Mis establos!!!

None of the science or medical information I might post to this blog should be taken as medical advice (I'm not medically trained). Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

I work on the EPSRC-funded @CHI_MED project; all views are my own. I used to work at Diabetes UK (until 22 June 2012) as a Science Information Officer (effectively a science-specialist librarian but not quite a clinical librarian). Before that it was ScienceLine and back in the mists of time it was lipid chemistry & neuroscience.

Contact: @JoBrodie or reconfigure this email address me.meeeee @ gmail.com (replace me and meeeee with obvious letters, eg... jo.brodie@ etc).

Oh OK then it's jo dot brodie at gmail dot com

Sunday, 16 November 2014

London events - apps / websites / listings where you can post an event, find others

by @JoBrodie, brodiesnotes.blotspot.com

Listings where users can submit a London event include the following

Any event


Film music-related events (global but can be filtered by country / city)

Friday, 31 October 2014

UK Gov Statistics page has an 'upcoming' tab, ie a publications schedule

by @JoBrodie, brodiesnotes.blogspot.com

tl;dr https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics (look for the announcement's tab, which cleverly has its own bookmarkable URL https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/announcements - RSS / email alerts may also appear).

At some point every year various data / statistics collectors release the previous year's aggregated stats such as mortality rates (what everyone died of), QOF* figures, prescription costs (how much money the NHS has spent on X,Y and Z), various in-patient audits and they're generally predictable. Other reports are released quarterly, some on a more ad hoc basis, some are a complete surprise.

My favourite predictable stats info page is the Scottish Diabetes Survey http://www.diabetesinscotland.org.uk/Publications.aspx?catId=3

The HSCIC (Health & Social Care Information Centre) has a publication schedule (I'm interested in the ones to do with diabetes prescriptions and the national diabetes audits) and you can see on this page http://www.hscic.gov.uk/pubs/calendar what documents are due to be published, and when.

I asked the Gov.uk people if they might have such a thing for their Government publications page (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications) and it turns out they've recently launched something like this for their Statistics (though not other kinds of publications). Fair enough, it's a nice start. 

Published https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics
Yet to be published https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/announcements

Both are actually the same page - the 'yet to be published' is just the 'Upcoming' tab.

They also said that they're planning to have RSS feeds & email subscriptions (keyword search results pinged automatically to you via alerts) which I'm very pleased about, and had previously asked for.

I thought others might like to know :)

*Quality and Outcomes Framework which has a particular purpose (paying GP surgeries according to the numbers of patients they have who have had certain tests or interventions done, eg advice about stopping smoking, measurement of cholesterol, an HbA1c test for people with diabetes) and which by happy coincidence also tells you many people (over 17) have diabetes (other conditions are available but I work in diabetes charities so that's what I'm after).

Latest QOF figures were published on 28 October http://www.hscic.gov.uk/catalogue/PUB15751 and they are published reliably in October every year http://www.hscic.gov.uk/qof

Monday, 20 October 2014

How to export your Twitpic pics

by @JoBrodie, brodiesnotes.blogspot.com

Updated 25 October 10pm - Twitpic pictures already there are safe, no new pics can be added
Twitter has taken control of Twitpic.com and all the pictures will remain there. You won't be able to add new pictures (see Section 4 for alternative) but you'll still be able to download your archive or delete old Twitpic pics. More at the Twitpic blog: http://blog.twitpic.com/2014/10/twitpics-future/

ACT QUICKLY - Twitpic is closing tomorrow and it takes a while for the service to return your download link (lots of other people are trying to do this too), go here and download your pics http://twitpic.com/account/settings (or if it won't let you, go here http://twitpic.com/ first and log in).

At time of writing (16:30 BST Saturday afternoon, UK time) pictures are now visible again on the site, I can see all 347 of my images http://twitpic.com/photos/JoBrodie - I don't know if this means there's been a reprieve or if it's just a temporary assistance for people who've struggled to download their pictures (see 800 million Twitpic photos to vanish from the web Saturday).

1. Twitpic is shutting down (yes it is, on 25 October 2014 - it isn't accepting new pics, old ones OK)
2. How to download your Twitpic archive - you can still do this (but no longer urgent)
3. Tell others how to download their archive (no longer necessary)
4. Alternatives to Twitpic for future picture posting
5. It's now after 25 October and I didn't know about this
6. Background reading

1. Twitpic is shutting down (yes it is, on 25 October 2014 - it isn't accepting new pics, old ones OK)

First Twitpic was shutting down, then it wasn't, now it is. We've got until 25 October 2014 to request copies of any photos posted there (remember you may not have posted pics there manually, but by having Twitpic set as the default photo handling app within whichever Twitter app you're using on your smartphone / tablet).

