Scientific Talks: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Scientific Talks: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

We’ve all been there at some point: being nervous, stuttering, or losing our train of thought because somebody looks so incredibly bored that you are afraid they might actually collapse. Then there’s saying something stupid or just plain wrong, or talking so fast and quietly that nobody understands what your results are.

These are certainly my lowest moments giving talks and I’ll save myself the embarrassment of referring to the time and place they happened.


Recently, I attended a conference and once again I witnessed the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. After a few short years in science I’ve already gathered a (substantial) list of faux pas that occurred during talks I’ve seen. Here are my absolute top 10 unsuccessful presentations in recent years:

  • Having the slide full of text (font size 8), reading directly from the slide, mumbling and not once looking at the audience.
  • Figures directly drag and dropped from obspy, without labels (or font size 4) and then assuming everybody miraculously knows what the x and y axis are.
  • Animated animations with 10 figures on top of each other.
  • For the whole presentation not speaking into the microphone because the person is actually looking at the slide, explaining the important information without anybody hearing it.
  • Talking for 90% of the presentation about only one slide (which is not even relevant), realizing that time is running out and rushing through the rest of the slides which might have been interesting.
  • Squeezing 20 tiny figures very tightly into the final slide and only spending 15 seconds explaining them before time is up.
  • Generally coming unprepared.
  • A bright yellow background with pink colored font and green boxes for important information.
  • Comic sans. See this article for detailed information why comic sans should never be used.



…So, what makes a good talk?


Whenever I prepare a presentation, I try to follow the suggestions of my professor during my Masters. He had 5 golden rules for preparing a talk (here slightly modified):

  1. Keep the structure simple! Don’t try to squeeze in all the results of your project, unless they are important. Example: Introduction – Motivation – Methods – Results – Discussion. Done.
  2. Keep the slides simple! Not too cluttered with figures or text. Only put what you want to talk about, everything else that you will not talk about…Kick out! Text is there to support your argument, not to replace your talking.
  3. Remember the ‘1-slide, 1-minute’ rule: people don’t want to stare at the same slide for 5 minutes. Each slide needs to have some meaning, if you don’t talk about the slide, it goes in the bin.
  4. To check if a text or a figure is visually large enough, stand 60-100cm far from your desktop screen and see if you still can read the smallest font, if not make it bigger.
  5. Describe every figure you show and make sure to mention units and axis, even if the font is big enough – not everybody has a good eyesight. Make only very important statements or words boldit will stick in people’s minds better.


© Nienke Blom


These are the five basic rules of preparing the slides for a presentation. Now I want to add another, very important point.

After a recent week of talks at a conference the bulk of unsuccessful presentations were given by those who came unprepared, having dumped their latest research into one power-point presentation and made up their talks as they went along. On the other hand, often the best talks were from young researchers who might not have extensive results, but did have well-prepared, clean slides which were thought through and interesting even though some studies were at a preliminary stage. I enjoyed listening to those, because there were clearly some efforts put into these presentations.


Hence, my last point is: Prepare and practice your talk!


© Nienke Blom



This post was written by Maria Tsekhmistrenko, with revisions from Nienke Blom and Andrea Berbellini



Maria Tsekhmistrenko is a PhD student at the University of Oxford. She works on the velocity structures beneath the La Reunion Island from the surface to the core mantle boundary. You can reach her at mariat[at]

Nienke Blom is a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Cambridge and works on seismic waveform tomography, developing methods to image density. She is the EGU point of contact for the ECS rep team. You can reach her at nienke.blom[at]

Andrea Berbellini is an Italian Post Doc at the University College London. He works on the source characterization from second-order moments and crustal tomography from ellipticity of Rayeligh waves. You can reach him at: a.berbellini[at]

Crowdsourcing in Europe: how to share macroseismic data of felt earthquakes ?

Crowdsourcing in Europe: how to share macroseismic data of felt earthquakes ?
“Did you feel the earthquake ?”     “Avez-vous ressenti un tremblement de Terre?”      “Erdbeben gespürt?”
         ” Følte du siste jordskjelv?”            “Sentiu um Sismo?”
“Ha sentido algún terremoto?”      “Pocítili ste zemetrasenie?”      “Hai Sentito il Terremoto?”
“почувствахте ли земетресение?”

