March 15, 2007
Let there be stoning
Dr. Jay H. Lehr published "Let There Be Stoning" in 1985 (Ground Water, 23(2):162-165). It's a strongly worded critique of "incredibly boring speakers":
"They are not sophisticated, erudite scientists speaking above our intellectual capability; they are arrogant, thoughtless individuals who insult our very presence by the lack of concern for our desire to benefit from a meeting which we choose to attend."
Much of what he writes has been written many times since, and some things I don't find convincing. But in addition to his passion, he does make a number of good points. For example,
"Be intimate with your audience. Make them feel that you are there because you care about informing each and every one of them; no matter if there are 40 or 400, be intimate."
"Never subject your audience to poor slides just because they serve as an outline of your talk."
"Never, but never (remember stoning) show a slide and then apologize for it. Don't show it."
Nobody ever complains that a talk was "too funny".
Neurobiologist Zen Faulkes writes about the use of humor in scientific presentations. He suggests that Robin Williams should be an inspiration to presenters of sober, thoughtful scientific research.
Enthusiasm is contagious...you have to find passion, energy, that personal connection to the material.
Preparation alone doesn't get you to that [Robin Williams] level of..."legalized insanity"...trust your creative impulses and not censor.
You have to learn your lines....[then] an interesting thing happens. You start to play with them, because you reach the point where you know them so well. You can veer off, try something a little different, and not lose the plot because you have rehearsed. One reason so many talks are so stilted...is not that people rehearse too much -- talks are stilted because people don't rehearse enough.
Don't just tell a joke just to make a joke. Tell a joke to make a point.