When sitting through job interview seminars sometimes one gets a speaker who struggles with the language, presents messy slides or his chemistry seems unremarkable. Please be tolerant – it is the speaker in this case who suffers more than his audience. (I still remember the shivers during my own initial presentations. When I came to US nobody could understand a word of what I was saying- except for the “beta sheet” which was causing people to giggle).
The worst speakers are experienced men – It takes plenty stubborn practice and vanity to arrive at your very own terrible presentation style. Famous men are just as susceptible to the PowerPoint bad habits (5 different font sizes in 5 mismatching colors including the “invisible yellow” favorite, with the bullet points, campy clip-art and artful themes) – and they usualy take themself seriously so they invite you to be awed, by re-emphasizing every aspect and detail of their contributions. Some people are naturally uninspiring or disorganised speakers – but the essence of giving truly awful lecture lies in one’s preparedness to be selfish and inconsiderate. When I hear “First let me very briefly outline” a FEAR strikes me because when the speaker is already apologetic at the beginning of the seminar he is most likely going to mumble through twenty introductory slides and read them out verbatim. Then after 50 minutes of incessant dribble he would look at his watch and say: “Since we don’t have much time if there are no questions I will quickly move onto the second part of my talk…”
The most nauseating seminar I have seen was given by a junior chemistry prof at a Ivy League University: His work was nice and logically presented but he tried hard to connect every tiny detail of his presentation to the precedents from his ilustrious colleagues who were about to decide on his tenure – and who all happened to be in the audience. He would loudly and frequently praise every single one of them and then again all of them collectively – for their sheer brilliancy and fatherly guidance. This level of sycophancy would be perhaps great during award acceptance speech in Pyongyang – but on this chemistry seminar with the student audience interested in the synthesis talk the outright servility was making one cringe. (Yes it worked. He got his tenure). Another memorable speaker that I remember listening to in despair was La Clair giving his non-hexacyclinol presentation at ACS in San Francisco in 2006.