Technical workshop on internet macroseismology: a reflection

14-15 November 2017, Ljubljana, Slovenia

Last week 41 European seismologists from 19 organisations gathered at ARSO in Ljubljana (Slovenia) to discuss on a solution how macroseismic data, i.e. earthquake intensity data derived from felt earthquake reports, could be better collected and exchanged between seismological institutes in the future. The European and Mediterranean situation is quite complex as at least 36 seismological institutes (see below) in 24 countries all collect felt reports using their own or a standardised online questionnaire or using a smartphone app. When an earthquake is only felt within the border of one country, likely only one responsible national institute (except in Germany or Spain) will have all the data and can properly map the earthquake impact. However, in case of cross-border felt earthquakes, the gathering of macroseismic data is fragmented between different institutes who are all responsible for the macroseismic information in their country. Hence, sharing intensity values derived from online questionnaires is essential and would strongly facilitate mapping the impact of transfrontier-felt earthquakes in the future.

During the workshop 17 studies (see list) on national and international methodologies, objectives, collecting systems and case studies were presented. Currently, apart from rapid information about the felt area from EMSC and a few cross-border initiatives, there is no coordinated and comprehensive system to collect, interpret and present macroseismic data on a European level. During the discussion numerous ideas were exchanged how to harmonise the data to facilitate the exchange. It was decided to develop a new proposal for an ESC (European Seismological Commission) working group that can concentrate on these challenges in macroseismic data exchange in Europe, and to propose a special session dedicated to Internet Macroseismology at the forthcoming ESC General Assembly in Malta (2-7 Sep 2018).

The workshop was organised by Ina Cecić (ARSO) and Rémy Bossu (EMSC) with the support from EPOS.

Let’s give macroseismology in Europe a face. Earthquakes don’t stop at political or language borders.

Participants to the workshop. Source: ARSO: (14 Nov 2017)

Following studies were presented:

  • Bossu R. (EMSC) Collecting felt reports of Global Earthquakes at EMSC:  How and Why?
  • Landes M. (EMSC) From eyewitnesses to seismological services.
  • Šket Motnikar B. & Cerk M. (ARSO, IZV, Slovenia) Overview of database structure and macroseismic assessment through web application in Slovenia.
  • De Rubeis, V. & Tosi, P. (INGV, Italy) The experience of crowdsourced web macroseismic intensity investigation in Italy:  evolution, results, problems and perspectives.
  • Pazak P. (ESI SAS, Slovakia) Slovak web-based questionnaire for macroseismic data collection.
  • Rønnevik C. (UniB, Norway) Integration of Norwegian Macroseismic Data into EPOS e-Infrastructure.
  • Schlupp A. & Sira C. (BCSF EOST, France) BCSF macroseismic data collection for French territories, and their exchange and merging for earthquakes affecting different countries.
  • Horn N. (ZAMG, Austria) Webservices for the distribution of macroseismic data.
  • Sović I. & Ivančić I. (GO PMF, Croatia) Macroseismic data collected in Croatia by internet.
  • Kaiser D. (BGR, Germany) Collecting macroseismic data in Germany by internet – an overview.
  • Musson R. (by Cecić I.) (BGS, UK) Implementing the EMS for online intensity.
  • Moldovan I.A. (NIEP, Romania) Internet macroseismology in Romania.
  • Alves P.M. & Marreiros, C. (IPMA, Portugal) Overview of the methods and results related with macroseismic web-questionnaires at IPMA – Portugal
  • Sbarra P. (INGV, Italy) Macroseismic diagnostics anomalies some practical examples.
  • Beinersdorf S. (BUniW, Germany) Shakemaps for Central Europe implementing macroseismic observations
  • Van Noten K. & Lecocq T. (ROB, GSB, Belgium) Merging transfrontier internet macroseismic data of earthquakes in NW Europe using a grid cell approach
  • Batlló J., Jara J.A., Irizarry J. & Figueras S. (ICGC) Macroseismics in Cataloni

European institutes

In below an overview is given of all European institutes that organise a macroseismic online survey (or in their overseas departments). Apologies if any survey would have been forgotten. Please contact us for mistakes. This list is constructed to give Macroseismology more visibility and to create some transparency in this labyrinth of data collection.

