How to present a memorable flash talk in 12 easy steps

Flash talks are a great way to give an introduction to your work, and whet people’s appetite for your research.

Generally flash talks last for 1 to 2 minutes, and presenters are normally allowed one simple PowerPoint slide or, in the case of virtual events, a 1 – 2 minute pre-recorded video. But is it really possible to present something really memorable within such limitations?

Here are some things to take into account when preparing your flash talk to make sure the audience remembers you, and contacts you after the session to find out more. Because that’s the goal, right?

1. Keep it brief

You should definitely start by giving a very brief introduction that makes people understand why your work is interesting, and ends by saying how people can contact you afterwards. Of course you can say where you’re from and your affiliation, but the critical thing is to attract to people’s attention.

2. Cover the basics

Answer the following questions:

  • Why is it interesting?
  • What is it about?
  • How did you do it?
  • With whom did you carry out the work?

3. Connect with the audience

For live events be sure to always look at the audience – don’t lose eye contact. Keep scanning the room for the duration of your talk, and definitely do not turn your back to them. In the case of a pre-recorded video, treat your camera like an audience and talk directly to it.

 4. Leave the audience asking for more

Try to build up the anticipation and attention of the people who are listening and watching– put out something you’ve investigated but don’t tell them the whole story. You want to leave them hanging and intrigued enough to want to find out more.

5. Be dynamic

Your flash talk is going to be short so your audience will generally be paying attention to you. Build up to something where you clearly emphasise one or two points. These are the sort of things that are going to bring their attention to the most important parts. Be enthusiastic – if you show that you’re really into your science people will come along and want to know more.

6. Don’t be afraid to use visual tools

If it’s relevant, there is no problem with using props in your flash talk. Alternatively, make your talk visually memorable by using dynamic diagrams, graphics and images. Videos will normally not be possible for live flash talks, so don’t rely on these.

7. Avoid special effects

It is possible to make something visually memorable without going overboard on big special effects such as PowerPoint animations. If your science is good it doesn’t need any fireworks.

8. Do the unexpected

If it fits with your character, you can try to make people laugh. Doing something that the audience is not expecting can be very effective. We’ve seen everything from interpretive dance to a guitar-accompanied talk – anything is possible! Just make sure it matches somehow to who you are so that it appears natural.

9. Include your poster number

At onsite conferences definitely, definitely, definitely include your poster number during your flash talk! It will make it much easier for people to come and find you later on at the poster session.

10. Be a slide minimalist

As already mentioned, diagrams, graphs and images are great when you have only 1 or 2 slides at your disposal. Make sure though that there is a minimum of information on your on your slides to try to bring people into the main message – focus on the thing that you want them to remember.

11. Practise!

Like all talks, you need to practise beforehand! Even if you want to bring across that you’re relaxed and everything is quite informal there is no way around it – you’ve got to practise to be prepared.

12. Stick to the time limit

With a flash talk this is so important – the time limitations are extremely strict, and you will be moved off the stage when your time is up, or your video won’t be uploaded to a virtual event platform. So make sure you have condensed everything into the time provided, and don’t go over or you may be stopped mid-sentence!

Original video with Dr. Cornelius Gross, EMBL Rome, and Dr. Francesca Peri, University of Zurich

How to visualise biological data

Isn’t it always the way? You have amazing results, but you can see your colleagues’ eyes glaze over when you try to explain it to them. Why not try to present your data in a visually appealing way, and make sure all eyes are on your work? 

 1.     Make the data speak for itself

When you start to think about visualising your data, try to make them as standalone as possible. If you are presenting the work – for example, on a poster at a conference – make sure the visualisation is clear and comprehensible, so that people can grasp the concept without you needing to stand there and explain it.  

2.     Ain’t nobody got time for that!

One thing you have to realise – people want information, and they want it fast! They’re not going to read the captions, they’re not going to read all the beautiful text you’ve written, so the more you can put directly on the visualisation to help people understand it, the better.

3.     Drama, darling!

When you start talking about creating illustrations for more broad communication other factors come into play – use dramatic elements, make it eye-catching, appeal to human emotion, make it relatable and appealing, or possibly even controversial! It needs to stir emotions!

