On your wavelength

Why so serious? PowerPoint Karaoke at MRS Meetings

Guest post by Daniel Stadler, PhD student in Chemistry at the University of Cologne and organizer of the PowerPoint©  Karaoke at the Materials Research Society (MRS) meetings

The idea that karaoke is fun and a great ice-breaker is shared by all those who have ever participated in a karaoke event.  But karaoke in science — where you have a PowerPoint© slide instead of a teleprompter and music — can also be hilarious, as was shown at the recent Materials Research Society (MRS) meetings. What if you have never seen a slide you are asked to present: welcome to PowerPoint© Karaoke!

Power Point Karaoke at the Fall MRS meeting 2019 in Boston. Image courtesy of Daniel Stadler.

An initiative of the Student Engagement Subcommittee of the Materials Research Society dedicated to promote the engagement of the younger generation in science, the PowerPoint© Karaoke was coordinated and organized by a group of highly motivated volunteers, and the event was featured at both the Spring and Fall editions of the 2019 MRS meeting. In the words of Sanjay Mathur, a professor from the University of Cologne who chairs the broader committee of which the Student Engagement Subcommittee is part,a science karaoke can be both intimidating and thrilling at the same time, but it creates an excitement that is best described as an amalgam of a delightful social gathering and scientific presentation”.

At this event where you don’t know the content of your slide, you have to come up with your own interpretation and ideas. And because this slide was made by another person, it is sometimes difficult to get the intended message, but this gives the presenter the possibility to create their own, sometimes very entertaining story. A dozen of participants took part to the two editions of the MRS PowerPoint© Karaoke before an audience of more than 200 people, and really nailed it. In the serious and sometimes exhausting frame of a conference, with a lot of discussions, scientific networking and debating, people could see that there is also a room for entertainment and fun in science. Sometimes it just needs one presentation to remind people that this fun is needed to create new ideas.

The event also has some educational aspects. On the one hand, the slide authors have to prepare a clear, readable and – most importantly – understandable PowerPoint© presentation. On the other hand, the presenter needs to get the idea and come up with a catchy way to deliver the message. In fact, the presenter needs to be brave enough to give this kind of presentation in the first place. At this point, the audience comes into play. By cheering and supporting the presenter, the audience creates a relaxed environment: stuttering is not awful, missing a word not a big deal. From this, the role of an audience in any presentation becomes clearer, and should be a take home message for everyone. The interplay between presenter and audience is critical, and the beauty of PowerPoint© Karaoke lies in the fact that people are experiencing this without deliberately noticing.

Going up on stage and giving a three-minute performance on an unknown topic requires self-confidence and courage and I have great respect for everyone who was willing to participate in this very enjoyable event,” says Isabel Gessner, MRS PowerPoint© Karaoke enthusiast since day one. “All participants, presenters and slide authors did a fantastic job, and I am very thankful to the organizer who let us include this scientific and entertaining event in the MRS Meeting program.” 

During the organization of the first event, I did not know in which direction PowerPoint© Karaoke might evolve. Now, one year later, I look back on many wonderful talks and lots of good memories. A good presentation does not need to be only scientifically sound, but also natural. Be yourself, present yourself and deliver the message you see in the PowerPoint© slide. See you at the next MRS PowerPoint© Karaoke event!

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