Kevin Cheng  

So You’ve Published. Now Can You Present?

April 8th, 2005 by Kevin Cheng :: see related comic

When preparing for my presentation at CHI this year, I consulted a number of people for advice, including my advisor, critics of the conference, and other experienced presenters. My main concern was that I was presenting a short paper. This meant one of two things for an audience member:

- they’d seen the paper in which case I didn’t want to rehash things they already knew
- they’d not seen the paper so I couldn’t make any assumptions about what they knew

The overarching advice I was told was “tell a story”. Now one can take this literally and start saying, “a funny thing happened to me on the way over to the conference,” but the real point is that your presentation itself should be a story in and of itself.

After watching numerous paper and short paper sessions, I can understand why so many people find it frustrating to watch these presentations and why they avoid them in favour of panels, SIGs or interactive sessions. In the hopes that this will improve even one paper presentation next year, here’s some advice for the conference, and for the speakers.

##For the Paper Presenter
__Learn From Others__. Note the presentations you liked and why you liked them. Read about how [other people][1] feel they should be done and incorporate what you’re comfortable with.

__Play to the Medium__. Presentations aren’t just the verbal renditions of your paper. They are a completely different medium. There are things you cannot convey in paper form that you now can in person. Expressions, emotion, video, additional imagery, etc. Most importantly, you have the temporal aspect of presentations working for you. For example, you can show a picture, then overlay other things while you’re verbally annotating the transition.

__Decide What’s Important__ and get that point across. Don’t spend time telling me that your research yielded a p < 0.000005. Tell me what was really incredible about your findings that made it important enough to be published and tell me why you think they’re important. I don’t even care how many iterations it took. I don’t need a play by play of your research from beginning to end, either.

__Don’t Read Your Slide Titles__ or better yet, don’t even use slide titles that are stale and meaningless. I can’t count how many times I saw a presentation that had the slide “MOTIVATION” as the third slide after the title slide and “OUTLINE”. If a research project was exciting and interesting enough for you to pursue, you probably have some pretty compelling images or related material to show your motivation without saying, “the motivation for this project was …”

__You Don’t Need Text__. All paper presentations suffer from one crutch that no others have: the papers are in a CD that every attendee has access to. This crutch is also your biggest advantage though. Since the paper is out there, you don’t need to give a take-home version of your slides. Many people tell me they use bullet points so that people who weren’t there can read the slides. All that does is give a non-optimal experience for both the people who were and weren’t there. Bullet points are poor for getting the point across to readers, and even poorer for the presentation audience. In this case, you know they have a paper they can read so you can concentrate on serving the presentation audience only.

__Don’t Put the Paper in Your Presentation__. I feel like I shouldn’t have to say this. Two paragraphs a slide, copy and pasted from your paper, probably isn’t a good use of yours or the audience’s time. That’s when I _really_ think, “I can just go and read the paper.”

__Be Interactive__ with the audience. Maybe it’s because there are other formats such as the interactivity and poster presentations that paper presenters seem to feel they cannot engage the audience. Remember that the current format has many audience members watching 3-6 presentations in a row. If you were watching, wouldn’t you like to have an excuse to raise your hand or get up and stretch, or shout an answer once in a while?

__Be EXCITED__ because you should be! You’re spending time playing with how people work with computers. That type of research is a pretty cool place to be and you obviously feel strongly enough to commit time and energy to it so show the audience.

##For the Conference Organizers
__Not All Papers Make Good Presentations__ and not all good presentations make good papers. We need more venues for presentations without papers and the option for paper presenters to illustrate their work in different ways (the posters is a good alternative, for example).

__Not All Papers Need 20 Minutes__ and not all short papers need 10. Some research papers are rigorous proofs of things we already suspect. They’re the ones that we say, “well I could have told you that,” but until then, it had not been proven. Such papers are important to the field but really can be conveyed in much less time. As a result, presenters are forced to pad their presentations with minute details of said rigorous research and every iteration carried out.

Paper submissions are always going to be a part of CHI because CHI’s rigorous review process means publications in CHI are like academic journal publications. If we’re going to continue encouraging paper authors to present their papers in a presentation, we should give a suitable support framework. At the same time, we as authors should hold ourselves to the same standard in presenting the paper as we had in submitting it. I don’t expect researchers to be motivational speakers but continuing on this trend will simply result in zero attendance to such sessions, which ultimately isn’t good for any party involved.

[1]: “Seven Steps to Better Presentations”

11 Responses to “So You’ve Published. Now Can You Present?”
uurf wrote:


I see all of these problems in spades here at you-know-where. I generally apply all of the same strategies as above, and people are flabberghasted at how interesting a presentation can be, even regarding the dryest of topics. Thanks for capturing all of these - now I can just forward the link rather than having to capture them myself.

Jon wrote:

Some *very* basic presentation materials here.

wiget wrote:

Unfortunately the research world doesn’t provide a strong motivation for authors to become better presenters. For CHI, the authors should be required to send a video of themselves giving the presentation to the paper committee. If the presentation is deemed acceptable that’s great but if not the paper is still published and the author gets full academic credit.

