Sunday, April 6, 2014

Figures for talks and figures for papers

We've been working on writing up Olivia's paper, and I've also been giving some talks about the work, which has given me a chance to compare those two modes of communication. There are of course many differences, but one of the most striking is that the figures you use for papers seldom work right for a talk. Paper figures tend to be WAY too information dense for a talk. I noticed this recently when I gave a talk on this material and I lazily just incorporated one of our nicely constructed paper figures, only to realize when I was up there talking about it that it would probably take me a good 5 minutes to explain everything in that one picture. Note that this is not just about conveying too much data, but in this case just a diagram to illustrate the comparison between two hypotheses. There is a fundamental conflict: giving a talk, you really can only present one concept at a time and need to make sure people are coming along for the ride. In a paper, you can (and often must for space reasons) present multiple conceptual layers on top of each other. Hence the high cognitive density of those figures.

Anyway, I reconfigured the talk with some rather different figures, and it went much better (or at least I thought so). Maybe something to keep in mind when preparing a talk.

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