Your Twitpic page is easy to find (to be honest I think everyone has one by virtue of being on Twitter, something that initially puzzled everyone but we soon came round), it's
http://twitpic.com/photos/yourtwittername so mine is http://twitpic.com/photos/JoBrodie

2. How to download your Twitpic archive - you can still do this (but no longer urgent)

You can download your pics by clicking this link: Get your Twitpic pics, then logging in by authorising via Twitter, then scrolling down the resulting page (past Mobile, Privacy, Linked Accounts and Delete Account) to Export your photos, then click on the green button saying request your data - it looks like this.

Once clicked it will start processing and you'll see this - I don't know yet how long this will take (presume it depends on the number of your photos).

Quite a few hours later (I checked over a day later after seeing others' reports on Twitter) your account page (http://twitpic.com/account/settings) will look like this...

...if you click or right-save on the Download Now link on your page your file will look a bit like this (mine is deliberately mangled). It's a zip file.


3. Tell others how to download their archive (no longer necessary)

If you want to be helpful / annoying, search for Twitpic on Twitter and filter it by people you know (you can only do this on Twitter dot com) and then tell them to do this.

4. Alternatives to Twitpic for future pic posting [workarounds]

An obvious place to start is to search on Google for Twitpic alternatives but here are some suggestions for computers and smartphones.

If you're on the website it's very easy, when posting a new tweet, to click on the small camera symbol to add a photo from those already on your computer. Look, there's even 'Add photo' text, easy peasy :)

It's free to use - I don't know if you can autopost to Twitter from Flickr but if not you can certainly grab the photo's link / URL and share it manually. Or you could use this IFTTT recipe to automatically post from Flickr > Twitter. Fairly certain you can also email a picture to Flickr so presumably once it's loaded it can autopost to Twitter if you set it up.

Like Twitter.com it has an 'add photo' button on the new tweet popup window so this would also work.

Google search results for Flickr auto post to Twitter

yfrog / Imageshack
I'm afraid I've no experience of these but found older info about them in a search for Twitpic alternatives. Apparently yfrog maintains view counts, however when I clicked on the relevant link (twitter.yfrog.com) it had turned into imageshack. There is a yfrog website but there's no Twitter login that I could see.

IFTTT - "if this then that"
See above (Flickr section) for suggested recipe with Flickr but I'm sure there are others available for other services.

iPhone apps (it's the phone I have, sorry if you use Android etc, dunno about those!)
On Echofon for iPhone on the version I have you can currently choose (in Settings) between Twitpic or Twitter, so pick Twitter. I suspect Twitter provides its own iOS app users with the same Twitter pic uploading service. Twitter-loaded pictures will automatically show as an autopreview in the tweet (you don't have to click to see the picture, it shows up already) whereas Twitpic never did this (often a blessing in fact!)

The embedded CameraRoll thing on your iPhone will also let you link up with your Twitter account, as will Flickr. In fact most apps that can handle sharing and / or pictures will let you share a pic to Twitter (the Vimeo app's good for videos to Twitter).

Instagram (not restricted to iPhones as far as I know)
You can autopost from this service, however I don't think it will autopreview though. I can live with that.

Other alternatives that I've seen suggested on Twitter but don't know much about include
• Mlkshk http://mlkshk.com/
• Mobypicture http://www.mobypicture.com/
• TwitrPix http://twitrpix.com/ (you can send photos via email http://twitrpix.com/faq#faq-3)
• imgur http://imgur.com/
• img.ly http://img.ly/

Non-free services
It looks like Mymeedia are canny entrepreneurs, introducing themselves on Twitter to people who've tweeted about Twitpic. From a cursory glance it seems that their service is a bit more bells and whistles than a basic pic uploader, but you may like to take a look. It seems to be more about displaying photos than attaching a single photo to a tweet but I'm sure you can do that too. They also let you email pictures in to the service.

5. It's now after 25 October and I didn't know about this, can I get my old pics?

All old pictures seem to be saved and will remain on Twitpic.com which is now owned by Twitter. Panic not.

