BIOL 606
Tips for Presenters
by Rich Palmer


Delineation of the subject and significance: A clear description of the subject area to be addressed. Why is this subject area interesting/important? Why is the subject area one with which students of systematics and evolution should be familiar?
History: A summary of key contributions to the origin or evolution of the subject area. Give a full citation to the most useful, recent review paper on the subject.
Methods: An explanation of methodologies essential to understanding the problem. Example/Case study: A presentation of the methods, results and principle conclusions of the focal paper (and related papers, if relevant).
General conclusions: Concluding statements reflecting your own personal evaluation of the subject area (key limitations or values of certain methods, issues still needing attention, what you personally found most interesting about the subject area)

Potential presentation style

Put up a one-page outline of the lecture indicating the logical structure and main elements (this should be in 18 pt font so that it can be read by the audience). If two overhead projectors are available, it can be left up on the second overhead during the lecture.
Include simplified drawings (or figures from a textbook) illustrating methods, patterns or hypotheses.
Include overheads of actual results (should include full citation of the paper).
35 mm slides should be avoided.

1) Begin with the focal paper and read some related papers. Feel free to pursue papers that seem interesting to you personally. The papers suggested in the original lecture list are only intended to provide a guide to some recent literature. If you feel a different paper would make a better focal paper, then do so. It is the responsibility of the presenter to choose the best focal paper for the subject. Another very useful step is to find a textbook that covers your topic or a closely related one to get some ideas about possible ways of tackling the topic and to get ideas about useful examples that might help with the lecture.

2) After you have assembled most of the information you feel you might want to include in the lecture, but before you actually start to 'write' the lecture, write out the 3-4 conclusions you wish students to retain from the lecture. In other words, what three or four things would you like a student leaving the class to say to another student in the hall when asked: What was that lecture about? The 3-4 conclusions then help define the logical structure to your lecture.

3) Use those 3-4 conclusions to set up 3-4 questions or puzzles in the introduction to the lecture that you will 'solve' during the lecture. This really helps capture people's interest because everyone likes a good puzzle. These 3-4 conclusions will also be on the final overhead summing up the lecture.

4) Whenever you have questions about what to include or not to include in the lecture (a common mistake is to include way too much information in too little depth to allow comprehension), refer back to these 3-4 conclusions. If a piece of information you have read seems like it might belong in the lecture, but it does not help you make one of the 3-4 conclusions you wish to make, then leave it out (or set it aside until you decide how much material you have).

5) For each of the 3-4 conclusions, try to present a single clearly worked example (illustration or diagram) that helps support the conclusion. Avoid long lists of terms and definitions, or of examples. . . most people cannot remember all these, and often these will be more confusing than edifying. The best examples to work from are ones that you personally find the most interesting. Do not be afraid to select examples that you feel are too personal. . . if you really like them, and feel they make the point clearly, they will greatly enhance your own pleasure of giving the lecture, and hence your animation and enthusiasm.

6) When using overheads, avoid long lists of text items or long paragraphs of text. Except for the introductory outline for the lecture, and the list of conclusions at the end, overheads should be mainly illustrative material (diagrams/figures) or contrasts of alternative hypotheses or ideas (e.g., tabular form of pros and cons) that drive home, or make easier to understand, the key points you wish to make in the lecture. They should serve mainly to provide supporting information for the 3-4 conclusions, they should not primarily serve as the notes to which you wish to refer during the lecture. You may find it helpful to use two overhead projectors. . . one on which to display the lecture outline (except when you need it to allow two overheads to be compared) and the other on which to present specific examples.

7) If technical terms or acronyms are necessary, be sure to define them for the class.

Suggestions for stimulating/taking part in discussions:

1) Start with an opening statement about what you personally found most interesting about the paper and why you found it interesting.

2) Invite specific individuals to relate what they personally found most interesting about the paper and why they found it interesting.

3) Follow with a statement about what you found unsatisfying and why you found it unsatisfying. 4) Invite specific individuals to relate what they personally found unsatisfying and why they found it unsatisfying.

5) Feel free to challenge the main thesis of the paper as a 'devil's advocate'. Remember, the goal is to invite or provoke others to comment.

6) How to phrase questions that help initiate subsequent discussion.

a) Use focused questions that define a 'puzzle' or a contrast. Avoid questions of the type "What did you think about the author's ideas on 'bauplanes'?", try to phrase them in a binary fashion (two alternatives): "I had some trouble with the authors ideas on Bauplanes. I couldn't tell whether Bauplane referred to a specific entity, like a specific form of a hypothetical ancestor, or to an abstraction of a suite of characters that somehow 'defines' a phylum. Which of these alternatives did the rest of you think is closest to what the author was trying to say?" In other words, use your own uncertainties to form questions and try to get other participants to help you personally understand something about the paper better. Try to avoid second-guessing what you think others might want to discuss, focus on questions you would really like help with answers.

b) What questions would you personally most like to ask the authors? Questions of this type will likely have occurred to others in the group, and others may therefore have thought about possible answers.