Scientific Presentations
The Assertion-Evidence Approach

Improv Exercise: Unexpected Slide
PowerPoint Karaoke

This exercise calls upon your students to improvise a portion of a team presentation in which an unexpected slide has arisen. Improvising is a skill that can be developed. In scientific presentations, this skill is important in a number of situations: your demonstration fails, someone asks you a question that you have never considered, or a manager asks you to incorporate a last-minute change into your talk. All of these situations could unravel an inexperienced presenter. The purpose of this exercise is to give your students strategies to improvise on the spot. In this exercise, sometimes referred to as PowerPoint Karaoke, your students are giving a team presentation and have just been introduced to speak. Then an unexpected slide appears on the screen. Although the images on the slide are unexpected, your students will know the context for those images. For that reason, as opposed to apologizing to the audience and undercutting the credibility of the team, your students should try to create a bridge from this unexpected scene to the remainder of the talk. The more seamless the transition, the better the student has done in this exercise.

Step 1. Teach strategies for improvising.
Every scientific presenter is called upon to improvise at one point or another. In essence, the goal is to make a bridge from the unexpected point in the talk back to the planned path. The best presenters do so in a way such that the audience does not know anything went astray. The Vimeo film to the right introduces four strategies for handling an unexpected event, such as an unexpected slide. You should consider showing or assigning this film to your class before the exercise.

Step 2. Download the slide file to project in class.
Download the presentation slides on the right and study the notes pages of those slides so that you can introduce the exercise to your students. Orient the students to the content of the section of the presentation and then have students go up one by one to improvise on an unexpected slide. In the class, I use a remote advancer to control when the slides are projected. Usually, I advance to the new slide as the person is walking to the front of the room. Between each section of the presentation, lead a short discussion to reflect on best practices of students who just went in the last section.

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Content Editor: Michael Alley