Giving Presentations

You will give a lot of presentations during your academic life as communication and discussion is part of the scientific practice. Don’t be afraid of doing so and see it as an investment: an investment into your communication skills and the degree to which your work is known. If you can give good presentations, people will better understand your work. And if they better understand your work, they are more likely to use/cite/recommend/distribute it.

Here, I am collecting (random) tips I am giving to my students. I hope they will be a help to you preparing your own (scientific) presentations. Send me suggestions if you have.

Perhaps there is really only one main thing to consider:

Practice your talk several times. The more you practice, the more comfortable you feel. Plus, most talks are strictly timed and you have to stick to the time limit. Give your presentation to a a peer or a group of peers to get feedback. Talking in front of real people makes you aware if your talk sounds stupid/too simple/too complicated. Eventually, practicing will make you speak fluently instead of reading your slides/notes.

General:

  1. Serve the audience: Remember, your talk is to make the audience learn and understand something. Focus on clarity. The more they understand (independent of how great your work is), the more comfortable they will feel and the better they will remember your talk. What do they want to learn from you / what can you tell them that matters to them? Make you serve the audience instead of showing off.
  2. Be enthusiastic about your content / talk. If you do not appear to believe in what you say, the audience will not be either. However, do not appear artificial but stay natural, calm, and yourself. Scientific talks are not shows.
  3. Try to know your audience as much as you can. Anticipate their background and why they are attending your talk.
  4. Engage with the audience if you are comfortable. E.g., you can ask a simple question to get everyone’s attention. But, don’t overdo that.
  5. Show some interactive content if you can (e.g., interactive visualization demos) and practice them well!
  6. Pace your voice. Some times you want to talk slower and give the audience time to understand. Sometimes you want to speed up to get people peoples attention. Remember that also breaks can bring you the audience’s attention.
  7. Create a narrative flow: when preparing a talk it is easy to think of all the content and structure in the content (concepts, subconcepts, relations, etc..). However the art of the talk is to bring everything into a linear narration. Once thing follows the other. No piece is in isolation. If a thing doesn’t fit your overall message, remove it. It’s better to have a nice flow and narration with fewer content, than too much content in a loosely connected manner.
  8. Prepare simple notes about what you want. Don’t prepare text to read.
  9. Questions:
    • It’s ok take a break before answering a question (smile while thinking, the audience will smile, too ;). Don’t think too long, see next point.
    • It’s ok to admit you don’t know the answer or you haven’t thought about it. Say it’s a good question.
    • Keep your answer short. Start with a ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘it depends’. Then give the reasons.
    • If the answer gets complicated and too long, ask the person if you can take the question offline, i.e. after the talk.
    • Offer the audience to be around after the talk for more questions, if there are.

Tips for slides:

In general,

  • the audience is there to listen to you, not to read you slides,
  • only what you cannot say in words, show on the slides because words and pictures are complementary.

Thus:

  1. Avoid text and focus on the visual content.
  2. 1 slide per minute is a good pace usually.
  3. One message per slide
  4. Include title slides to announce a new topic and pace your talk.
  5. Make breaks: This can happen through empty slides, or title slides, or a question to the audience.
  6. Use one font-style / size and stick to it.
  7. Use large fonts so people in the back can still read your slides (which should contain few text anyway..).
  8. Explain how to read any chart / visualization / diagram before explaining what it shows. For visualizations, explain the axes and what all the visual elements mean. Then explain what we can see.
  9. Build up slides using simple animations (no special effects!) if they become too complex.  Show elements as you talk about them to focus the audience’s attention. (Think of how a camera wo/man focuses your attention in a movie).
  10. Prepare extra slides if you think they might be helpful to answer questions from the audience. Use extra slides to show more content during questions if appropriate.

More Resources

 

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