Source: Solid Earth 8(2)

Andorra: CENMA, Unit for Environmental studies: Enquesta Sísmica (Catalan)

Austria: Zentralanstalt für Meteorologie und Geodynamik (ZAMG): Erdbeben gespürt?

Belgium – Germany: Transfrontier collaboration between the Royal Observatory of Belgium and the University of Cologne (Erdbebenstation Bensberg): Avez-vous ressenti un tremblement de Terre?  /  Heeft u de aardbeving gevoeld?  /  Haben Sie ein Erdbeben gespürt / Did you Feel the earthquake?

Bulgary: National institute in Geophysics, Geodesy and Geography:  ВЪПРОСНИК ЗА УСЕТЕНО ЗЕМЕТРЕСЕНИЕ

Czech Republic: Uses the international EMSC inquiry. I just felt an earthquake

Denmark: Geological survey of Denmark and Greenland: Indberetning af jordskælv

Finland: University of Helsinki : Ilmoitus maanjäristyshavainnoista (Finnish) / Skicka Din rapport om jordskalvet (Swedish)

France: Le Bureau Central Sismologique Français (BCSF) : Avez-vous ressenti un tremblement de Terre?


Greece: Uses the international EMSC inquiry. I just felt an earthquake

Hungary: Hungary Earthquake Information System: Amennyiben Ön is érezte a földrengést, kérjük töltse ki kérdőívünket!

Iceland: Icelandic Met Office : Tilkynna jarðskjálfta

Ireland: Dublin Institute for advanced sciences: Have you felt an earthquake

Italy:  Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia (INGV): Hai Sentito il Terremoto?

Malta: University of Malta: Did you feel an earthquake?

Norway: Norwegian National Seismic Network – University of Bergen: Følte du siste jordskjelv?

Portugal: Instituto Português do mar e da atmosfera: Sentiu um Sismo?

Romania: National Institute for Earth Physics : L-ai simtit?

Slovakia: Bratislava Geophysical Institute: Pocítili ste zemetrasenie na Slovensku?

Slovenia: Slovenian Environment Agency :  Potresi – vprašalnik


Switzerland: Swiss Seismological Service: “Did You Feel an earthquake?” (also available in French, German, English and Italian)

Sweden: Svenska nationella seismiska nätet – Uppsala Universitet: Har du känt av ett jordskalv?

The Netherlands: Koninklijk Nederlands Meteorologisch Instituut (KNMI): Heeft u een aardbeving gevoeld?

United Kingdom: British Geological Survey (BGS): Have you felt an earthquake?

Global: European–Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC): Have you felt an earthquake?

By Koen Van Noten
Koen Van Noten is an earthquake geologist at the Geological Survey of Belgium (previously Royal Observatory of Belgium). He investigates the influence of site effects on intraplate earthquake ground motions using intensity data of felt earthquakes and near-surface geophysical techniques. Koen’s role as ECS is to encourage students to promote their results in seismology, geology and near-surface geophysics in various ways.

A seismologist on vacation

A seismologist on vacation

Beginning of this month, I was travelling to Germany to visit family and friends. One week out of the office, without interpreting wiggles or creating synthetic seismograms. But I bet that most of you know that vacation from science does not really exist, especially if an awesome opportunity comes along…

What do seismologists do during their vacation?

I was visiting a friend in Göttingen. Maybe you have heard about this German city beforehand – of course in the context of seismology. You might think of Emil Wiechert and his seismographs, Karl Zoeppritz and his equations, Beno Gutenberg or lots of other seismologist, who all worked in Göttingen.

Emil Wiechert (1861-1928) came to Göttingen in 1898 and started building the seismological observatory. Using the data of the seismographs, he carried out research to uncover the mysteries hidden inside the Earth. For years to come, important research was done by a lot of seismologist at the observatory. Beginning of the 21th century the golden times of the seismological observatory seemed to be forgotten and the site was on the verge of being teared down. But luckily in 2005 an association was formed that restored the site and takes good care of it now. The Wiechert’sche Erdbebenwarte Göttingen e.V. (Wiechert Earthquake Station Association) offers a guided tour on the first Sunday of every month between 2 and 5 pm to show the public around the observatory.

