We have all been there. Excited to hear the famous keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the Society for Head-Honchos, you put on your hotel alarm-clock at 5:30 AM (after spending an hour figuring out its cryptic inner workings, designed by a sadistic clockmaker). Barely awake, you stumble groggily into the gigantic dimly lit hall with elaborate chandeliers and musty carpets. After looking around stealthily to see if you know anyone (you don’t) you settle down with your coffee and fish out your notepad (that you will never see after the meeting) and the fancy pen (that you stole from the hotel front desk but will lose promptly). At least the talk will be worth it, you think. It’s not....
The introduction goes reasonably well, considering that the folks at the podium are not exactly spring chickens. The session chair reveals the obligatory hilarious episode from the speaker’s past (it’s mildly funny) and the speaker starts with the customary platitudes over how grateful he is for the “opportunity”, and how it’s wonderful it is to see so many people awake at this hour, etc. And then comes the actual talk. For some reason this guy who has made stunning discoveries in the field starts giving a talk that makes you wish that you were chewing paper instead.
For starters, the monotonous drone is like a series of dull thudding noises where you can only catch occasional words that spark a few of your remnant synapses…”chemogenetic” …..maybe ”CRISPR”….. On each of these inflection points, you try to focus, thinking now THIS part HAS to be interesting. But no matter how much you try to bring yourself back, it is hopeless. You discreetly reach for the phone but there is really nothing new (no one is stupid enough to be awake at this hour). Unfortunately, it’s too late to get up and leave now (you had to take a middle seat on one of the front rows, didn’t you!). So you sit and you endure. This is beyond boring; this is like death itself.
After thirty minutes of this torture (still at least thirty minutes left!) you start fantasizing about doing something ridiculous, just to see what would happen. Like – and again, these are merely hypothetical scenarios – violently kicking the chair in front of you (what’s with this dude’s ponytail?) or thinking about just getting up and screaming “FIRE” and start running around the room like a madman. You look around and there are a lot of glazed eyes glued to the podium. It’s impossible to say how they feel but trust me their pain is just as great as yours’. You are in the company of a pretty common entity: The good scientist who gives bad talks.
Now to be fair – just to get the fairness thing out of the way – there can be many reasons why you feel that the good scientist is an awful speaker. It might be you. I mean you did drink those three beers last night, and you were never really a morning person. The stuff might be just going over your head, you are just a kid. Also let’s be kind here, it might be a personality thing. Some people just speak in monotones, you know. However, when you see the same speaker again and again at meetings (ironically, scientists giving talks are almost never chosen for their speaking ability), and the reaction induced is exactly the same; one has to conclude that it’s not you. It’s them.
So what is the singular most important reason that good scientists give bad talks? All will be revealed in Part 2. Feel free to post your guesses on Twitter (or the comments section).
Some old ones Reposted...
8/18/13 - A Classification of PI's - find yours' in the list!
7/6/12 - Way to a "Science paper"
5/30/11 - 20/20 Hindsights
9/30/11 - Evolution of a bizzare, new Idea
11/17/2011 - Rationale for curiosty-driven research...
lessons from a 4 year old
1/28/12 - "GTFM" - hilarious article on grant writing!
The PI Blog
This blog exists because my wife seemed a bit tired of being the only recipient of my random pontifications on life and Science for many years; and gently encouraged me to vent in a blog instead. From time to time, I put down thoughts that occur to me as I naiively stumble through a life in Science - bestowed upon me by accident (literally!). Please keep in mind that these musings are rather obvious things of little or no use to anyone, and are certainly not personally targeted in any way, even though they are obviously derived from my experiences. OK, enough said.