Preparing a Presentation

By understanding your sources

At the moment I have to write an essay about a scientific method called netICS(10.1093/bioinformatics/bty148) for a seminar. The date for my presentation is in April. Normally I would at this moment be head over heels in making notes and writing summaries. But this time I decided to tackle the problem differently. Instead of trying to understand and analyse the complete text of the paper I tried to implement the method described in it on my own. And I’m mostly done doing so… And in doing so I now understand the method and could explain it to someone else. Something I wouldn’t probably be able to that degree, if I just analysed the paper itself.

The alternative to implementation

Of course it is not always possible to implement a method on your own. Either because it is to complicated1 or because you’re not yet that proficient in programming. But there’s still one thing you can do… Pen and Paper. No, I’m not talking about Dungeons and Dragons2, but about doing some example calculations on paper. And if you do so you will probably already have content for your slides.
You know the phrase “Show, don’t tell”? This maxim does not only hold for novels, but basically for every medium of storytelling. And in fact if you’re doing a presentation right you have some kind of story line which you follow.

The purpose of a presentation

And here we come to the question, what the purpose of a presentation should be, which is in my opinion not that different from the purpose of small talk, about which a lately did a blog post. To be more specific a presentation should awaken the interest in a topic for your audience. But of course you shouldn’t mislead your listeners. In other words don’t just tell a story, that sounds nice, but omits your actual topic. So your presentation should be interesting to listen to, but you shouldn’t beat around the bush. And in my opinion you do this best by showing you audience easy comprehensible examples… You know those thingies some professors call trivial. But in comparison to those professors your goal isn’t to filter out people by the lecture, but that give hopefully everybody something to take with.


What I’m trying to say is basically: Even for doing something like presentation you have to do some practical work. At least when it comes to fields like Bioinformatics or Computer Science it’s never enough to do just literary work. And by doing so you can provide your audience with comprehensible examples. The alternatives are to batter your audience with theory or to just tell a story, that is hollow.
And both are things you don’t wanna do… Hopefully!

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  1. I mean I was lucky this time, that I can program in R, which is natively pretty good for Linear Algebra stuff.
  2. Which can be fun, but won’t help you with your seminar. :P


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