20 June 2011
The Zen of Presentations, Part 42: Outlines must die
For scientific talks, outlines are even more useless because almost every talk has the same structure. People structure their talks the same way they structure their scientific papers: Introduction. Methods. Results. Discussion. If your outline isn’t substantially different than that, leave it out. Putting an outline up with those headings advertises your lack of imagination.
Why be redundant? Why repeat yourself? Why say the same thing over and over again?
Yet not only do I regularly see these sinkholes when I attend scientific conferences, some of my colleagues insist their students include them.
An outline is a planning tool. Outlines are useful in preparing a talk. You don’t need to show it once the planning is over, however. You don’t need to see an outline for a talk any more than you need to see the blueprints for a building you’re walking around in. You don’t need to see the storyboards for a movie you’re watching. You don’t need to see the rough sketches of a painting.
The problem might be that instructors want students to have a plan for their talk, which is a useful thing to teach them. The easiest way for instructors to ensure that happens is to make students “show their work” by including an outline slide. This forces the student to plan, which is good. This is less work for the instructor, because he or she can just tick it off during the presentation. But the cost is the student has learned a horrible habit that makes nobody else in the audience happy.
My colleagues are great, but sometimes I’d like to give ‘em such a smack.
The Zen of Presentations, Part 31: Redundant and repetitive
Picture by andersabrahamsson on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.