Thursday, 16 February 2017

Gone In 60 Seconds

Mark Clowes
Mark Clowes
Mark Clowes braves the tough crowd that is the HEDS Section Meeting to give a one-minute presentation about his work.

One of the stranger things about working in an academic school rather than a traditional library is the departmental meeting, where you can find yourself sitting alongside people whose jobs have very little in common with your own.

The ScHARR Information Resources team sit within the Health Economics and Decision Science section of ScHARR, surrounded by systematic reviewers, economists, modellers and statisticians.   To help these different professional groups understand each other better, section meetings begin with quickfire one-minute presentations from each group known as "Gone In 60 Seconds".

As a Nicolas Cage fan (I even watch his really bad films, and God knows there are plenty) - and, not least, because it was my turn - I agreed to take part. But what would be "gone" in those 60 seconds?  My career prospects?  My credibility with colleagues (if I ever had any)?  Would I be challenged for hesitation, repetition or deviation?

I enjoy giving presentations and don't usually get too nervous; but the audience for this one (and the timing, with the expiry date of my contract approaching) made me particularly keen to impress. 

I decided to give my first airing to a topic about which I hope to present at one or two conferences in the summer - using a text-mining and data visualisation app (VOS Viewer) to deal with a large number of references retrieved by a systematic review.  I chose this topic to demonstrate to colleagues that IR staff were continuously experimenting with new technology and ways of working, and - since it has the potential to influence the scope of future review projects - because it would have relevance to all the different groups in the room.  An added bonus was that I could display some pretty images of the "heat maps" produced by VOS Viewer on the screen, which would take the audience's eyes off me.

The short format required more preparation than usual - generally I don't like to work from a script, preferring to maintain a conversational tone and improvise around bullet points - but my initial attempts to do so on this topic ran significantly over time.

In the end, I realised I was going to have to write out what I wanted to say in full - initially using free writing with pen and paper, then gradually refining and paring it down until I could beat the kitchen timer countdown (this was one of those tasks I could only have done working at home - colleagues would think I had lost the plot walking around reciting the same presentation over and over again).

I didn't want it to be a dry, technical presentation (in any case, there wasn't enough time to explain in depth how the software worked) so instead came from the angle of "why is this useful?" - i.e. for dealing with a common problem of facing too many references to sift in the traditional way, but potentially too important to ignore.

On the day, I think it went pretty well - people seemed engaged with what I was saying, although a slight technical hitch with my slides meant that I didn't quite manage my closing sentence before I (5...) was (4....) ruthlessly (3...) cut (2...) off (1...)

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