4.     Determine your target audience

Obviously if you’re going to publish in a scientific journal it’s really important to be accurate, because you’re trying to communicate with peers who have a similar level of knowledge to you. If you’re on the front page of the New York Times it’s probably more important to engage people and get people interested.

5.     Understand the concept

If you’re looking at complex multivariable relationship start by looking at the individual variables, and make sure that you understand what’s going on at a low level before you try and do something more complex.

6.     Don’t skip the planning phase

Decide on the concept. Sketch your plan. Draw a storyboard. Record narration if required. Once these processes are done you can move onto the design, and then we go into the design, modelling and animation process – depending on which medium you’ve chosen for your visualisation.

7.     Find patterns
By visualising biological data, scientists can see patterns. Find these patterns and make them stand out, and in doing so you’ll be able to better communicate your ideas to others and get them excited about your science.

8.     Filter, map and render
There are 3 main steps to getting your work visualised:

  • First you filter the data to find exactly what you need
  • Then you map – this might be working out how the data corresponds to the spatial layout of the visualisation
  • Then it’s time to render – this is how you then encode the change or the signal on that map you have created.

9.     Keep it simple
Don’t try to put too much information in. Think about what needs to be removed to keep the message as concise and impactful as possible. It’s more important to get people excited about what you’re trying to show them than to convey every last detail 100% correctly.

10.  Determine your software
There are a number of tools out there that you can use to look at different types of data. Having visualisations that are done in Keynote or PowerPoint can be just as good as long as you know they’re useful.

Graphics programs such as the Adobe Illustrator Suite enable us to create a wide range of things. An excellent tool for scientists to create visualisations is a software program called R. It’s a programming language and an environment for interactive data science and data


 Get inspired!

Check out these pages for great visualisation!

https://vizbi.org/Posters/
https://beatascienceart.com/

 

Original video with Janet Iwasa, Hadley Wickham, Seán O’Donoghue and James Proctor

 

Designing training using competencies

The European project team was initiated in the EMBL-EBI training team to build training frameworks on pan-European projects funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme.

Some of these projects include BioExcel, CINECA and EOSC Life, featuring EMBL-EBI as an active partner co-leading on training activities, secondments and best practices to deliver project goals. The training programme often includes a mix of face-to-face and remote courses, webinars and a range of online tutorials developed from a competency-based needs analysis.

Supporting biomolecular scientists

Competency mapper is an online tool developed by the EMBL-EBI training team using the BioExcel competency framework as a primary use case, to support professionals working in biomolecular sciences. Documenting competencies allows course providers to assess the effectiveness of their training model and obtain a better understanding of trainee needs.

Front page of the competency mapper website featuring projects
The new look of the competency mapper website

In the initial phase, the competency mapper was designed to map existing courses to identify significant gaps within training programmes. With its diverse potential, the tool has expanded into the area of career development where individual professionals can create profiles, document their competencies and seek further training to fill gaps in their portfolio.

In the future, learning pathways with curated sets of training resources will be added to achieve specific development goals. As this tool is currently in the early stages of development, the team are seeking feedback to improve and adapt to fit community needs.

If you have comments or suggestions, please contact the team at competency@ebi.ac.uk.

Meet the EMBL Events Team: Meredith

This week we meet Meredith Willmott, one of the Course Organisers at EMBL-EBI focussing on organising the on-site, and now virtual, courses. Meredith is no stranger to the team, previously having done an internship in the training team in 2017 before returning to a new post in 2019.

At EMBL since: April 2019
Number of organised courses: 9 to date

Meredith standing in front of one of the 'm' signs in Amsterdam
Meredith standing in front of one of the M signs in Amsterdam

Favourite place in Hinxton area?
My favourite place in Hinxton is the grounds on the campus, it really is beautiful and it’s so nice to be able to go for a walk during lunch and take a break from my desk.

EMBL-EBI south building - home to the EMBL-EBI on-site courses
EMBL-EBI south building – home to the EMBL-EBI on-site courses

First thing you do before a course starts and first thing you do after a course finishes?
First thing I do before a course is to double-check my to-do list to ensure I have completed everything before the delegates arriving. The first thing I do after a course has finished is to give a big high five to the scientific organiser for another successful course.

