Research presentations are a vital part of science.
Your preparation process for an oral presentation will depend on how experienced you are and how well you understand your research, however, here is a tried and true method that can work for you at any level.
Begin your preparation process as early as possible to give yourself adequate time and to avoid last-minute stress. First, prepare your PowerPoint slides. Start by making a basic outline to include a title page, a few introduction slides, your hypothesis/goal, results slides, conclusions, future work, and an acknowledgement slide. Include the main points/figures you want to convey in each slide, then, fill in the gaps.
Replace text with diagrams and illustrations whenever possible. But remember, the slides are not intended to be a substitution for you, the presenter. They are meant to be a visual prop to aid in both the communication and understanding of the material. Don’t worry about making the slides perfect at this point as you can always enhance them later.
Next, write out what you want to say in the notes section below the slides. Again, it doesn’t have to be complete as you can add on later. Make sure to include solid transitions from slide to slide. This is essential as it will allow you to flow smoothly through your presentation and eliminate awkward pauses. It will also help keep your audience engaged.
It is very important to cater your presentation to your audience. What you should present and how you should present it depends on the audience’s knowledge and familiarity with the subject. For instance, your talk should be starkly different if you’re presenting to leading experts in the field at a small conference, compared to a guest lecture for college undergraduates. In the latter instance, you’ll want to include more background information and refrain from going into too much technical detail about your experiments.
Once you’ve written what you want to say, read through your notes a few times in your head while looking at the slides. Fill in anything else you want to say at this point. Then start reading through it a few times aloud while looking at the slides. Read it slowly and at the same pace you would give your presentation. This will give you a good idea of how long your presentation is in case you have a time limit. You can add or delete things as needed to get to the right length. At the end of this step, also make sure that your slides are polished. They should be clear and concise, easy to read, and visually pleasing.
Next comes the hardest part of the preparation process…practicing the presentation without looking at your notes. This requires a leap of faith but it’s essential, and the sooner you do it, the better prepared you’ll be. It’s going to be rough the first time (and maybe the first few times), but that’s OK. It will get exponentially better each time you practice. After going through it, you can go back and see what you forgot to say. Don’t memorize it word for word, just remember the key points you want to get across for each slide. Make sure to time your practice runs and adjust accordingly.
Try to get someone to listen to one of your practice runs and offer feedback. Make sure to do this with enough time to tweak your presentation based on their comments. It’s also a good time to practice answering any questions they have. If possible, for your final run-through, practice on a big screen and use the same laser pointer you’ll use for the presentation. By the time you are done practicing, you should feel fully confident with your talk.
Stay tuned for my next blog, where I’ll go over the keys to successfully delivering your presentation.