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Whether in private practice or in academia, neurologists are frequently asked to give oral presentations to colleagues, physicians and health care professionals in other specialties, and the public. Today's technology has made this much easier than before and much more fun. What tools are available and how can we tailor them to our needs? Neurology Today consulted with professional designers and experienced presenters to offer tips on how to make a good presentation even better.


Good organization is key to framing a good presentation, experts agree. Most lecturers present too much material so that the critical message gets lost in a sea of details. To avoid this, experts advise presenters to prepare an outline of key points first and make sure those points are emphasized in both the text and visual aspects of the presentation.


Nigel Holmes, a designer whose chart work has appeared regularly in Time magazine, said the most common mistake people make is using far too much text in their slide presentations, and reading that text while the slide is up on the screen. The presenter is throwing away a chance to use visuals to help explain points while a separate commentary is spoken, he said.

Mr. Holmes urges speakers to ignore the PowerPoint tutorial rules about the number of bullet points you can fit onto a slide. Instead, make more slides with fewer points on each one.

“Make the slides simpler – to fit the time you have to make the presentation, and to fit the amount of material an audience can absorb,” he said. “I pace the presentation: sometimes with just visuals and no words, and sometimes with words and no visuals.”


Perhaps the best way for neurologists to illustrate clinical conditions to audiences is by showing patient videos. PowerPoint allows users to embed video clips within the slide presentation; video editing programs reduce the large files into a manageable size and to a PowerPoint compatible format.

Joseph Jankovic, MD, Director of the Parkinson's Disease Center and Movement Disorders Clinic at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX, draws from a library of 8,000 patients he has videotaped over the past 26 years. A few years ago, he changed these to digital format and now uses a video editing system to compress the files. He accesses them from a separate media drive on his laptop and PowerPoint links a particular slide to a specified video file in MPEG2 format, an audio-video streaming format compatible for DVD viewing.


Dr. Orly Avitzur is a neurologist in private practice in Tarrytown, NY. She holds joint academic appointments at Yale University School of Medicine and New York Medical College.

“Videos do enhance presentations,” Dr. Jankovic said. “But, to make the links work, use PowerPoint's ‘Pack and Go’ feature, which archives the active presentation into a self-extracting executable file when copying files to the meeting computer, rather than selecting the ‘copy’ command.”


One of the slickest new software developments features the addition of presentation capability to personal digital assistants (PDAs). This capability enables users to download PowerPoint slides, convert content from any Windows-printable application into slides, or display the PDA's screen images. Products come with software to help transform the presentations from computer to Palm or Pocket PC platform and may include devices that plug into a handheld, with a VGA connection to plug into the projector. Advantages also include weight (Margi Systems' Presenter-to-Go cabling that hooks to the projector weighs 4 ounces), quick set-up, and the availability of another back-up source for presentations.


Stephen Regenold, Associate Editor of Presentations Magazine (, said, “Most of the PDA-presentation software we tested did exactly what the manufacturers claimed it would do, which isn't always the case.” But he cautioned, “If you're going to do anything more than static slides with text and basic graphics, think twice. The PDA-presentation world has not yet mastered transitions, video, or audio.”

Some speakers have begun to use Tablet PCs – machines that let you input data by touching a stylus to a screen – to give their PowerPoint presentations. While facing the audience, they can write notes directly on the slides, circle portions of the screen, or highlight points, making the talk more interactive. Pen annotation also allows the user to drag images and charts to other slides, rearrange slides, and edit text.

Although PowerPoint is the standard, there are other programs on the market such as Adobe Acrobat, which is a great presentation program, Mr. Regenold said. It creates small file sizes and will work for basic slideshow presentations in place of PowerPoint. “You can also easily transfer Acrobat files onto the Web after a presentation to make the slides available to the audience once they're back at the office.”


Mark Sanborn, President of the National Speakers Association, believes that public speaking, like all skills, is developed with plenty of practice. He and others interviewed here noted, too, that knowing one's audience is key to a good presentation.

