The Art of Enlivening Information

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Presentations need not be boring. In fact, they can be exciting and even fun!

Across the years I have attended various scientific poster sessions and symposia sponsored by corporate R&D; clients, featuring the work of scientists and engineers . I note that most often some kind of “template” or requested “design format” has been distributed to those presenting, thus assuring some level of standardization, if not outright conformance in terms of how data is presented.

Last week was different. I had the privilege of attending the 2nd Annual Scientific Research Symposium of the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa. 16 students presented on topics ranging from “Quantum Entanglement and the Possibilities of Temporal Teleportation” to “Which Biofuel is Most Feasible for Use in African Countries” to “How Impressionable Are We?”

Beyond the content of the presentations, some of which I understood more than others, I was struck by three elements which made the event lively and engaging:

1. Intense intellectual endeavors were represented in a creative, even fun way, for a diverse audience. This intro video captures the spirit of the evening.

2. By asking thoughtful questions, the presenters effectively engaged the audience rather than just talking at us. e.g. “What do you think time is?” “What’s the difference between authority and power?”

3. The students were encouraged to explore a wide range of topics, from “Is God a Mere Philosophical Product or a Physical Entity?” to “Technology Development for Cinematic Arts” along with others mentioned above. Encouragement to inquire about what truly interested them resulted in a high level of commitment and even excitement, not just compliance to an assigned project.

Kudos to David Scudder, the science teacher who inspired these students.

Many a corporate R&D; symposium might be more lively and engaging by incorporating more of these three elements.