The purpose of a presentation is to tell your audience a story. To achieve this goal, the person giving the presentation must place themselves in the shoes of their listeners and determine what they need to know to understand the story. Telling a great story is more important than any embellishments or technology you use to do it. Below are 11 tips for giving an effective research presentation.
1. Decide what your most important messages are, tailored to your specific audience.
Research can be messy, and so can the results of research. Your audience does not usually need to know every tiny detail about your work or results. Try to narrow down your findings to two or three of the most important takeaways that would resonate with the people in attendance. These takeaways are the messages of your presentation.
2. Start at the beginning and keep it simple.
Now that you have your messages, think about how you got to that point. What question did you ask that led you to do this research, and why did you ask it? Tell your audience this information, just enough of it for them to understand why the story is important and why you’re telling it. Use language that is tailored to the level of understanding of your audience.
3. Tell them how you addressed your question.
This part of any presentation usually involves the greatest risk of being dull. Tell your audience how you address your question, but don’t overwhelm them with detail they don’t need. Tell them what they need to know to get a basic idea of how you got your results.
4. Tell them your most important findings.
Again, do not overwhelm your listeners with noisy data or too much information. Give them a streamlined version of your results, using as your guide what you might include in an abstract of the work.
5. Give them the payoff—your main messages.
Link your results to the main or most important conclusions from your work. Make sure that the results you talk about directly connect with these final messages.
6. Hint at where you’re going next.
If appropriate, you can also tell your audience the new questions that your findings open up, leaving them a little intrigued about where things will go next.
7. Do not go over your time.
No one wants to listen to anyone talk longer than they are supposed to talk. If you’ve been given a 10-minute limit for your presentation, do not take more than 10 minutes. Your best bet is to practice it beforehand, timing yourself, to make sure that you have the right pace to stay within limits. Don’t make it too short, either, although that is almost never a problem.
8. Think about questions people might ask.
If a question-and-answer session is to follow your presentation, go through your talk and put yourself again in your audience’s shoes. What questions would you have if you were listening to this research presentation? Try to anticipate what people might ask and how you’ll answer. If you have friends or family you can use for practice, encourage them to ask questions so you can gain experience answering them.
9. Do not overwhelm with too much text, busy images, tables, or charts.
Having too much text on a slide or busy, illegible images is a major fault of many academic research presentations. Consider the people in your audience and what they’ll be able to see from where they sit. Keep text limited and plain and figures simple and clear. Explain each image that you show, including axis labels and their meaning, and don’t just assume your audience will understand with a quick glance. Also, you do not need to use the tricks that some digital software allows for slides to fade in or out or advance automatically. In fact, you should avoid the latter entirely.
10. Do not read text word for word.
If you are using some form of presentation that involves slides or words on a screen, do not read these words verbatim. Your best approach is to use short phrases in the slides and then add your own expansion as you talk. That way, your audience sees an important, brief phrase and hears you add context around it. Listening to someone read a slide packed with text while reading along with them is mind numbing.
11. Engage with your audience.
If you are comfortable, you can always present your research in a way that invites audience engagement, asking questions as you go that anticipate a slide you are about to show, a result you are about to introduce, or a conclusion you will present.
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