If you weren’t a course organiser what would you be?
A wedding planner! I love the thought of being involved in someone’s big day and making it perfect for them.

What are the challenges/differences of organising a virtual course?
I think the biggest challenge is not meeting the delegates in person as this is one of my favourite parts of an onsite course. Also remembering to smile while on camera!

How have you adapted your role during lockdown?
My role has changed a lot in lockdown, going from onsite courses to virtual courses has its challenges, and it takes a lot of testing and back and forth. Another adaption which isn’t part of my role, but sharing an office/spare room with my partner has been a big change.

If you were a superhero what power would you like to have?
I would like to be able to be in two places at once! Running the courses is often very busy and it would be great to be able to do 2 things at the same time.

And finally, what is your favourite film?
Father of the Bride, I have loved this since I was young and it still is my favorite film. 

Upcoming events Meredith is organising:
Structural bioinformatics 2020 – Virtual
Applications close 18 September

Meet the EMBL Events Team: Charlotte

This week we meet Charlotte Pearton, Events Lead at EMBL-EBI. Charlotte manages a team of eight events, marketing and administrative staff who work on the EMBL-EBI training programme.

This is a picture of Charlotte Pearton, Events Lead at EMBL-EBI
Charlotte Pearton, Events Lead at EMBL-EBI

At EMBL-EBI since: 2015
Number of events organised:
39

Favourite place in the Hinxton area?
The campus is beautiful. The woodland paths are great to walk through in all seasons, but especially autumn.  In summer, the flowerbeds are a real burst of colour.

Across EMBL, the events teams have been facing the challenge of virtualising their work and events. 

What are the differences in organising a virtual course compared to the usual face-to-face format?
Firstly there was the timeframe! We had to put a structure together very quickly. Also how to adjust the content to make it workable and engaging, and how to maintain good comms and networking. Our first virtual course was a great success and we will continue to build on this experience; we are embracing the challenge.

How have you adapted your role during lockdown?
I have maintained a daily structure and routine.  I am in almost constant contact with the team via Slack, Zoom etc. We have all become increasingly proficient in the art of the on-line meeting over the last few months!

What is the first thing you do before a course starts:
I’ll run through my checklist of preparatory tasks, make a note of anything I need to remember, take a deep breath, a sip of coffee, and also some comfort in the fact that our events are a real team effort and I’m not in this alone!

And how about the first thing you’ll do after a course finishes?
At the end of each course, I enjoy the sense of job satisfaction. I love the cyclical nature of events, at our face-to-face events I love waving people off knowing they have had a great experience.  You really build a rapport with your speakers and delegates – it starts months before they arrive, then really develops during the week they are actually with you on campus.  By the time they leave you can really feel the sense of warmth and genuine appreciation.  It’s a great indicator of our success.

That is something we are still finding with the virtual courses I am pleased to say. Even if the wave goodbye at the end of the course is now through Zoom!

If you weren’t a course organiser what would you be?
A world-famous author of fiction… probably something dark like crime or horror, and writing under a pseudonym to keep an air of mystery! In reality, I’ve always veered towards events in an educational field.

What is the strangest/funniest thing that has ever happened in a course?
We organised a ‘sabrage’ to celebrate 10 years of training – seeing Cath (Brooksbank, Head of Training) wielding a sword to slice the top off a bottle of champagne outside the training rooms isn’t something you see every day. It was great fun.

Cath Brooksbank wields a sword to cut the top off a bottle of champagne at an event to celebrate 10 years of the EMBL-EBI Training programme
Cath Brooksbank at the ‘sabrage’

If you were a superhero, what power would you like to have?
Teleportation! An early morning walk on the beach in the Seychelles, fine dining and shopping in Paris in the afternoon, party all night in New York.  Green travel!

And finally what is your favourite book or film?
I couldn’t choose a favourite book or film very easily, but I did revisit a 2008 documentary recently which always has me gripping the sofa – ‘Man on a Wire’. The story of Phillippe Petit, who tight-roped across the US twin towers in 1974. Just a fascinating story on many levels – watch if you dare!