off record
Shaukat Ali Jawaid

Common mistakes
made by the presenters
at medical conferences


You go to any seminar, symposium or a medical conference held in the county and one could notice some  common mistakes being made  not only by some  senior members of the medical profession  but  also particularly by the junior presenters. Little do they realize that it not only reflects badly on the presenters themselves but also on their trainers, supervisors as well as the institutions from where they come?

Some of these common mistakes which are observed frequently are if the study consists of patients, the presenters will refer to it as Material and Methods which is not correct. They keep on making these mistakes when they prepare the manuscripts for publication in the biomedical journals and these have to be corrected by the copy editors or editors during editing.  If the study consists of patients, they should refer to it as Patients and Methods. If the study involves healthy individuals, it should be Subjects and Methods and use Material & Methods in all other situations. However, to make it easy and for the convenience of the authors, the medical editors now commonly use the terminology of “Method or Methodology” which covers everything not only in the structured abstract but also in the text of the manuscript.  Another major difference between the postgraduates trained overseas and institutions like Aga Khan University in Karachi and Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital Lahore compared with postgraduates who are trained at most of our public sector medical institutions is that the later always use the word “My patients”, “My study”, “I have concluded” and so on using the word I, My too frequently. On the other hand the postgraduates trained overseas and at institutions like AKU and SKMT use the word “we “and “our”.  A study is most often a team work hence it is always advisable to use the word we and our study, our patients. What is more  surprising is the fact that when  they make such presentations at the symposia and medical conferences, all the seniors present, even the chairpersons do  not point it out  as they do not wish to annoy the speakers but of course there are exceptions. There is no dearth of good speakers from the public sector medical institutions who take care of all these things while making a presentation. 

Appropriate use of information technology is yet another important aspect. Some of the presents while making slides use  small font size that even it is difficult for them to read and those sitting in the first two three rows, what to talk of others sitting in the audience. A large number of designs are available on the multimedia and one can select any one of them and then everything becomes easy and selection of title of slides and the text becomes much easier. It also enables selection of proper font size and colour easy.Sometime the slides are too busy and the presenters start reading from the slides, something which needs to be discouraged.  The presenters should always have points on the slides on which they have to speak and then dilate on those issues rather than reading the text from the slides. They should be intelligent enough to know when to use graphs, tables and illustrations, which colour to use which makes reading   for the audience possible. The whole objective of making a presentation is to convey the message, but if they fail to do it, it is of no use. Over use and under use of illustrations, pictures etc. should be avoided. Not only that the presenters should prepare their slides keeping in view the time allotted, eliminate un-necessary information and sides, concentrate on the message they wish to convey.  In case they have to show a table or have a busy slide, just highlight the point on which they wish the audience to concentrate and point it out during their presentations.  Quotations and illustrations, pictures shown during the presentation must also be relevant. I remember one of the speakers in his presentation also showed the slide of his family including wife and his children and then said, we were at this and that resort recently after attending that international conference overseas. The speaker who followed him said that “since I did not attend that meeting, nor do I have a slide of my family members, hence he won’t show that but would prefer to concentrate on the topic of his presentation and thus sent everybody present laughing.

Usually it is preferred that one should not have more than five to six lines, points in one slide and use  reasonable font size for preparing the slides. Colours should also be used intelligently making sure that they do not make reading the text difficult for the audience.  All important statements in the presentation do need proper references but make sure to show references in a small size font as compared to the main slides.  There is no need to show the whole list of references at the end of the presentation, they are only needed when you are preparing a manuscript for publication. The presenters should also ensure that they have an eye contact with the audience and the chairpersons throughout their presentation to ensure that every one sitting in the hall is involved. Stick to the time allotted and always practice before making a presentation in the symposium or conference. Sometimes the organizers are also to be blamed for not making appropriate arrangements which makes the presenter uncomfortable. It is essential to ensure that the dais and the place from where the speaker has to make the presentation should have proper access to the screen so that the presenters do not have to look back and turn their neck to look at the screen which is very uncomfortable. These are the issues which the organizers need to look into.  Standing posture of the presenter also makes lot of sense.  In order to ensure that the audience is fully involved, some speakers prefer to stand in front of the audience rather than behind the dais and make presentation from there and constantly have an eye contact with the audience.

Making a presentation is an art and one has to learn that art. It is and it should be the part of training of the postgraduates. They should be trained in all these aspects in the wards, during Journal Club meetings. The trainers and supervisors should also make sure to ask the presenters to have proper practice before going on to make the presentation in the symposia or the conference. It is not a rocket science, but only commonsense if the trainers and supervisors care to teach their students and postgraduates.

Tail Piece: Visionary leaders care more about doing what is right than appearing intelligent.

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