Blog 6- the conference presentation; Dr. Meldrum

For the sixth blog I would like to review a conference presentation that I found particularly effective. There are several ways to accomplish an effective presentation, but I do feel in particular- all good presentations include the telling of good stories. Good science involves good stories; sometimes adventure, and usually a mystery to solve. This talk is certainly embodies that spirit.

Dr. Jeff Meldrum is the speaker I will be focusing on. He is a professor of anthropology specializing in primate locomotion at the Idaho state University. He also has another  quality I find very appealing- He is a hardcore Bigfoot believer! Heres the link below, I hope some of you give it a go, and I will continue on to discuss why this is my submission for what makes a good presentation at a conference.

Presented at the OSS (Oregon Sasquatch Symposium),

I chose this presentation because i was immediately engaged when I first heard it a couple years ago.  I feel that it argues emphatically and obviously for an important point- good presentations are not always so because of their content. I think this point resonates with this presentation as it addresses different anatomical and anthropological approaches to bigfoot.

The set-up for this presentation is effective. The dual screens make it easy to focus centrally on the speaker while still paying some attention to the slides. One of the strongest pieces of Dr. Meldrum’s talk were the slides- they really helped communicate the story he was telling. When he would speak about a remote part of the world, the slides were ordered first as an overhead shot of the area, then some locals, and then usually Dr. Meldrum embedded in some part of the jungle. The slides also were easily comparable from one to the next, often showing an anatomical enfleshed rendering of bigfoot, followed by their footprints. I also liked the fact that he was not confined by the podium and often emerged from between the slides to engage the audience more directly. As this was the case, perhaps a clip-on microphone would have been more effect than the handheld model, maybe this type of expense could be covered in the coming years with generous donations to bigfoot associations around the country. Despite having only one hand to gesture, his use hand signals were in that perfect middle ground in which they were energetic and revealed the passion he had for his work, yet were not so over-board to where they were distracting.

The structure of Dr. Meldrum’s talk also deserves positive attention, especially since he mentions that his time is much shorter than he had planned for. I appreciate that he began his talk by emphasizing that his focus was regarding a specific bigfoot footprint in vietnam. As discussed in the seminar about effective journal writing, was the tendency for the authors to maintain a bit of a mystery as to their main focus. Dr. Meldrum was not guilty of this type of structural error, as he made clear his motivation for speaking that evening quite early. He also very skillfully weaved ethnographic anecdotes, personal anecdotes, evolutionary theory and primate anatomy and locomotion. These were often weaved together rather seamlessly by Dr. Meldrum apparently traveling down unexpected tangents of thought. Regardless of whether they were planned or not, this type of conversational tone I find very effective and entertaining. I believe he also knew his audience well. Although I could not be sure what types of scientists attend the OSS, I must assume they do have more credible scientific backgrounds, with perhaps only a passing interest in large mysterious Apes. Dr. Meldrum accurately assessed his audience as his use of jargon made his points more impactful, yet not to the extent to where I felt he alienated his audience.

His tone was also appropriate for the type of research and investigation on which he was speaking, despite being clearly rushed by the clock. It was even with subtle emphasis. Some people find smooth lecturers often hypnotic and difficult to maintain a connection with, but I find those types of talks soothing and amoung the more easier talks to engage with. An effective benchmark for a speaker is whether you feel after listening to them that you would like to have a conversation with them at a cocktail party- for me, and I suspect many others, Dr. Meldrum succeeds. I think Dr. Meldrum gave an effective talk, to an audience far beyond the attending members of the OSS. He succeeded despite having quite controversial and perhaps unattractive content, a real testament to what can make an effective conference presentation.



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4 thoughts on “Blog 6- the conference presentation; Dr. Meldrum

  1. I like the approach here — taking on a talk that is content weak, but strong on presentation. Can you imagine this tone working, say, with a more detailed data-rich topic…say someone presenting the details of their graduate research on obesity? Or does tone/pace/style depend sometime on content?

    • Hi there,
      Yah, I certainly think so. I believe he was effective despite is content. Information that was more compelling and of wider interest would only add to his presentation and I do think his style is amenable to more data rich presenting.
      I was also curious about content and style. I commented on Priscilla’s blog and had a question about sensitivity to content. She seems to think that your presentation style should be sensitive to the seriousness (in her research HIIV/AIDS) of the content. An interesting question when considering the extremes of content, but I think certainly appropriate for obesity.

      thanks, JL

  2. Hello again!
    I like the aspect of dual screen where individuals are able to view the presenter as well as the aid. This obviously relates more to recorded presentations, to allow individuals a glance at a presentation after the conference/class. I have seen some TED talks that will switch to a slide and ignore the presenter during important times. Do you think it’s important to provide the audience with the entire setting? Perhaps this helps to maintain that the presenter is always the important aspect, and that any visual aids should be considered secondary? Thoughts?
    Also — bigfoot: believer or skeptic?

  3. Hi Kat,

    I am afraid I am a Bigfoot sceptic, despite the efforts made in these presentations.
    Yes I do- I think the entire setting in certainly important. Dr. Meldrum in on of his talks also had a weird tribal marks right behind his head which I thought was effective. I certainly think that it will depend on the content and the goals of the presenter as to how much the focus should be on the slides.
    I think ideally both the speaker and slides should play off each other and combine to make something more effective than both individually.
    Thanks, JL

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