So I dragged my non-seismologist friend to the Erdbebenwarte – no, actually he was as excited as I was. All started with a very neat general introduction to seismology that was suitable for everybody, from the little kid to the grown-up seismologist. You could also listen to witty anecdotes about how the association struggled with German bureaucracy.

I don’t want to reveal too much because it is much nicer to experience it by yourself. But let me give you a sneak peek of what we saw and experienced there.

Exploration seismology in the early 20th century

Ludger Mintrop (1880-1956) dropped a 4-ton steel ball from a 15 meters height scaffolding to create artificial earthquakes to look inside the earth using transportable seismometers. Well, transportable seismometers at that time were still on the heavy side (~ 700 kg).


Mintrops 4-ton steel ball. Photo by Wiechert’sche Erdbebenwarte e.V.

The association restored the scaffolding and now they drop the ball every time visitors are around. To hear and to feel the bump of the 4-ton steel ball was amazing. And the first thought that popped in my mind: “It would be a lot of fun to create seismograms the old fashioned way.” Of course, nowadays this is not efficient for us anymore, but I can dream, right?

The oldest working seismograph

Even though seeing the Mintrop ball fall down and feeling the impact was impressive, the best was yet to come: seeing the oldest, still working seismographs that already Wiechert had looked at.


Entrance to the seismograph room. Photo by Wiechert’sche Erdbebenwarte e.V.

The seismographs at this site were built in 1902 and 1904/05, and doing their duty already for way over 100 years.

“Every seismologist should kneel before this site.”

I was looking around when Wolfgang Brunk, our guide and chairman of the association, said those words and I decided it would have been too embarrassing for me to kneel down. But he is right, it is a very special place especially for seismologists. The doors were opened and we entered the room that houses the oldest working seismographs in the world.


Inside the “holy grail” of seismology. The seismographs build in the beginning of the 20th century are still running. Photo by Wiechert’sche Erdbebenwarte e.V.

I enjoyed the guided tour a lot, definitely the best day in 2016 thus far. It is a very cool “scientific adventure park” for the whole family.

With love to detail the association did and still does an amazing job to keep Wiechert’s legacy alive and to bring the seismology in an easy and fun way to the people. Next time you are in Germany, you definitely have to visit the seismological station in Göttingen! You can either do that on the first Sunday of every month between 2 and 5 pm, or you contact the association to find the most convenient time for a private tour.

Are there similar sites that you visited during your vacation? Comment here! Maybe we can come up with a guide about “seismological vacation” worldwide.

Kathrin.SpiekerKathrin Spieker is one of the EGU ECS-representatives of the Seismology division. She is a PhD student in seismology at the Department of Earth Science of the University of Bergen (Norway) and investigates globally the crustal and upper mantle structure using passive seismic imaging with the focus on teleseismic converted waves. You can contact Kathrin via e-mail:

First International Conference of the Arabian Geosciences Union


The Arabian Geosciences Union announced the First International Conference of the Arabian Geosciences Union and general assembly to be held in Algiers, Algeria, February 17th and 18th, 2016.

For full info is available on  Brochure:

Information taken from:

This initiative aims to promote Geosciences in both North Africa and the Middle East. Hopes are to provide a high level exchange platform where participants will be presenting their current works and future research plans in a large range of Earth Science fields. A comprehensive program is planned with multiple keynote speakers, parallel technical sessions, poster sessions, and exhibitors. As an added promote to participants, the AIC-1 venue organized a post- conference excursion that allows access to the unique continental Hoggar Shield, the Saharan Atlas and breath taking landscapes. The ArabGU Founding Team and the AIC-1 Organizing Committee would like to invite you to participate and submit your communications. Abstracts in all aspects of Earth sciences in Africa, Arab World and neighboring areas are welcome. Hopefully gathering most of the Arab country geoscience representatives will allow stimulating discussions, an incentive to take the Arab and International Geosciences to the next level. This conference will also witness the creation of the first two sections of the ArGU: the Planetary Sciences section & the History of Geology section.