An Annoying Trend in Academic Presentations

A number of my colleagues seem to have gotten the bad idea that something like this makes a good slide in a presentation:


The text is unreadable because this is a screenshot of a published journal article. The sole information conveyed to the audience is that the author has published a paper somewhere. If that is the author’s point, i.e., they want to say explicitly “I’m excited that such and so journal published my paper – it made me proud and happy”, then okay, the slide conveys the message. But I see many talks now where an academic talks about the findings and methods of some published study and all they show is a screenshot of their article reprint instead of something useful like a chart presenting the main findings.

In the most gauche cases, I have seen academics cram multiple photos of their reprints into their slides — in one memorable case 8 of them per slide (Memo to the presenter concerned: The stunned looks from all of us was NOT because we were impressed with your productivity). I have seen some cringeworthy talks lately in which almost half the slides were photos of the author’s reprints.

If the purpose of your presentation is to say how prolific you are rather than tell the audience what your research actually found, then have the guts to be honest about your motives and hand out autographed copies of your vita to the audience in advance.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College Lonon. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over ten thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

3 thoughts on “An Annoying Trend in Academic Presentations”

  1. I think one could fill a book with all of the stylistically terrible things people do in academic presentations. The thing you mention is egregious, but there's also:

    – Expecting people to actually read detailed tables on slides, rather than highlighting the things you want the audience to know — "backup slides" with full tables for Q&A are a far better way to handle this
    – Block text, or lengthy bullet points that state verbatim what you'll say verbally
    – Equations when the equations are not the point of the presentation — we all know the form of an OLS or logistic model, no need to show it
    – White text on black backgrounds. I know this is controversial but my read is that the BEST case is that some people find it about equal to black on light/white, and some studies find it worse.

    …and I'm sure there are more.

  2. Yes times 10. I can't believe how often people put up a slide with teeny tiny numbers or text and say "I know you can't read this" and then talk about it as if we could. It conveys self-absorption, laziness or some awful combination of the two, yet people do it often.

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