How to Give a Research Presentation

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Why the quality of your presentations will make or break your career

"More people will probably listen to your scientific talk than will read the paper you may write. Thus the scientific talk has become one of the most important communication forums for the scientific community. As proof, we need only look at the rising attendance at and the proliferation of meetings. In many ways your research reputation will be enhanced (or diminished) by your scientific talk. The scientific talk, like the scientific paper, is part of the scientific communication process. The modern scientist must be able to deliver a well organized, well delivered scientific talk" - Mark Schoeberl and Brian Toon, in Ten Secrets to Giving a Good Scientific Talk

Preparing for and organizing the talk

  • Plan ahead - give yourself plenty of time to
Obtain feedback on different stages of slides preparation. Practice the talk several times. Enhance your slides based on the feedback and practice talks.
  • Prepare a timeline to adjust to feedback on the talk outline, the slides content, practice talks.
Each phase may take a few iterations, mostly if this is your first talk.
  • Getting started
Define one or two key take home messages.
It will help you focus on what is important.
Your audience in general will only remember a couple of things: what do you want them to remember?
It provides a framework for your talk.
Points to remember in preparing your talk
Who is your audience? (experts in your area, other scientists, general public, etc)
Time allowed for the talk.
Prepare an outline
Methods and Data - How much do you want to share?
Conclusions - What is the take home message?
Acknowledgments (funding source, assistance from colleagues)
Share the above information with some who can provide expert, timely feedback

A good talk must tell a story

  • Provide a context- why is this important, why should the audience care!
Start with the really big picture: is your research addressing a fundamental question with important implications? or an important engineering problem that will make systems more efficient? does it have social or economic impact?
  • Define the question(s) you research intends to answer
In view of the big picture you presented, and the current knowledge in the area, what is your contribution?
Clearly state how your research results advance the field.
  • Explain in simple terms how you will be able to determine that you have answered the question(s) as you have articulated them.
What kind of data have you collected, and how their analysis allows you to answer your research questions?
Present the current knowledge in the field as it relates to your work, and explain how your work fits in
Clearly state what your intended contributions are as you describe the problem you intend to address, and include sources of any information not attributable to your work
  • Present the data - Keep in mind the points you want to make, and how the data support your previous slides and conclusions?
Use graphs, charts and pictures instead of tables if possible
Explain what the data represent (graph axes, table headings, etc) - they should be understandable to someone outside your research area
Identify features on the data (trends, peaks, relations, etc) that support the point you are making with the slide
  • Draw conclusions
How do the data come together to prove that you answered your question(s)?
Is this the complete picture or are there other questions to be answered?

An outline is helpful only if your talk deviates from the common "introduction, results, discussion, conclusion"

Know your audience

  • Have an understanding of what they know AND what they DON’T know
Think about the first year students and make sure that when you use jargon or new concepts take the time to explain them clearly
Your audience is mostly composed of non experts. Your talk should be geared to educate, not impress.
If you don’t explain it, assume they won’t understand it.
Experts appreciate their research area being explained in a clear, approachable manner.

What to Include and NOT Include

  • DO NOT fall into the trap of filling time with loads of results
The audience doesn’t care how much time you put into getting a result, they care how important it is
Always indicate the significance of the results
Always show how they fit together with the rest of the presentation

Striking a Balance

  • LESS is more-
  • Most review talks are not comprehensive reviews but rather a selective review
  • Most research talks should NOT be a comprehensive list of all experiments you do
  • Your reading should be extremely comprehensive but when you put the talk together pick and choose carefully what you want to present - how relevant is the information?
  • Ask yourself if I leave this out will people still understand the talk- if yes then leave it out
  • Applies to word, slides, etc

Basic Procedures

  • Plan on using about 0.7 slides per minute of talk.
  • As you get more experienced you can use more particularly if the slides are of relatively low information content
  • 20-25% of time should introduction for those have never seen anything about the field
  • Define terms - minimize abbreviations
  • If you use abbreviations or reagents know what they are and how they work.
  • Avoid jargon, group slang.
  • If your talk is long, and has sections, provide several summary and transition slides between sections.

About slides

  • First concentrate on content
For each slide define the key take home message.
Think about how one slide leads into the next slide
  • Then concentrate on artistry; a beautiful presentation that says nothing is of little value.
Make sure that color choices, fonts and graphics are readily readable from back of room
Avoid gratuitous animation
  • When possible minimize the information on a given slide.
  • It is often better to use two slides with half as much information on each slide

Delivering the Talk

  • The opening needs to be catchy - don't let the audience drift into texting!
  • Talk to the audience.
Think about looking at a single person in the eye as you talk.
Look at the audience to gauge their level of attention
Are you speaking loudly enough? Are you shouting at them?
Change your voice modulation to get their attention back
Move around, be animated, approach the audience if possible
  • Make an effort to talk slowly, and clearly
Hear each word - do not mumble
Take a breath - slow down if necessary
  • If English is not your native language you will need extra practice
Ask for feedback from a native speaker on your pronunciation of difficult words
  • Ask yourself if you are looking at the screen
  • Keep the laser pointer fixed in place as much as possible
Avoid shining it into the audience and blinding them!
  • Incorporate a bit of humor (even feeble self deprecating humor)- Don’t be glib.
  • Don’t be defensive about criticism

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