Not sure, seems unlikely. I'd say 'doubtful' at this stage.

As far as I can tell Twitpic pictures are no longer visible on their original link. Here's a tweet I sent in 2013 and not only does the image not show in the embedded tweet below but it doesn't on its own page (http://t.co/5lvUDL08rr which resolves to http://twitpic.com/240uhz) either.

There don't appear to be any cached versions either (if you type the link into Google search, press enter, you can sometimes see a small green arrowhead pointing down, click on it for the cache, if absent, no cache).

There are other ways to view cached pages, including Archive.org but to be honest I'd be very surprised if anyone's photos were included here. I don't think it'll help but here's an old post I wrote on 'Finding things that aren't there any more on the internet'.

I suppose you could ask Noah Everett who created the Twitpic service: @noaheverett

Good luck :)

6. Background reading

Twitpic is shutting down post updated in October (4 September 2014) Twitpic blog (same as linked above).

800 million Twitpic photos to vanish from the web Saturday (24 October 2014) Global News

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Cancer Act 1939 convictions in the UK

You are welcome (encouraged!) to repost this. If you know of other cases please tell me, thanks.

As its name suggests the Cancer Act 1939 (legislation | Wikipedia) has been around for over 70 years. Until a year or two ago I was only aware of a handful of cases that had been tried under the Act with one or two convictions and fines but, thanks to an MP's question in Parliament, I've learned that there have been 21 cases brought under the Act since 1984 (I don't know how many of them resulted in a conviction and fine though).

This year alone has seen three convictions (that I'm aware of), which is quite surprising. Two were brought to court by Westminster Trading Standards and one by Essex Trading Standards.

Image from page 46 of "Nostrums and quackery; articles on the nostrum evil and quackery reprinted, with additions and modifications, from The Journal of the American Medical Association" (1914)

Westminster Trading Standards, 2014

Trading Standards: cancer cure claims prosecuted (23 July 2014) Westminster Trading Standards
Article discusses two cases. The fine for the first case was £9,000, court costs £9,821 plus victim surcharge of £100 (total £18,921). Following an appeal it seems that this has been reduced to £4,500. The fine for the second case was £1,750 with costs of £2,500 and a victim surcharge of £120 (total £4,370).

First case
Harley Street practitioner claimed he could cure cancer and HIV with lifestyle changes and herbs, court hears (11 December 2013) The Telegraph and Bogus doctor claimed he could cure cancer using herbs, avocado and grape seeds (10 October 2014) ITV
Refers to the £4,500 fine received by Errol Denton (sometimes trading as Fitalifestyle Ltd / SeeMyCells) on appeal, which I've assumed is a reduction in the original but could actually be additional.
TS: Westminster Trading Standards

Second case
Bodybuilder turned Harley Street nutritionist fined for claiming he could CURE cancer with diet and fitness techniques (6 May 2014) Daily Mail
Fine, for Stephen Ferguson (of The Natural Health Clinic) fined £1,750 and ordered to pay £2, 500 costs and £120 victim surcharge. 
TS: Westminster Trading Standards

Essex Trading Standards, 2014

Man is fined after selling "cancer cure" which he made at home (15 September 2014)
Steven Cook was fined £750 and costs were £1,500. The fake treatment was colloidal silver. This was the second time he had been prosecuted by Trading Standards (the first in September 2013), more at Essex Trading Standards newsletter (page 3, p4 of 23pg PDF).
TS: Essex Trading Standards

Previous cases, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2002, 2000, 1995/6, 1994

'Miracle' healer who claimed to be able to cure cancer in £30 sessions fined £2,600 (15 March 2010) Daily Mail
Fine was £600 for Adrian Pengelly, costs £2,000 with £15 victim surcharge.
TS: Hereford Trading Standards

Dursley woman pleads guilty over ‘magick’ cancer remedy (3 August 2009) Stroud News & Journal
Fine information for Donna Sims trading as Herbal High Magick not given (she was given a two-year conditional discharge so perhaps no fine) but costs were £1,100. 
TS: Gloucestershire County Council Trading Standards.

