Thursday, October 25, 2012

prepping for my GRiSP 2012 five-minute presentation

During the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP) Asia Review, I was tasked (along with Tita Dory and Crystal) to talk for five minutes (each) about a year's worth of scientific progress. The five-minute talk was definitely a challenge because of the length; the time limit was a good thing too, because that meant that the audience's attention spans won't be something to worry about.  

Some people say that the five-minute presentation just a matter of creating five text slides and allotting one minute to talk about (or read) the contents of each slide. No rehearsals necessary. True, sort of. That's quick and simple to do. It, however, makes for five very slow minutes for the audience (unless they want to write down what's on the slides), just like in class. And rehearsals are still needed to make sure that the presentation is within the time limit.

I didn't want to present my report that way, definitely. 

As usual, I went back to my speaker role models for some inspiration: Al Gore and Steve Jobs. There are three things I find these two speakers really work on (aside from them both using Apple Keynote): the story, the presentation style, and the visual aids.

The story. Each Stevenote and Al Gore's talk in Manila engrosses people because there's a plot, a storyline that they could hang on to. Aside from seeing this in Jobs' and Gore' talks, I have always heard Dr Fukuta (my first supervisor in IRRI) talk about the importance of the story in each presentation. For my GRiSP 2012 talk, I asked: how do I plot the story into a five-minute talk? What are the major plot details? What can I leave out and just talk about when a question arises? What do I need to build up on? How do I end narrating an unfinished story? These questions were answered when I talked with Melissa, former head of the lab I'm in. I liken it to a storyboard session. 

The presentation style. After getting a story together, I had to figure out how to weave it with how I was going to talk about it. I definitely wouldn't go slide-less because this was a progress report BUT if there were technical issues and my slides won't work, I should be able to present my report without them. I definitely wouldn't do an Al Gore- or a Steve Jobs- styled presentation because I wouldn't have enough time, or material, to build up the suspense (a la An Inconvenient Truth or a MacWorld keynote). In the end, I think I mixed elements of Lessig (slide transition cues and no slide count limitation) and Godin (high quality photos plus statements) with a few bullet points (grudgingly). The Lessig style required a lot of rehearsal to make slide transitions seamless. My five-minute talk actually took quite a few hours of mentally practicing my lines and "time trials" considering I had prepared my presentation mere days before my talk. If I could master my talk so that it took less than five minutes to present in rehearsal, I would be right within five minutes when the nervousness kicked in during my presentation.

The visual aids. Unadorned slides are like blank canvases and so are my favorite starting points. However, there was a pre-made slide template for GRiSP so I had to stick with that. A few good images I had taken were included; the font sizes were all big enough to be readable in the back of the lecture hall; animations were not used. 

The preparation helped a lot for my presentation. I won't say that it's perfect because I did get tongue-tied and mispronounced a few words but I think that the story came across loud and clear within the time limit. That was most important.