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Graphical advice for conference presenters - demo

Graphical advice for conference presenters

I've attended a number of talks in the last couple of days at the Joint Statistical Meetings. I'd like to offer some advice to presenters using graphics in their presentations.

Here is an example of the style of graphics that are being presented. (Note: I deliberately picked an example from a Google image search - this graphic was not used in a presentation but is representative of those I've seen.)

Example_presentation_graphic

Here are some tips to make your graphic much more impactful:

  • Use much larger font sizes. Typically, the same graphic published in a journal is used in the presentation. Other than the people sitting in the front row, no one can see any of the text, which means no one can understand anything. Most of us realize that for the bullet points on the slides, you have to pick a large font, say 20 points. The same goes for any labels or annotation on your graphics!
  • Use much thicker lines, larger dots, etc. Similar to the above, if you'd like people in the second to the last rows to be able to see your chart, you must enlarge everything. (For R users, cex comes in handy.)
  • Put a lot of text on the graphic itself. The graphic shown above has words but it lacks any context. In many of these presentations, the audience are statisticians, many of whom work in different industries or disciplines so we don't know what OpN, LIN, LIC mean. You may have explained this five slides prior but it's hard to expect the audience to remember. Why not just spell that out. Kendall's tau may be known to some in the audience but we still don't know - just based on what's on this chart - what correlation is being assessed. Any other text that helps explain what's on the chart should be added.
  • Add an informative title. These presentations are only 20 minutes long, and you'll spend maybe one minute explaining the graphic to someone who hasn't read the paper. You should spell out what is the message of your graphic - then we can look at the evidence to see how you drew that conclusion. In this example, it seems like there is a story around Flowering.
  • Avoid complex graphics. In a few occasions, the presenters show a grid of charts. These work well in a journal paper when we have time to figure out the layout. It's hard to grasp the message plus figure out how to read the chart all in a matter of a minute or so! Just like we recommend usually one message per slide, you should stick to one message per graphic used in an oral presentation.

The larger lesson is that the chart that is perfect for publication in a journal is less than perfect for an oral presentation.

 

PS. Please see here for an example of how one can remake the above chart for use in a conference presentation.

Comments

Glen DePalma

Can confirm. My plots look liked they were pulled directly from a paper and are impossible to read. Also, many plots have different colored lines and often times the author doesn't tell us what the different lines represent or give us enough time for the info to sync in.

I did see a complicated faceted graphic, however the author took the time to carefully explain each piece of the graph and it was very informative. Well done to him.

Glen DePalma

Many* plots, not my plots (although I've probably made this mistake in the past).

derek

Always people apologise for the tiny text. I ask why they don't just make the text bigger instead of apologising. They say they never have the time.

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