Meeting with Cabinet Member - Communities (17 August 2009) Derbyshire County Council
A report on completed prosecutions under trading standards legislation which includes, on page 3 information about a company (Healthwize UK) fined £800 for breaching Food Labelling Regulations and claiming to cure cancer. A news report [Breaston firm fined for illegal claims (9 March 2009) This is Nottingham] suggested that the total fined was higher: £2,000 fine and £2,235 costs.
TS: Derbyshire County Council

Pill salesman convicted over £500 'cancer cure' (10 September 2008) Metro 
Andrew Harris, who sold Triamazon via the internet, was "given a two-year conditional discharge and ordered to pay £350 costs at Trafford Magistrates’ Court, Manchester."
TS: assume Trafford Council Trading Standards

Firm fined for miracle tea claims (16 October 2002) This is Wiltshire
Peter Goss of Health4All fined £5,000 with £2,688.50 in costs.
TS: Swindon Trading Standards

Big fine for 'lethal' cancer machine claims (7 November 2000) CWN (news for Coventry & Warwickshire)
Reports on company directors (Leslie Goodall and Guy Stanway of Plasmafire UK) fined £14,500 with additional costs (separately and combined as the company) under several pieces of legislation including the Cancer Act 1939.
TS: Warwickshire Trading Standards.

Trading standards prosecute after "cancer relief" claims (January 1996) HealthWatch newsletter #20
Report on a case from 21st November 1995, at Camberwell Magistrates Court. Southwark Trading Standards Service brought the case against a man (Rolf Gordon Dohm, company named Dulwich Health Society) who claimed his medical device (MagneTech) could be of use to people undergoing cancer treatment. Fine was £3,500 and costs of £200.
TS: Southwark Trading Standards

British company fined for falling foul of Cancer Act (15 January 1994) BMJ 1994;308:158
Fine was £500 and costs £3,500. Welsh company (Eladon Ltd from Bangor, selling Elagen), case heard in Whitminster. (Yes it's definitely Whitminster, not Westminster or other typo, I checked).
TS: unknown

Image from page 65 of "Nostrums and quackery; articles on the nostrum evil and quackery reprinted, with additions and modifications, from The Journal of the American Medical Association" (1914)

Cancer Act 1939 as a deterrent, 2014, 2012, 2009/10

As reported in a handful of blogposts it seems that occasionally Trading Standards will contact organisations and individuals and ask them to remove problematic words or phrases from their marketing material. This suggests that 'breaching' the Cancer Act 1939 results in a series of events before any court proceedings are begun, and that people / orgs who comply with initial requests from Trading Standards will probably not be fined as the case is unlikely to be taken further.

'Cancer - there is hope' seminars reported to Trading Standards (18 November 2014) Good Thinking Society.
Dr Francisco Contreras of Mexico's 'Oasis of Hope' clinic has planned three seminars in London, Milton Keynes and Manchester, cities which are are covered by their own local Trading Standards bodies. The events are being advertised by the cancer charity 'Yes to Life' and, after discussion with Newham Trading Standards (London), they have amended the event advert for London. Trading Standards for Hackney (London), Milton Keynes and Manchester have also been involved - more at the Good Thinking Society's website.

Flyer claiming supplement could cure cancer taken down and reported (31 October 2014) Ask for Evidence website, from Sense About Science.
Sense About Science's 'Ask for Evidence" website encourages people to do just that with info on how to go about it (politely). It also shares example and in this one a flyer in a leisure centre claimed that a food supplement could cure several conditions including cancer. The person who saw it reported it to Trading Standards and the leisure centre itself (which has removed the flyer). I don't know if there will be any further follow-up though as the person also mentioned they didn't manage to contact the company (the contact details didn't work).

Trader warned for making claims herbal remedy was a treatment for cancer (30 September 2014) Hackney Gov news
Ms Adenike F Omojola has a stall at Ridley Road market which had been selling Moringa Oleifera with claims to cure / prevent several conditions, including cancer. The product's websites (Modrosel .com & .co.uk) were asked to make changes to claims too,  and Greenwich Trading Standards also alerted as one of the websites registered there.
TS: Hackney Council Trading Standards 

The Brit witch doctors charging £3,000 to 'cure' cancer (16 March 2014) Daily Mirror
Added for info, no mention of Trading Standards. This appears to be an undercover report from journalist but does not suggest any criminal proceedings undertaken or even whether the case was reported to the police. Fatt-ha Grami from Streatham and Reza Moussavi from Liverpool both mentioned as being healers claiming to be able to cure cancer, for a price.

Caught in the Act (9 July 2012) WDDTY
Recommendations from Trading Standards resulted in the name change of a book from Cancer Handbook to Cancer Book.
TS: presumably Devon Trading Standards, but other trading standards bodies appear to have got involved.

