cocktails and powerpoint

[by john]

all three of us here at the blog have strong opinions on what makes a good set of slides for a scientific talk. generally, they align (conciseness, high information-to-ink ratio, tell a story rather than read the slides, well labeled axes...), but sometimes our opinions clash and we find ourselves in a shouting match over the usefulness of outline slides. (yes, this happened. at drink.)

lately, i've come to develop similar strong opinions on bars' cocktail menus, which are, after all, the bartenders' method of presentation. in addition, as i prepare for my own big cocktail party, i'm thinking about what my menu should look like.

here, then, is a taxonomy of both presentation styles:

the screenshot

we've all (switching to scientist persona for a bit) suffered through a speaker who relied on screenshots of whole paragraphs from colleagues' (or their own!) papers instead of digesting the content into bulleted form. enraging.

the cocktail menu equivalents are the tomes that you can find, say, at new york's pdt. each cocktail gets half a page of rambling attention - some history, some flavor notes, some discussion of seasonality. distill it for me, already!


some presenters like to take the cutesy route to talks. they'll have quotes from einstein or barely related stock photos (usually of einstein as well). they might have good content, but you wouldn't know that if they were on mute.

i think of eastern standard's menu. original drink names (brock's buck) with inside-joke-sounding description (alliterative shout out). what the hell is in it?!


similar to the screenshotter, the table-user will lift a whole table of data into the presentation (including the unnecessary columns) and point out the important bits with a dim laster pointer.

i think beer lists are more guilty of this - especially a place like sunset tap which has about a million beers on tap and prints them all in small font, along with brewery location and abv.

maybe the old b-side menu gets close for cocktails:

succinct points

ah the elusive -good- use of bullet points. the basic information and hints of the deeper significance, without becoming a long sentence. there's enough there to understand it in itself, but the speaker fleshes out each point more fully.

craigie on main comes close to this style - the important bare ingredients or flavors, with a little color commentary. and tom is always willing to supply more information.

chalk talk

this speaker is a baller. they are probably old and well respected in several fields, partially for their skill in delivering arresting, note-free, slide-free presentations.

the bartenders at drink and milk & honey are ballers. there is no standing cocktail menu; only what they can hold in their mind. without the crutch of a menu, prolonged interaction between the bartender and customer leads to a better understanding for both.


  1. Be very weary of a chalk talk. For every Wheeler there's an aging theorist who's only using the board because he can't figure out that new-fangled computing device. Likewise, for every Drink there's a sketchy dive bar with no cocktail menu. Willing to ask for anything aside from a spirit straight up there?

    Of course, chalk talks are really limited to theorists. Have you ever seen someone try to present data in a chalk talk? --Shudder-- I guess that would imply that cocktails are theorists and, say, meals are experimentalists?


  2. I'll have to meditate on whether I buy your taxonomy for a while, but I give you kudos and thumbs up on its presentation.

  3. for human behavioral biology class i took at stanford (robert sapolsky's), he mostly used white board during lecture. and yes he presented data from the experiments on the board. after all, you want to see the contrast of summary statistics that you derive from the experiments. the exact scale of the data isn't all that important. i was very tempted to present my honors thesis with chalkboard, but the time constraint made that option not viable.

    ok if there are slides, there are at least two things audience can look at: you and the slides you use. if there are no slides, they can only look at you and you can engage the audience in any way you like. hmmmmm

  4. I've never been to Milk & Honey. now I'm jealous....