Put yourself in the place of audience members and consider what information they might find useful, advised Robert J. Joynt, MD, former Chairman of Neurology and Dean of the University of Rochester School of Medicine, an experienced presenter and toastmaster. “When speaking to patient groups or families, for example, avoid medical terms that may be foreign to them.”

Mr. Sanborn advised: “What you say and how you say it had better grab the audience's attention immediately.” He noted that speakers fail when they disregard their allotted time, have an unclear purpose, and are inadequately prepared.

Experts advise avoiding at all costs any sexist, racist, or otherwise insulting anecdotes. Dr. Joynt, who avoids offending anyone even when he serves as toastmaster at a roast, said: “There may be a light air to the task, but there should be no inappropriate jokes that risk embarrassing the audience.”

Using humor is a tricky proposition. When it works, it works well, but when it fails, nothing fails worse. Mr. Holmes recommends using humor only if it “comes naturally. Lightening up and, perhaps, being a little self-deprecating can make any subject approachable.”


Dr. Robert J. Joynt: “There may be a light air to the task, but there should be no inappropriate jokes that risk embarrassing the audience.”


How important is the physical facility? The Grandpré Communications Centre at the Montreal Neurological Institute, Grand Prize winner of the 2003 Presentations Magazine award for “Best Presentation Room” could serve as a good model.

John A. Robson, PhD, Associate Director of Scientific Affairs at the Montreal Neurological Institute, said, “The stadium seating design of the amphitheater allows everyone to feel close to the speakers. There are two rear-projection screens so that a speaker may show video-feed on one and slides on the other. The podium has a built-in overhead projector, DVD player, and VCR. It also features a smart board – a white board with a selection of colored markers; when the speaker writes on it, the audience may plug a laptop into the seat and download the information off the screen – ideal for medical student lectures. If audience members have a question, they need only push a button; a flashing light at the podium directs the speaker to the questioner on whom a camera is simultaneously focused.”


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Full videoconferencing and audio-conferencing capabilities connect the facility to off-site locations for distance learning and telemedicine procedures. Dr. Robeson expects the amphitheater to have live video feed from the operating room in the next few months, facilitating conversations during surgeries and theoretically allowing surgeons to consult from anywhere in the world.

But, what if your environment is less than ideal? Richard T. Kasuya, MD, MSEd, Director of Medical Education at the University of Hawaii, answered this question in “Dealing with Presentation-room Nightmares” in the February 2003 issue of Presentations Magazine: “No matter how bad a room is, it's your responsibility to make the presentation work. Connect with the audience right away and try to communicate that you're enjoying yourself.” He advises that speakers arrive an hour or two early to survey the room and make adjustments and to be sure everything is in working order.


Unforeseen events are bound to happen at some point during a presentation – the laptop fails to sync with the LCD projector, the audio system or lighting malfunctions, outlets are not available. But, with a little planning, the worst presentation disasters can be avoided. Some pointers follow:

  • ✓ Bring your presentation in more than one format – CD, floppy disk, or zip drive.
  • ✓ Arrive early and test all the systems to see if they are working properly – computer, LCD projector, microphone, lights, modem, Internet connection, and outlets.
  • ✓ Come prepared with backup plans for equipment failure: bring an extra battery, extension cord, power strip, three-prong electrical outlet adapter, multi-purpose duct tape.
  • ✓ Consider low-tech options – paper hand-outs of your presentation and an old-fashioned blackboard or flip chart for visuals. “There is a huge value and human drama in seeing something written live as opposed to set in type on a screen,” said designer Nigel Holmes.
  • ✓ Preview your presentation: Is the contrast for text and background still adequate when using the room's projector? Do a test click-through; be sure to check audio and video links.
  • ✓ Sit in various parts of the room – can the slides and podium be seen adequately?
  • ✓ Check and adjust the room temperature and lighting, if possible.