Alternative cancer conference banned by town council (15 May 2012) The Healthy Home Economist
The article's author is highly miffed that a cancer-related event was "banned" and includes mutterings about medical fascism and the possibility of a grave-spinning Winston Churchill. See also Dangerous ideas of the doctor who defends baking soda cancer cure (25 March 2012) Sunday Express about the event, organised by Dr Stephen Hopwood of the Arcturus Clinic in Totnes. Dr Tullio Simoncini was due to speak at an event to launch the new Totnes Cancer Care Clinic but his claims that baking soda could cure cancer resulted in withdrawal of permission, by Totnes Town Council, to host the event at the Civic Hall.

The Cancer Act 1939 (date not obvious to me, assume 2009 / 2010) Cancer U Can blog
Indicates that the blogger was contacted by Trading Standards with a recommendation to make some changes to the text to avoid a £1,000 fine. The blogger agreed not to refer to cancer in a six week course they were running about the therapies that apparently helped them to recover and changed its name to 'Transforming Serious Diseases'.

Note that many people who respond to cancer-related queries from Trading Standards and amend their material will not show up in internet searches - these are the equivalent of the Advertising Standards Authority's 'informally resolved' cases. Anecdotally I've heard that some companies have stopped trading / closed their website, but I don't have any details on this so can't confirm.

Cancer Act mentioned but no cancer convictions, 2011, 2005, 2004, 1961

'Shaman' Peter Aziz jailed over psychedelic drug drink (2 September 2011) BBC News
Peter Aziz jailed for 15 months over the contents of a drink which contained a class A substance. He had additionally claimed his drink could cure cancer and had previously been investigated by Devon County Council's Trading Standards in 2006 [Trading standards 'cancer cure' probe (7 January 2006) Herald Express (Torquay)].

10 Year disqualification for cancer cure director (7 March 2005) M2 newswire
David Lee (company: Blue Water Partners Ltd also trading as The British Prostate Association) sold 'Prostectalin' for cancer without evidence. He was disqualified, by the Secretary of State, from acting as manager of a limited company for 10 years from 21 February 2005.

Asda fined for mango health claim (26 October 2004) BBC News
The company was fined £5,000 under Food Labelling Regulations 1996: 40 (1) and 44 but a charge under Section 4 (1) of the Cancer Act 1939 was dropped.

British Medical Journal - Medico-legal section of the 20 May 1961 issue.
"The fourth charge, of advertisement contrary to the Cancer Act, 1939, was found not proven: offending leaflets had been printed, but there was no evidence of their publication."

Other possible breaches, 2011, 2012

Obviously it is up to a court to determine if someone has actually breached the Cancer Act 1939 but it is usually fairly obvious if someone is skating a bit close towards that point.

Undercover probe exposes church offering cancer cure (15 August 2012) Hold the Front Page
No Trading Standards involvement in this example (Victorious Pentecostal Assembly) but the article mentions that the claims made could well be illegal. There are a number of churches which seem to skate close to the CA1939 including those offering miraculous healing oils, miracle mineral solution (now known as master mineral solution - basically bleach). See also on this story: 'Miracle healing': Nigerian pastor lands trouble in UK (22 September 2012) Just Believe blog

Ofcom mulls smackdown for rogue religious TV channel: Ribena is not the blood of Christ and won't cure cancer (23 August 2011) The Register
"Ofcom also points out that anyone watching Believe TV is probably quite gullible, or, as the regulator puts it: "the self selecting audience of Believe TV ... may have been less likely to question the potentially harmful and exploitative content broadcast"." - no mention at all of Trading Standards involvement however.

Cancer Act-ivism

Shark cartilage in the water: effective legislation is already in place but is not being properly used (9 December 2006) BMJ
"I have now made successful use of this legislation in relation to patients who have used cancer therapies that have been advertised in both the complementary health sector and by registered medical practitioners associated with a registered pharmacy."

Saturday, 18 October 2014

How I prepare presentations for giving talks

by @JoBrodie, brodiesnotes.blogspot.com

This post was originally published as Communicating science face to face – public speaking on 26 April 2009 on my sciencediabetes blog. I've updated it for this blog because I've given a couple of talks this year and am giving another one in a couple of weeks.