Rebecca Sinclair wrote:

Here is another resource–a blog called presentation coach that advises you on how and also why to do things like know your audience, center your talk around one clear idea, use visuals effectively, and how to deal with the anxiety.

Livia Labate wrote:

Not every argument can be communicated through bullet points. Actually, very few can. Presenters need to break free from that concept. I also recommend reading this thread on Edward Tufte’s site.

Braden Kowitz wrote:

J.Z. has given some really great tips on presenting. Here are some tips from his talks and my experiences:

- Structure your talk as a dramatic arc, just as you would a story. Build up tension, and release. For most people this will be starting with motivation, working up through idea refinement, climaxing with the solution, then concluding with some validation.

- Use silence to create anticipation. This works great right before you start. But, then the first few words you say really have to be great.

- Use photographs for impact. Your slides can be just an outline in some cases. Do not put text on the slides, unless you want people to read it. People will not be reading the slides and listening to you at the same time.

- Use staging to direct focus. When working with other presenters, place people on the stage with care. Motivate speaker changes with both movement and a spoken exchange.

- Be in control. This can sometimes be tough. If someone’s mobile phone rings, or a jackhammer starts going off - don’t ignore it as if it had never happened. You need to acknowledge the disturbance, and then move on.

I’m sure there are many more good tips - this is just a start. Above all, be conscious about what you are trying to accomplish with your slides and words. Remember, you will be DESIGNING a talk. (yes, you are a designer).

Umesh Persad wrote:

Here is another good resource:

I think it is important that a story be told, and the slide presentation aids in telling this story. It is the worst thing to see a presenter read off slide after slide. Another issue is using a set template for slide design. Even though a design template conveys a sense of consistency, sometimes slightly changing the look and feel of different slides (like background colour … tastefully of course) can keep the audience attention and aviod visual monotony. Use pictures and illustrations wherever possible.

I recently attended the Include 2005 conference at the Royal College of Art (UK). Included in the programme was a “Design Story” detailing the experience of designers working on inclusive design in industry. I enjoyed these presentations the most. It might be useful for researchers to take a cue from the design community in how to construct and deliver effective visual and oral communication.

Donna Maurer wrote:

Gosh I hope every presenter at every academic conference I plan on attending reads this.

At a similar local conference last year, whenever I met someone who was still to present I said “Don’t tell me a linear narrative of your research, tell me what you found interesting”. Didn’t happen though - I would have learned much more by just reading the papers…

Leo Frishberg wrote:


Thanks for the topical article; your comments were very relevant to my own experience. This was my first time presenting at CHI, also in a “short paper” (Design Expo) format.

I had thought I had built an appropriate presentation that took advantage of being present (as opposed to my paper on CD), focused on the key elements I wanted to convey, and avoided getting trapped by spending too much time on the actual application I was discussing.

When I looked at the presentations on either side of me, however, I suddenly became alarmed that I hadn’t allowed enough time to actually demo the product under focus.

When I finished within my alloted 10 minutes, the silence was deafening. It took Boyd de Groot, the facilitator, to begin the questioning. To me, this wasn’t a good sign. I figured I had misjudged the audience and built the wrong presentation.

10 minutes is an extremely challenging (short) amount of time to inform and educate an audience unfamiliar with your topic (let alone wow! them).

Later in the day, several individuals approached me and commented they were pleased with my presentation, comments I very much appreciated.

So, I had hoped to try something different by not presenting my research, and while I felt I had succeeded in avoiding simply reading my paper, I’m still not sure what I *did* do was as effective as I had wished for. I’ll just have to keep doing it ’til I “get it right.”

Jon wrote:

Incidentally, and quite off topic, I wonder what happened to ..

David Heller wrote:

I think in the case of a “published” paper presentation like CHI what is being expressed here makes sense. But what happens when the presentation is the only thing to be published, as in IA Summit? I realize that this goes counter to many of the ideas presented above, but I find this is usually my situation where the presentation is also the “leave behind” or worse, the independent distributed artifact. The latter meaning that many people will NOT have seen my presentation while they read the presentation itself.

A thought I had to this conundrum, is better use of “notes”. For formats like PDF this would be a bit harder (yes, I can print my notes fields next to the slide), but if you open a PPT file itself you can get a very clear sense of the slide from the notes (the talk) that is connected to that slide.

I also find that writing my slides in outline format as is the usual, helps me with my story, and create a sense of pacing.

The really hard part about this is that so few of the sites mentioned above, or other references are all that helpful b/c the presentation is a moment in time, and a performance. This means that “examples” are sorely lacking as you just can’t send me to an existing presentation and “get it”. You need to see the presentation in action.

Anyone have video of some good presentations? Maybe a video of BJ Foggs presentation at IA Summit might be a good example?

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OK/Cancel is a comic strip collaboration co-written and co-illustrated by Kevin Cheng and Tom Chi. Our subject matter focuses on interfaces, good and bad and the people behind the industry of building interfaces - usability specialists, interaction designers, human-computer interaction (HCI) experts, industrial designers, etc. (Who Links Here) ?