Monday, 10 June 2013

My Top 5 Presentation Tips for Beginners

1.     Know Your Audience

One of the most important things you can consider when preparing your talk is “who exactly is going to be listening?” There are few things worse than talking to a room full of people who are either bored or cannot understand you. When preparing my end of year conference talk recently I had to bear in mind that I was talking to a room of Psychologists from all different disciplines – ranging from social psychology, to robotics, through to computational modelling. With such a broad audience it can be difficult to keep it engaging, but remember no-one knows your work as well as you do, and it is your job to get across to the audience exactly what it is you do and what results you have found. The biggest mistake you can make is getting too bogged down in minor details that will not appeal to your audience – if I had been presenting my work to individuals’ that study neurovascular coupling then my talk would have been very different. As I was presenting my work to a room of Psychologists I was sure to fully explain exactly what neurovascular coupling is, and to break down my experiment paradigm simply and clearly before discussing any results.

      2.     Keep Your Slides Simple
When you are talking the audience will be switching between focusing on you and reading the slides behind you. Presenting slides which are covered in text will leave the audience feeling overwhelmed and may even lead to disengagement from your talk. It is a good idea to only put your most important points in text – in order to emphasize them. Using bullet points and tables to simplify and separate your text can also help keep things clear. It is not just text which can overload your slides however, there can also be an issue if you clutter the space with too many pictures. As a rule with your pictures – the audience should be able to discern some information about what you’re talking about by looking at the images selected. Try to use diagrams and graphs were applicable too rather than disseminating results via text.

Figure 1: Example of a bad PowerPoint slide
Figure 2: Example of a good PowerPoint slide

3.     Practice Your Talk in Front of Others

Try to avoid going into a talk without first practicing it in front of others. As the writer of your talk you will find yourself too bogged down in the details to see the presentation from an outside perspective. Presenting your talk for friends, family or colleagues will mean you can see how an audience reacts to your performance. Perhaps you will find you need to remove a bad joke, or that you have not simplified a concept enough for the audience to understand – either way you will receive constructive criticism so that on the day of your presentation you appear polished and confident.

4.     Prepare for Questions

If you get nervous about the prospect of the unknown it may be a good idea to think about what sort of questions your presentation may generate. Ask others and think about it yourself as well – performing it for friends and colleagues will also allow them to think of questions you may get asked following your talk. Do take caution however, on the day you may get completely random questions based in other people’s research interests; however preparation cannot hurt and it will help you to feel calm and confident.

5.     Get a Good Night’s Sleep Before Your Talk

It is never a good idea to spend the night before a presentation drilling your notes or worrying about the next day. You do not want to seem too rehearsed! Perhaps go through your talk a couple of times in the evening before you get ready for bed, but don’t overdo it. Use the late evening to unwind and calm down. There is only so much you can take in on the last day, and hopefully early preparation will mean that you are not cramming the night before. A good night’s sleep will allow your brain to consolidate what you have learned, so you may even find that you can run through the talk better and more confidently following a night of restful slumber. If nothing else, conference days can be long and tiring and so adding lack of sleep into the mix may be a lethal combination!

Images taken from:

“Bad Slide”

“Good Slide”