The post was written from the perspective of giving talks to supporters while working for a major health charity - I think it's fairly generalisable, but you may want to bear that in mind. All of the below works for me and is how I prepare for my talks. It's not meant to be prescriptive :)

As part of a previous job I was occasionally asked to give presentations on the diabetes research that the charity I worked for funded. I always took this as an opportunity to do a spot of face to face science communication which I enjoy.

I thought I’d share my way of putting a presentation together, in case it’s useful. Although I enjoy giving talks I do get (though I don’t suffer from) the typical nerves beforehand and a lot of my preparation is intended to minimise anxiety by being as well prepared as is humanly possible :)

Image from page 21 of "Catalog of stereopticons, motion picture machines, projection apparatus : manufactured and imported by the McIntosh Stereopticon Company" (1915)

Have you got enough time to prepare the presentation?
A couple of weeks’ notice sounds like plenty of time but may not be sufficient to manage your time for other work – I’d rather say no to giving a talk than turn up with a half-baked presentation.

Who is your audience?
I want to talk about things that are definitely of interest and hopefully of relevance to as many as people in the audience – something for everyone really. Where I previously worked had a number of voluntary groups (support groups which also raise money for research) around the country and if there was a project happening at a local university I would try and include some information about that.

Also if the audience is likely to be a predominantly older crowd then information relevant to children may be less appropriate (though of course some of the audience may have children or grandchildren with the condition [in my talks for work it was diabetes, Jo] so nothing wrong with mentioning it). Similarly a talk to teenagers might focus more on research into future technological developments in diabetes.

Watch out for acronyms and jargon
Many of the people in my audience would have been familiar with diabetes jargon however they may be accompanied by friends or partners who aren’t so it’s worth including an explanation for someone who knows less about diabetes.

In updating this post in 2014 I'd want to add a bit more about jargon. It's not the obviously incomprehensible words and phrases ('mean amplitude of glycaemic excursions') that's the problem as they announce themselves as something that you do or don't understand. More insidious are words like model or theory which have everyday meanings as well as more precise ones in science.

Further reading: Linguistic not-quite-jargon - searching for a word to describe this

Is a PowerPoint (or equivalent) presentation appropriate?
For the sort of talks I give, yes but sometimes telling a story is all that’s needed. I want my slides to do two jobs – underpin my talk’s structure and also to act as an adjunct to what I’m saying.

I try not to put too much information on the slide – but I need enough to remind me what it is I’m talking about (I don’t like speakers’ notes or reading from a script!) and for the audience to have something to look at.

My general rule of thumb is to divide the number of minutes I’m to speak (typically 40) by two to get a ballpark for the number of slides. I’ve most recently given a fifteen to twenty minute talk with seven slides (the first was just a title slide). I might spend longer on one or two slides than others but generally avoid speaking about one slide for less than a minute or more than five minutes. It varies.

Image from page 164 of "Catalogue of stereopticons, dissolving view apparatus, and magic lanterns :with list of several thousand artistically-finished views for the illustration of all subjects of popular interest : manufactured by T.H.McAllister ... New

Telling a story, with or without PowerPoint
It’s a lot easier if the talk has a logical structure and narrative as it’s easier to link between slides and makes the presentation less disjointed. I do spend a bit of time in the ‘editing phase’ trying to make things flow and I will make significant changes to a pre-planned running order if necessary. Sometimes I’m going to talk about entirely separate topics in which case I’ll just make that clear by actually saying, explicitly, to the audience that I’m now going to talk about something quite different.

This can ‘refresh the palate’ of everyone (including you and gives an opportunity to have a sip of water) by changing the pace a bit - but it also acknowledges that what they’re seeing and hearing is different.

When people hear talks, however fantastic they might be, their concentration can waver, particularly if the talk is happening at the end of the day, in a warm room with the lights lowered. If they’re ‘rejoining’ you after a moment’s zoning out it can be disconcerting to find the speaker talking about something else if they’re not sure how it linked to the previous information.

I think it helps to orient people during the talk (it helps me too!), for example something along the lines of “so we’ve heard about W and X and how that leads to Y, let’s now consider Y’s role in leading to Z” – basically a “you are here” guide.

Analogies, metaphors and explanations
I’m talking about complex science / medical things to people who understand all sorts of other complex things but which might happen not to include science or medicine. In other words don’t dumb down.  Ignorance of a topic just means that you don’t know about something, not that you’re stupid. There are plenty of aspects of the topics in my own talk about which I’m ignorant too.

