One thing that a medicinal chemistry conference has going for it is that the field is very broad. A wide range of topics can fit into a presentation, from straight organic synthesis, through cell assays and formulation topics, all the way up to human clinical data, and the audience will include plenty of people who will appreciate a good talk on either end of that scale. To some extent, that lets the speakers off the hook, because as long as there’s some connection with medicine and with chemistry, your talk can (in theory) be part of the agenda. That’s not to say that there aren’t good talks and bad talks (you’ll never get me to deny that!) All of these topics have interesting aspects and yawn-inducing ones, things that will get the audience’s attention and things that they’ve all seen a dozen times before.
But it does let them avoid a major problem that you see in more narrowly focused meetings. Far too often at these, you see someone with a top-to-bottom med-chem story come in and present the whole thing to an audience whose interests lie in about one-third of the slides. A conference that’s devoted to organic synthesis, for example, does not need to hear the last half of your talk about cell assay development and small animal toxicology. Likewise, a meeting directed to clinical results does not want to hear about your quest to work out the metal-catalyzed coupling conditions in step four.
The former case happens more often than the latter, since by the time things get deep into the clinic, the earlier research has often disappeared over the horizon. The real problem seems to be when you have someone presenting who’s worked on both the early and middle stages of a project (and who may have slides summarizing the later parts as well). They’ve got a presentation directed to The Story of the Project, and that may well be fine for some meetings (like a general med-chem one!) But if that describes your PowerPoint file, you should think carefully about the audience you’re going to be running it past. There may be a point at which you lose the crowd.
Fixing that won’t necessarily be fun, because you’re going to have to pitch a good number of your slides. Then you’ll probably need add some more that you don’t have made yet to shore up the part of the talk that your audience actually cares about. But do the math: putting you out for a while by making you rework your talk will save you from boring and irritating an entire large room full of people later on. Perhaps even more compellingly, it will also keep you from being seen as that speaker that gave that boring and irritating talk full of things that no one wanted to hear about. Worth a thought, eh?
Update: in response to a query, the talks at the conference I’m attending have been fine, since they’ve enjoyed just that med-chem-meeting advantage mentioned above. If you tried to give a whole talk without a single chemical structure in it, well, that might be different. Although, come to think of it, my own talk tomorrow doesn’t have a single chemical structure. Hmm.