numero rivista e pagine: HSR Proceedings in Intensive Care and Cardiovascular Anesthesia 2010; 2(1): 57-59
PDF version

'Once upon a time there was a congress...'

Authors: Michael. John*

Faculty of Medicine, UniversitÓ Vita-Salute San Raffaele, Milan, Italy

Corresponding author: * Corresponding author:
Prof. Michael John
Vita-Salute San Raffaele University
Via Olgettina 48 - 20132 Milano, Italy
E-mail: michael.john@hsr.it

...and a healthcare professional was invited to speak about a fascinating clinical topic to the gathered crowd of peers. The professional was honoured by the invitation and went off to prepare carefully for the event. Data were collected, references were gathered and the PowerPoint draft was begun. After working night after night for a week (he was busy during the daytime with his patients), the professional felt satisfied with the presentation and sent it off to the congress organizers.
The day of the congress came. The healthcare professional took the stage and the audience was treated to his presentation. Of course, the background was blue with a slight gradient fill from bottom to top. The slides were full of writing to be read verbatim and, naturally, there were no pictures (this is science, not entertainment). The colour of the font was the standard and universally accepted yellow, or sometimes white, and titles and bullet points followed no logic whatsoever concerning dimension, position or grammar. The intervention at the congress was scheduled to last for ten minutes, but the presentation was abundant and the number of slides meant that he would never finish within the allocated time without eventually leaving something out, rushing towards the end or hearing the dreaded words, ‘your time is up, please conclude immediately‘, spoken by the irritated moderator. Of course, he could have rehearsed the presentation beforehand to get his timing right. He hadn’t thought of that. He could also have numbered his slides in order to know where he was in the presentation and how many slides were left at every stage of the talk. He hadn’t thought of that either.
The audience sat spellbound, waiting for him to start. They were naturally curious and were concentrating on his every move. His voice rang out monotone and mechanical, making numerous pronunciation errors concerning keywords and phrases. After no more than two minutes the audience was all but lost. Only a few truly interested specialists continued to follow the speaker as he read his slides directly from the projected images. In fact, he seemed to be speaking to these images, rather than to the remaining listeners, as he was turned completely in their direction. Eye contact was inexistent, and even volume was lacking. ‘Wasn’t he using a microphone?’ you might ask. Of course he was. However, he was holding it too far away from his mouth, so it was almost like being without one.
The presentation stumbled to a close and the speaker mumbled some words of thanks. The audience had the sensation that he had finished, but were not totally sure of this. They had no questions for him. As he stepped down from the stage he realised he had been holding something in his hand throughout the presentation that he had never even considered using; it was a laser pointer. The moderator thanked him for his intervention and his colleagues gathered round to shower compliments upon him for his efforts. Everyone had completely forgotten about the presentation before it was time to go to lunch.”
Next time, maybe our friend should remember the following basic rules of preparing and presenting a PowerPoint file:


1. Use light backgrounds with dark font when deciding the basic structure of a slide

2. Never fill your slides with too much writing and NEVER read slides word for word

3. Limit titles and bullet points to one line each and avoid spelling/grammar errors

4. If pictures can stimulate audience interest and memory then use them in your slides

5. Time your presentation very carefully

6. Be both interesting and interested in what you are saying - vary your tone and volume

7. Maintain eye contact with the audience at all times

8. Use your microphone and laser pointer correctly and effectively

9. Make sure you have a clear take-home message at the end of your presentation


If he does, he will certainly be able to end the story of his presentation with the words, ‘and they all lived happily ever after’.


Questions from the readers

1. One of the main problems about speaking in public is to get audience attention from the very beginning.How is it possible to be captivating and interesting when communicating scientific data? Is there any special trick?

First of all your data must be interesting and your slides must be clear and concise. As a rule, you have around a minute at the start of your presentation to get and then maintain audience attention. Wait until the audience has settled before you begin speaking. Maintain eye contact. Vary your tone of voice as if you are telling a fascinating story. Be interesting, but remember also to be interested! Science is serious, but there is no reason why it should be boring.

2. What is the clinical hierarchy in UK and USA hospitals?

It is rather complex.



Table 1

UK (after graduation) USA (after graduation)


For more details I advise you to visit the following websites:


Dear Professor Michael John,
I really appreciate the possibility you have given me to translate the articles from your column in HSR Proceedings in Intensive Care & Cardiovascular Anesthesia. This was initially an experiment on my part, but I sincerely feel that it is extremely useful and interesting for the readers of our journal, ‘In Bypass’. This is the official organ of the Italian Cardiac Surgery Perfusionists Society, A.N.Pe.C (Associazione Nazionale Perfusionisti Cardioangiochirurgia).
Your supervision of my translations is very encouraging for me and I hope that our collaboration will continue long into the future. The modern-day perfusionist is a highly specialised figure that has to be able to master the skills needed to successfully live his day-to-day professional life.
Knowing how to write and publish a paper in English is of fundamental importance, as is eventually knowing how to present our data at international congresses. Your articles are rather like a series of lessons that allow us to improve our peer-to-peer communication skills.
I would also like to thank you on behalf of my Editor.


Alessandra Capelli
“La Sapienza” University of Rome


?This is the fifth of a series of articles on this topic. Send any questions to michael.john@hsr.it who will answer them as part of this column.?