By Andrea Brear, Ph.D., Intern, Propel Careers
How many times have you sat through a research presentation either nodding off or squinting at an image on the screen? Giving an effective and engaging research presentation requires proper preparation and practice. Realizing that you are the expert on your own research will help you achieve the goal of marketing yourself and your work to convince your audience of the importance of your research and why it is exciting.
In its simplest form, the presentation can be broken down into three parts: introduction, results, and conclusion. The content and extent of the introduction requires that you know the composition of your audience. If there are a number of scientists outside your specific field, you need include more background on your topic in order to bring everyone to the same page. This is your chance to illustrate what is known and unknown in the field and why it matters, and how your work advances the field. Finally, you must clearly state the question you will be addressing throughout the presentation. In the results section, you will be answering the question you are asking. It is important to introduce the technical features of the model organism or system that you are using while explaining your data. The conclusions should reiterate the key results you have found and why they are important in order to leave the audience members with a concise and interesting take home message.
The one word that comes to mind when thinking of the slides themselves is beautification. In order for the person sitting in the back row to easily visualize what is on the screen, use a color scheme with high contrast and make pictures such as figures, graphs, tables, and images as large as the space allows. Because the projector does not necessarily display images as your computer screen will and the lighting in the room may be poor, it's best to prescreen your slides to make sure the images are at optimal brightness and contrast. Using a crisp white background is one way to insure that your slides will be visible. Avoid overwhelming your audience with too much information or boring them with too much text on the slides. When composing slides – try to stick to the "keep it simple" rule. A short concise title, which should be a statement, not a question, as little text as possible, and a nice diagram or two (no more than three) per slide is a great place to start.
The delivery of the presentation itself requires not only the proper pace but also taking the time to set up transitions between the slides so that the wording flows nicely and sounds like a scientific story. One minute per slide is a good amount of time to allow you to maintain an engaging pace. Practicing the presentation will help you identify any transitions that need to be smoothened as well as determine if the talk is too long or short for the amount of time you are given. In order to make the presentation accessible to the general audience, it is important to not only to practice with yourself but also with colleagues in your field as well as outside your field. Be sure to project your voice and speak clearly while noting the speed at which you are talking. If you have the opportunity to record yourself, this can be a great way to identify ways to improve your delivery – including reducing unnecessary hand/body movements, identifying other tics, or excessive use of "um", "ah" or similar words.
Lastly, be aware that you are not able to anticipate everything. The projector may not work properly, someone's cell phone may ring, or the fire alarm may go off. A well-prepared presentation will allow you to deliver the talk with ease and deal with any unanticipated issues.