March 2011: The primary draw of the ASCO Annual Meeting is the opportunity to hear, for the first time, the results of the most innovative cancer research being conducted today. To make their research accessible to the oncology community, oral abstract presenters spend a significant amount of time preparing, practicing, and polishing. Two presenters, Michael A. Carducci, MD, of Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Cathy Eng, MD, of M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, share their experience and advice on creating an effective presentation with ASCO Connection.
AC: How does it feel to learn that your abstract has been selected for oral presentation at the ASCO Annual Meeting?
Dr. Carducci: You’re delighted that the information met a quality standard and that peer review agreed that the data are worthwhile for presentation. At the Annual Meeting particularly, an oral presentation suggests there’s likely some clinical relevance or practice-changing information to be shared. It’s all a feeling of delight and satisfaction.
Dr. Eng: It’s a wonderful honor to have an abstract that you’ve submitted be viewed of significant importance to be presented as part of the oral presentations. There are so many abstracts submitted, and obviously even those selected for poster presentation are an honor, but an oral abstract is a wonderful way to be acknowledged by your peers for your contribution to oncology.
AC: What is your most memorable experience as a presenter?
Dr. Carducci: My most memorable experience was coming on as a junior faculty member and presenting an early-phase clinical study of a drug that had obvious evidence of activity based on an early scientific hunch. Presenting always brings some anxiety, particularly the questions from the audience in terms of how clearly the data are understood, clarifications, or a judgment of the impact of the data on clinical management. That can be the most frightful part.
Dr. Eng: The relief when I was done! But really, the most memorable experience is just the fact that you’re there—you’ve been given the ability to present at the ASCO Annual Meeting. Whether it’s your first, second, or third time, there’s an appreciation at being chosen to present an abstract, be a discussant, or Chair a session. The ability to contribute is always an honor. It’s a good way to be heard—your opinions may vary from other people during the session, but that’s really the point, to give the audience a good overview for the subject matter being discussed.
I know most people get nervous thinking about speaking in front of hundreds or possibly thousands of people, but it’s a wonderful way to make a contribution to your field.
AC: How soon before the Meeting do you begin preparing your talk?
Dr. Carducci: The timing often depends on the nature of the data, how complete it is and when all the details will be available. Most of the time, for me, prep is usually a few weeks before presentation, while definitely trying to meet the deadlines if discussants are involved. A lot of sponsors have quality checks to ensure that presentations meet their standards and our guidelines. Our team will usually have a mock session among the group of interest to determine how the information comes across for clarity. To prepare for the question-and-answer period, I work with some of my senior colleagues to identify what may come up or where the pitfalls are. We think about it ahead of time instead of trying to talk off the cuff.
Dr. Eng: Based upon my experience, when you find out that your abstract has been chosen, your primary concern is to discuss it with your coauthors to ensure that the data are complete and presented clearly and in an unbiased fashion. The most important thing is to feel that you have a group of individuals supporting you. You want to have your presentation ready fairly soon once you’ve found out, because you want to cover all aspects. And because there’s an opportunity for questions after your presentation, you want to be sure that you understand the data clearly.
AC: Do you have any tips for preparing an excellent presentation?
Dr. Carducci: Even for an oral presentation, writing out the talk makes the most sense—you can practice your timing and avoid being loose with terms, and you have a better sense of definition and focus. Writing out your presentation provides a level of comfort—you can always look down at your notes even if you’ve got the talk memorized by the time you present.
Dr. Eng: It’s always best to be overly prepared—you can never rehearse too many times. Practice to make sure that your speech is clear and paced well. It does help to practice in front of your peers and others to make sure that your interpretation of the data is perceived by individuals who may or may not be involved in your study.
Presenters sometimes forget that when you’re at the ASCO Annual Meeting, your audience is not just academic oncologists, but includes community physicians and support staff such as research nurses, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners. The way that you present your data has to be very clear to all disciplines within oncology.
AC: When you aren’t giving a presentation, what do you most enjoy about the ASCO Annual Meeting?
Dr. Carducci: I like the networking. Catching up with colleagues and meeting with future collaborators is still the function of the meeting. I do a lot of early-phase studies, so I like to hear some of the advanced-stage, phase III studies to get a sense of relevance to practice and availability of the agents, particularly if the treatment is new.
Dr. Eng: My favorite part is being able to connect and see old friends and colleagues in my discipline, and the collegiality. I also enjoy learning about developments, not only in the United States but also internationally, to see what is advancing in the field.
Dr. Carducci is a Professor of Oncology and Urology at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University. He has served on the ASCO Cancer Education Committee and Best of ASCO Planning Committee, among others. He was also recipient of a 1995 Conquer Cancer Foundation (formerly ASCO Cancer Foundation®)Young Investigator Award (YIA).
Dr. Eng is an Associate Professor, Department of Gastrointestinal Medical Oncology, at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She has served on ASCO’s Scientific Program Committee, the Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium Scientific Program Committee, and the Best of ASCO Planning Committee. She currently serves as the Chair of the Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium Program Committee for 2012.