A list of dislikes in (scholarly) presentations

5 years ago

We all now that reading is just not acceptable in conferences (it is boring and uninformative).

Now, I would like to address the opposite risk: the speaker who has attended a class on public speaking and believes that s/he has most of all to be entertaining.


I know, in each book and website about how to reach the next level in your presentations and/or blogposts and/or in your speaking skills, you will read that you have to tell stories, be personal, use images. However, if you are like me, you might instead agree with what follows:


  • 1. Unless you are a dear friend, I do not care about you as a person. I came to listen to you as an intellectual. Don't waste my time (and yours) with stories about your pet, your spouse, your relatives and friends. Go to the point instead. You *can* be interesting and captivate your audience also with your ideas.


Yes, you are right if you object that some stories are pertinent and can make the point appear even more vividly. I am not referring to these ones, but rather to the ones which one inserts because she has been told that she has to do it, and be personal and entertaining.


  • 2. Just like I don't care about you, I also don't care about anyone else's personal stories. Avoid meaningless photos, images, short films. Also avoid whatever has nothing to do with your message. Don't force me to try to concentrate notwithstanding the music in the background, the smell of cookies and whatever else.


Once again, images can be essential to the message (for instance, if you are talking about manuscripts, or artistic artifacts). I am not referring to these cases.


I know, you might say that I am a highly intellectual and analytical kind of person, and that this is why I do not appreciate sense-stimulations. This is true. But, my main problem with images, etc., is that they shoudl not be off topic. Furthermore: please consider, before backing your cookies, that many listeners in a scholar presentation, will be analytical people.


  • 3. I am not like you. Don't try to force me to think that we are alike with expressions such as "Does not this sound familiar?" or "I am sure that every morning, when you wake up, the first thing you do is…". This sort of captatio benevolentiae will only make me suspicious.


As already mentioned, this does not apply to real common points. Sven Wortmann recently delivered a very nice talk about the didactic of Sanskrit (to an audience of Sanskritists) and described the 19th c. style of teaching, i.e., explanation of grammatical rules and translation of sample sentences. It was really an experience we all shared and he could easily refer to it. I am only against made-up common traits.


  • 4. This does not mean that you have to be boring.


What do you think? How do you react to this sort of presentations?


On my ideal of conferences, see this post, this one (both with great comments), this one (on the WSC) and this website. On my tips for presentations, see this post and this one (and their comments).



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