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I am preparing slides for a short (10min) talk at the group meeting. The talk is about a fairly serious piece of (pure) mathematics, and it so happens that there is a very relevant one-panel webcomic. A thought appeared to me, and got some support from my fellow PhD students, that it would be cool to include this comic, perhaps at the final thank-you-for-your-attention slide.

I am probably not going to do it, so I'm asking mostly out of curiousity: Would this be a bad idea to go ahead and include a comic on the final slide?

Note: The comic is genuinely funny (based on a sample of 6 non-randomly selected students). It is not - as far as I can tell - offensive in any way. It could come across as somewhat silly.

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    I'm seeing that all the time in presentations, especially in less formal settings (to which I would count group meetings). – Niko Oct 27 '15 at 17:00
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    This should be relevant: sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/career_magazine/previous_issues/… – mmh Oct 27 '15 at 17:20
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    @DaveKaye: My field is combinatorial number theory, if it matters. The comic is this one: smbc-comics.com/?id=2874 . As you might guess, Fourier analysis is essential tool here. – Jakub Konieczny Oct 27 '15 at 22:10
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    As long as you don't take the Fourier transform of your cat, you should be fine xkcd.com/26. Seriously though, I see funny comics, and other jokes all the time, including at conferences. – Sasho Nikolov Oct 28 '15 at 2:00
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    Every talk should have one joke and one proof --- and they should not be the same. (R. Graham) – Pål GD Oct 28 '15 at 12:25
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Human cognition is a strange thing, and I won't pretend I know it well enough to give you a guide, but I will suggest that you simply consider your audience and how you want them to move through the information.

A dense, heavy talk with few breaks will tire most audiences.

A light talk that doesn't require much thought will result in many people letting their mind wander.

A talk which carefully weaves the "story" with a variety of dense to light moments, may actually improve retention.

Adding levity in the form of a joke or humor, if the joke is very relevant to the talk, can actually increase retention, as long as it isn't too much of a distraction. Placing it appropriately is key, though, and I wouldn't do it at the end, because that's what people will remember. The last few sentences should be a quick summary of the talk and should be memorable.

Placing it in the middle, during a transition - for instance between the problem statement and the methodology - could be good, and allow a release of tension if the problem statement was pretty densely packed.

Starting off with it, as an into to the topic and a method to get attention is also a pretty good choice.

In all things, though, consider your audience first. What is the journey you are taking them on, and when would be an appropriate point for a rest break, a transition, a wake-up, etc.

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    Joined Academia.SE just to +1 this post. – Joe Oct 28 '15 at 1:07
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    Many of the "For Dummies" books include a comic strip at the beginning of each chapter. This seems like a good comparison to your "transition" and "starting off" points. – Dan Henderson Oct 28 '15 at 18:05
  • Wow, we have an answer race here :) – Ooker Oct 29 '15 at 8:31
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    I quite like this answer because of the stress on relevance. Sometimes a comic can illustrate an important point about the topic being discussed, and in those cases it actually helps to use it as part of the explanation, as opposed to a straightforward, dry exposition. – David Z Oct 29 '15 at 11:45
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I don't object to have fun, but I would object to have fun when you need to be serious. Because when the audience need you to be serious to your talk, then a funny picture will disrupt the thinking and they will be anxious.

If your talk in short, then I suggest you to put the comic at the end of the talk. If your talk is long, then I think putting it in the middle of the talk is fine, as long as the picture appears when no thinking is required, e.g. the transition between two sections. Not from section 2.1 to 2.2, but from 2 to 3.

(Personally I would put the funny slide after the discussion. Not only saving the best for the last, but also at that time, no one will think anymore, and indeed they are needed to be relaxed.)


enter image description here

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    I upvoted this because of the funny picture. Which makes it a token case of the larger type: "effectively using funny pictures in serious discussions." – APrioriRainbows Oct 27 '15 at 20:31
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    @APrioriRainbows Ironically, doesn't your upvote reason kind of contradict Ooker's point? – Kyle Strand Oct 28 '15 at 19:08
  • @KyleStrand Not at all! It confirms it! It says that in some cases, the use of these pictures can win an audience over. By upvoting I was making his assertions true :) That's how I intended it anyway... – APrioriRainbows Oct 28 '15 at 19:24
  • @APrioriRainbows That's....not really how I read Ooker's answer, especially since the whole first paragraph is explaining why the comic might not be appropriate. – Kyle Strand Oct 28 '15 at 20:04
  • He gives conditions. If it's long, then you probably shouldn't. But if it's short, you can do a number of things. Also, he says that he personally likes to put these slides last. I agree with his conditional suggestion. TBH I think that funny slides at the end of long presentation are nice too--especially if the material is dry. It's a good pick-me-up before the Q&A. – APrioriRainbows Oct 28 '15 at 20:16
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A big part of making an effective presentation is understanding your audience. You are going to be the best judge of how a funny slide will be received, since you know your group better than any of us do.

I can tell you that funny slides are not always a bad idea, just like they are not always a good idea - it depends on your audience and the goals of your presentation.

If you do use a funny slide, do it for a reason - but that should be true of all your slides. Every slide should have a clear purpose and be designed to communicate something to your audience (preferably one thing per slide). Funny "thank you" slides are no different. Decide what the purpose of your "thank you" slide is, and whether this comic will communicate that purpose to your particular audience, and then you will have your answer.

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Whether you should include funny pictures in your slides has already been adequately answered by others, but I wanted to give you some more practical considerations to keep in mind when making this decision.

when using art from 3rd party artists, whether they are webcomic authors, paper comic authors, artists in classic media (paint, crayon, charcoal, firstborn blood) or another medium entirely, it is important to A) get their permission and B) have proper attribution. Both of these ensure that people who found the image interesting and want to see more can do so in a way that supports the content creator, on top of the more academic reasons for proper permission and attribution.

SMBC doesn't mention how to refer to them, so use your own judgment for determining how to best attribute. Definitely mention the artist (Zach Weinersmith), the website source (www.smbc-comics.com) and the date (2013-02-01).

Some people in comments have said to slightly crop the picture to remove the bit about tenure. DO NOT DO THIS WITHOUT AUTHOR PERMISSION! The work is copyrighted and while there is a fair-use exemption for educational use of copyrighted material, the line about tenure is part of what makes this funny, especially for non-combinational theorists (although I doubt those will be present at your presentation). Without this punchline, the joke kinda falls flat because it is just another completely wrong definition of a scientific term, and there are plenty of those already.

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    This doesn't answer the question... – JDror Oct 28 '15 at 20:32
  • @JeffDror The question itself is somewhat too dependent on the situation to give a straight yes/no answer. My answer is less intended to tell the author what to do and more of a "take this into account when deciding what to do". – Nzall Oct 28 '15 at 21:05
  • This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post. – jakebeal Oct 29 '15 at 12:00
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    @jakebeal Sorry, but I can't fit what I wrote in this answer into a single comment, or even 2 comments. I mean, if I spent a lot of effort trying to condense it all, I might be able to. However, including a picture is not just "should I", but also "If I do it, what should I take into account. Also, thomij also doesn't have a clear yes/no answer and says "it depends". – Nzall Oct 29 '15 at 12:27
  • @NateKerkhofs I would suggest condensing it then and making that comment. – jakebeal Oct 29 '15 at 13:16
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There is a message or several messages you want to get across in your talk. If the cartoon helps to get the message you want to make at a given point in your presentation across (probably not, in the specific case), the cartoon can be useful. Otherwise, the cartoon is noise and dilutes your message. A cartoon will get the attention of your audience- but not necessarily to the message you want to get across.

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