Talking about death and not dying on stage: Keith does Science Showoff!

A few weeks ago I performed a short stand-up comedy set as part of Science Showoff, a regular series of events which are billed as 'chaotic cabaret for science lovers'. Science Showoff is the wonderful brainchild of Steve Cross, who is to science and comedy what peanut butter and jelly is to sandwiches (well, American ones anyway). The idea is to make science fun, entertaining, and (hopefully), funny.

I love presenting and I've always considered myself to be someone who puts a lot of humour in my presentations and I always try hard to make my talks engaging. So Science Showoff seemed like a logical thing for me to do. However, there is a big difference between a science presentation with hints of comedy and a comedic presentation with hints of science.

In addition to having presented at a variety of levels (from lab meetings up to to international conferences) I've also played several gigs in various bands. So I'm not particularly nervous about the idea of getting up in front of strangers. Initially, the idea of performing stand-up comedy didn't really faze me at all, but as the date of the gig came closer, I felt much more anxious than I was expecting to feel.

The most challenging aspect of Science Showoff is that, as a newcomer, you get a 9 minute slot. This goes by very quickly and if you want to tell some sort of story with a beginning, middle, and end, there is very little room for making on-the-fly alterations.

I found myself rehearsing my material in more detail than I have for most presentations that I have given. There is very little room for 'chaff' in a 9 minutes! My original version of my talk probably ran to about 30 minutes and I had to just keep cutting more and more material to hone it down (maybe they'll end up as deleted scenes on the DVD version).

I feel I made things harder for myself by deliberately choosing a topic which initially might seem bereft of any humour potential. My title was: 'Seasonality of Death'. When I first volunteered for this, I knew that I would be doing a slide-driven presentation but I dramatically cut back on how many slides I would normally present and I chose slides that were strong on visuals and kept text large and legible.

The result of my efforts is included below. I'm pleased with how I did, especially with respect to the timing of all of my content. I'd certainly consider doing this again if the opportunity arose and I think it is a great exercise in making you think about all aspects of your presentation skills.

Thanks again to Steve Cross for the opportunity.