Storing the talk for transfer
Are you going to be working on your talk up to the last minute and bringing it with you on your laptop? If so make sure you bring any VGA adapters ('dongles') for Mac laptops and know how to connect your device to their projector.

Alternatives are to email the talk if it's not too large (if it's huge and you have to send them a link to a download page make sure they've downloaded it in advance of your presentation as the room you're in might not have internet). USB sticks (memory drives) are standard fare, in earlier times I've used CD-ROMs and of course overhead projector acetate sheets. If your slides are going to end up on someone else's network and possibly published make sure you've sorted out copyright of any images.

Main stage of the Palais Garnier, Paris

Rehearsing the talk
I really only feel confident about doing a talk if I’ve rehearsed it a minimum of three times before delivering it – I have no idea if this is normal! I want to become very comfortable with how it flows and not be surprised by anything on the day. Clearly I’m not going to be surprised by the slides themselves, as I’ve written them, but in the process of rehearsal something might occur to me that makes me want to edit the running order or the content.

Rehearsal, for me, isn’t just about getting the ‘performance’ right, but about making sure the content makes sense. This is also the time for me to make a note of what I think people might ask questions about and make sure I can either answer them or am able to signpost them to where they can find out more.

I always practice the talk from a computer, ideally one set up to a projector (we had this facility where I worked) as this is likely to be more similar to the actual talk situation. It’s important to me to have the slides appearing behind me so I can get the ‘stage directions’ right for the talk as well – I may need to move towards thescreen  to illustrate something by pointing at it (I prefer to go and point with a finger where possible but this depends on the angle of the projector and whether or not by doing this you’d block the picture out! Laser pointers are good though) and then come back to the laptop / computer to advance the presentation to the next slide.

I will happily do paper based practices, and on a computer without a projector attached of course but really prefer to do at least one ‘final’ version on a projector. (When I did presentations on overhead projection facilities using acetate sheets then I focused on practising with paper as it was more similar to the real-life scenario).

Image from page 32 of "The little pruning book; an intimate guide to the surer growing of better fruits and flowers" (1917)

Polishing the presentation
For longer talks, once I’ve run through the entire presentation a couple of times and have created the ‘patter’ that goes with it, I record myself giving the talk so that I can listen to it later. I use the voice memo function on my iPhone. Possibly this is ‘overkill’ but I like to hear where the talk is flowing well and less well and make mental edits to the talk for later.

By the end of this process I know the substance of my talk off by heart but I don’t have a formal script – I’m not a fan of scripted talks. I have all the phrases I’m likely to use at the front of my mind but the exact words will vary of course.

The final thing I like to do is to print out my slides (and to save paper, I print them as handouts so I can get 2 or more on a page) and go through them to make sure that I know, for each slide, the slide that comes before and next to help with linking between slides. It’s easy enough to put up a slide and start talking about it, but I think it’s nice to be able to introduce the next slide from within the previous one. This is usually the last thing I do, typically on the train to the venue (a lot of the talks I used to give were in the evening), which brings me nicely to my next point.

Image from page 253 of "The street railway review" (1891)

Getting to the venue
Obviously this bit isn’t specific to giving talks, and works for any kind of meeting where you have to go somewhere else to have it!

A minimum of a week before the talk I’ll have confirmed the details with the person organising the meeting, googled anything I need to know and found answers to these questions.
  • who is the audience? [I've usually asked this earlier as it will also determine the talk content]
  • what day and time is the talk?
  • what train station do I need tickets for – any info on which exit to choose? (Yes, I have been standing at exit A with the person fetching me at exit B in a mobile-signal desert)
  • where is the actual venue (postal address and any bus info or taxi instructions?
  • what hotels are available nearby?
  • what are the train times like?
I’ll also have with me, on one or two pieces of paper, any maps (of the venue, the directions to the hotel) and details of train times and contact details of anyone I’m meeting.

After all that I’ll have a nice sleep!

I've never formally evaluated the types of talks I've given but feedback comes in many forms - including people asking questions during the talk or staying behind to ask afterwards. Lots of people have told me that they've enjoyed one of my talks or have understood something better - but I'd have to assume the people who thought I was rubbish or that my talk made no sense left without saying so ;) I've never had anything disastrous happen but in all cases I've been well-enough prepared to be able to talk for at least half an hour without any props and the knowledge that I can do this is a reasonable confidence boost.