CB 399: Presentation Techniques for Scientists Spring 2015

Presentation Techniques for Scientists

Nanocourse Lecturers:

  • Sarah Jessop, Associate Director for Speaking Instruction, Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, Harvard University
  • Fred Winston, Professor of Genetics, Harvard Medical School

Curriculum Fellow:  Emily Gleason, emily_gleason@hms.harvard.edu

Presentations are an essential part of a scientist’s career. From pre-qualifying exams to job talks, seminars, and classroom teaching, it is important to effectively communicate one’s ideas to a wide range of audiences. During the first two sessions of this course we will discuss many aspects of an effective scientific presentation including developing oral communication techniques, creating clear visual aids, and developing talks for different audiences. Registered students will then put these skills to work the following week by creating and delivering a brief practice presentation. Registered students are expected to attend both lecture sessions and at least one of the practice presentation sessions. At the end of the course students will have gained skills they can apply to future presentations.


Lectures-(open to all without prior registration)

First Session: Monday, January 26, 2015 1:30 – 3:30 PM
Location: TMEC, Rm. 227

Second Session: Thursday, January 29, 2015 1 – 3 PM
Location: TMEC, Rm. 227

Practice Presentations - (limited to registered students)

First Session: Monday, February 2, 2015 1 – 3 PM
Location: TMEC, Rm. 109

Second Session: Thursday, February 5, 2015 1 – 3 PM
Location: TMEC, Rm. 109 


DROP DEADLINE: Monday, January 19, 2015

Optional Pre-Class Readings: 

For Session 1:
-The Introvert on the Podium by Laura Vanderkam, New York Times: http://nyti.ms/1xCP0Kd  

For Session 2:

Check out the following video by Slam Poet/Math Teacher, Taylor Mali, on upward inflection vs. "landing" statements and commitment to reaching and affecting our audience: Speak with Conviction

Please skim the following:
- Chapter 4: Visual Aids, Your Support Cast in Michael Alley's Craft of Scientific Presentations (pp. 93-152) (eBook: http://sharif.edu/~namvar/index_files/Scientific-Presentation.pdf)

Highlighted Sections of  Slide:ology by Nancy Duarte (eBook can be downloaded for free here: http://it-ebooks.info/book/428/)

  • So Where Do You Begin?                              p. 6
  • Innovating With Sticky Notes                        p. 28
  • Classifying Diagrams                                    p. 44
  • Placement of Elements Creates Meaning       p. 92
  • Assembling a Color Palette                           p. 136
  • Text                                                            p. 140
  • Photography                                                p. 160
  • Illustrations                                                 p. 166
  • Making Objects Move and Change                p. 188
  • Creating Panoramas and Scenes                   p.190
  • Navigating Through Your Message                p. 224
  • Create visual pause, white/black screen       p. 231
  • To Project or Not to Project                         p. 240


For Session 2: Create a slide about your research that uses the techniques we discussed today (required for registered students, optional for other participants). Email the slide to Emily (emily_gleason@hms.harvard.edu) by 5pm on Wednesday, January 28th. We will choose some to use as examples of good visual aids at the beginning next class. You may also volunteer to present your slide later in the class. All registered students will receive written feedback on their slide, other participants may receive feedback upon request.  

For Sessions 3 and 4: Using the techniques discussed in class, students should prepare a brief presentation (with PowerPoint slides) on their current research project. Presentations should be no more than 7 minutes long and geared towards a broad audience of scientists. Students will present their talk at one of the two presentation sessions and receive feedback from the audience. Students are also expected to participate in the discussion of fellow students’ presentations.