Presenting in the time of COVID

Is recording a conference talk really any easier than giving one?

Bingo card of presentation mistakes

No matter your field or subject, it seems the best we can hope for is that our research gets seen. This has traditionally meant presenting your work at the almighty conference. And more recently, these conferences and presentations are remote.

I will admit, however, that I was excited to learn VIS was remote this year. I breathed a sigh of relief knowing I could trade public speaking’s 15 minutes of terror for the security of a pre-recorded conference talk. I thought I was safe from sweating and stammering in front of a room of strangers.

Instead, I got to sweat and stammer in a room by myself.

It turns out that recording a presentation poses its own unique challenges. First, there’s less time to prepare. Sure, it is definitely not healthy to perpetually tweak a talk right up to moment I walk to the podium, but I could have used a few extra days to polish things up. Especially since the presentation submission deadline was more than a month before the actual conference.

Second, there’s the learning curve for an entirely new process: video recording, editing software, good lighting, audio capture, encoding settings, hotkeys, shortcuts, and a million other things that might have made this process go more smoothly…if I had the time to learn them.

Last but definitely not least: the mental game. If phobias surrounding public speaking come from imagining yourself under a microscope, then recording your talk not only preserves that moment, but makes it viewable by absolutely anyone, anytime! Forever! :D Knowing your talk will exist as a permanent artifact – despite coming together in a fraction of the time and with much less polish than you afforded your paper – well…. that invites a lot of overthinking1:

Do I look OK? Sound good? Am I speaking clearly? Do I sound dumb? Am I trying too hard to sound smart? Oh no, do I really tilt my head like that? Is this what people see when I talk to them??

Though take, after take, after take, you will loosen up. Your anxiety will melt into frustration, and then a kind of cheerful resignation sets in as you discover new and exciting ways your talk can go wrong. Here are some of my favorites:

Recording from the wrong screen, capturing the wrong resolution, capturing poor audio, no audio. Sometimes no video. Saying the wrong thing, saying the right thing in the wrong way. Saying the opposite of the thing I meant to say, or getting so wrapped up in saying it right that nothing comes out at all.

It was my own personal bingo card of presentation pitfalls!

The best part, though, was having the camera rolling the whole time to capture it all. Without further ado, please enjoy my VIS presentation outtakes:

Presentation outtakes

Hit us up on Twitter to share your own Bingo card outcomes2 and presentation mishaps!

If you’re curious about the research behind the gaffs, have a look at our awesome paper on the ways we struggle to design for analyzing personal data.

  1. Not to make it worse, but your talk will probably get a lot more eyeballs than your paper. 

  2. Huge shout out to Derya Akbaba for the Bingo card design! Check out her research, and personal website