Today I decided to check out one of the Flash Sessions. Each participant had 6 minutes to present, followed by Q&A. I think this is a fantastic idea because it forces you to really focus on the main message and find ways to deliver a complicated message in a compact format.
As I watched the presenters, I tried to put myself in their shoes and thought about some guidelines I’d follow if I were to put together a presentation like this. Here are my suggestions:
- Rehearse 100 times: there’s basically no time for mistakes or hesitation. Rehearse it well so that it flows seamlessly.
- Don’t try to say too much by speaking faster than normal: it’s better not to try and pack too much information within the 6 minutes. A super high word/minute rate conveys a sense of rush and distracts the listener.
- Don’t put your slides in automatic forward mode: many presenters had their slides set up to go forward on their own (perhaps thinking it would save time). The problem is, unless you’re so rehearsed that the slide changes exactly when you need it to change, it becomes another source of distraction because you’ll need to click backward in order to finish saying what you were saying.
- Fewer tables and more pictures: I’d even go to the extent of saying no tables. It’s much faster for the human brain to pick up the message from an image than try to parse a table. Usual caveat: make sure to explain what each of your axes represents (an often overlooked item).
- Begin with a clear research question and end with a strong punchline. Be energetic as you speak; it is contagious.
- 6 minutes = 6 slides. I think 1 minute per slide is a good rule of thumb in general.
Props to the session chair Cassie McKay for putting these together, and to the speakers for taking on this challenge.
As I left the room, I couldn’t help but think “What about a 6-minute tutorial?” Imagine a high-caliber speaker, say the inventor of technique/methodology/concept/algorithm X, giving a 6-minute tutorial on it? It think it would be amazing. Now imagine a 90 minute session with 15 of these back to back. In under 2 hours you could go from zero knowledge to being curious about a new topic and perhaps even using it to help tackle a current problem you’re facing. The speakers’ slides could be made available to everyone later on, with the last slide containing links to papers for a more in-depth reading.
Someone please go ahead and make this happen! 🙂