showmanship and a fairly small minority saying that most need less showmanship.

      And now with 9 votes in, respondents are running 5:3:1 for my own recent conference talks being just right vs. too showy vs. not showy enough.

  4. Every speaker should (1) have something interesting to say and (2) say it in a compelling fashion. Many talks would benefit from attention to both of these. Showy? Enthusiastic? Just UBU and give careful thought to your audience and how you can best connect.

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