Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Losing Track of Time

OK, this is a rant with almost no physics content. So if you don't have a stomach for it, you might want to skip this blog entry.

I've been participating in 2 different workshops this past 2 weeks. It has been very informative and I got a lot of stuff sorted out, and new info to be processed. In yesterday's workshop session, something highly unusual and highly astounding happened. We finished the session AHEAD OF TIME! We didn't go over, the session chair didn't let people go way past their alloted time, and we actually finished ahead of scheduled! I don't ever remember this happening!

The workshop last week was awful in terms time-keeping. Every single session ran long. Both the speakers and the session chairs seem to not care about the time. I don't know if this occurs in other areas, but in physics, it seems that time management during a seminar or talk is a skill that a lot of people haven't learned. I find that to be highly puzzling. One would think that by this point, most physicists would have had to give many technical talks, and would have learned something about how to present these talks within the time given. But nooooooo...

The most common problem that I have seen is that most speakers try to cram as many viewgraphs as they can get away with. I've seen 15-minute talks that have more than 20 viewgraphs! This means that one has less than 1 minute to show each viewgraph on average. The speaker will have to show these things quickly, with very little explanation, before moving on to the next one. My question is, what's the point in showing these things for that short amount of time? Does the speaker really think that the audience would actually remember or get the point of the presentation when it is done in that short amount of time and at that speed? When you walk out of a talk, what percentage of it that you actually remember?

Physicists doing these talks need to get into their head that it is the quality, NOT the quantity, that is important, and that is remembered by the audience. I am seldom impressed by people showing one viewgraph after another in factory-assembly fashion. And when they go over the alloted time, that makes me annoyed and tend to pay even less attention to what they have to say. And from what I gathered in many of these sessions, so did most of the audience. We all have learned how to be able to explain or present things within certain limitation. If you want to publish in Phys. Rev. Lett. you'd better learn how to put everything you want to say in 4-typeset pages. So this is not something unusual.

And don't get me started at speakers who seem to talk to the screen rather than to the audience they are presenting to. Oy vey!


1 comment:

coraifeartaigh said...

Couldn't agree more. It's also a sign of speakers who have not done a dummy run - a must if you are going to expect people to listen to you for an hour..