This blog is my attempt to reconnect with the world of chemistry. I have a PhD in Inorganic Chemistry and make a living doing research for a large company in Michigan. As times have changed, that company has changed its focus and I no longer have as much chance to do the basic, fundamental research which I most enjoy. Through this blog, I am hoping to recapture the magic which I felt during my graduate (and undergraduate) days in college. Expect topics on chemistry and alchemy along with some non-chemistry related items which I think might be interesting.

"The chymists are a strange class of mortals, impelled by an almost insane impulse to seek their pleasure among smoke and vapour, soot and flame, poisons and poverty; yet among all these evils I seem to live so sweetly that may I die if I would change places with the Persian King."

Johann Joachim Becher (phlogistonist)
Acta Laboratorii Chymica Monacensis, seu Physica Subterranea, (1669).

Friday, April 25, 2008

Talk Tailoring

I spent this morning preparing a talk for my boss’s boss. It was basically the same presentation I gave to a customer two weeks ago, but I had to change a few slides to match the particular expertise of this manager. Tailoring a talk to match an audience certainly isn’t anything new. It begins back in grad school, when you quickly learn that presentations given to members of your research group have to be significantly enhanced before being given to the general faculty. Professors who promote their research projects by giving talks around the country will often target their audience (at least the good ones do). If a speaker were to show up at one of our local catalyst society meetings and spend an inordinate amount of time explaining the basics of reaction mechanisms and kinetics, not only would the audience quickly grow restless but they would also begin to wonder if the speaker was stalling for time due to a lack of data.

In industry, you are always targeting your talks. Chemists, non-chemists, engineers who understand chemistry, engineers who don’t, bosses (each level in the chain of command requires their own version), marketing people, finance people, legal staff, and of course, the customers. Knowing what topics need to be mentioned and which topics to avoid mentioning at all costs is a skill that can only be developed over time. Every time a new manager suddenly appears on the scene -- and he or she is somewhere above your group on the organizational chart -- everyone in your group will begin searching the company grapevine for clues as to what that manager likes to hear in presentations. For example, a previous head of our research facility was notorious for becoming restless if too much basic science was included in our departmental presentations, especially if that basic science involved chemistry. Even after eight years, many of the researchers here still had trouble putting together talks which met his criteria of a good presentation. Ironically, the talk which most impressed this guy turned out to be a talk with absolutely no data -- given by a researcher who had to BS his way through the talk because he hadn’t collected any data yet. Amazing. This researcher spent the week before the talk sweating bullets and, after his presentation was publicly lauded by the department head, spent the next week grinning sheepishly as everyone else kidded him mercilessly about it, including myself.

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