Thursday 12 July 2012

How to piss off your conference audience

-->  This week, I’m in Cairns at the International Coral Reef Symposium. I’ve seen some inspiring talks and some that made me want to throw a rotten banana at the speaker. If you are a starving student and looking to have some food chucked at you on stage, here are some tips to ensure that happens.

1. Talk about something else. We all know that abstracts had to be submitted months ago, and you really thought you’d finish your project before now, and have nothing to present. Completely changing the focus of your talk wastes my time. If you literally have nothing to present, at least do a nice lit review, or talk about something relevant to your session.

2. Don’t show us any images or data. To really piss people off, put up full paragraphs of text and then read it and/or tell us in other words what it says. This will addle your audience’s tiny minds, because they won’t be able to listen and read at the same time. If you’re lucky, people will come away thinking you are just way smarter than they are and it’s their own fault they didn’t understand a thing. But more likely, they will just be mad at you.

3. When you do show graphs, be sure the axes and other text is much too small to read. This may distract your audience from understanding that what you have plotted is not statistically significant, because they will be absorbed in trying to figure out what the units on the y-axis represent. If you prefer to avoid this faux pas, try reading the text on your powerpoint from a few feet away to simulate sitting in the back of a conference room (because all the cool people sit in the back).

Here's an example of an awesome slide for maximum audience irritation
4. Use lots of technical jargon. This will make it clear that you know your shit, and you only care about other experts in your very small niche field understand what you are talking about. Disseminating your message to a wider audience is for suckers. If you feel like allowing more of your audience members to understand you, use language your mom would understand (provided she is not also an expert in your niche field).

5. Take up more than your allotted time. Everyone knows that people who don’t have much to say at idiots, so it’s best to drone on and on as long as possible about nitpicky methods details. This also shows that you don’t have any respect for your audience’s time, or the other speakers in your session—again proving that you are better than they are. If you prefer to let people get to the coffee break on time, delete some of your crappy slides.

6. Don’t consider the expertise of your audience. It’s totally acceptable to think that other scientists at a coral reef conference will not know what a coral is. Please do explain in excruciating detail. Try to use the same intro slide as the previous four speakers; do not acknowledge that they already beat that topic to death. Instead of this tactic, you might practice being a bit fluid with your speech, and skip over repetitive parts.
Can my baby understand your talk?

Now that you know how to really turn on the boredom switch, go out and waste some of your colleagues’ time!


  1. OMG, I haaaaate when people at a topical conference do the same damn intro over and over. This happened at the marine debris conference. WE KNOW THAT MARINE DEBRIS IS BAD, PEOPLE.

  2. Agh! So "glad" you feel my pain!