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7 Tips to give a good presentation

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Why is it that some people are better at presenting than others? Some speakers are engaging and immediately grab your attention while others struggle to spark and sustain the audience’s interest. A good presenter knows how to seduce their listeners and convey their message. While stage anxiety is common to us all, it is how one holds their own on the stage and takes the audience with them on their journey that sets a good presenter apart. I feel that it is possible to learn how to captivate an audience and we all can benefit from some common tips and tricks that good presenters often use.
Here are my seven tips to improve your presentation. This is tailored for scientific talks and presentations, but can be adapted to general presentations too.

1. Structure your presentation
Always frame your story in a logical way. Sharing the outline of the presentation can help the audience follow your line of thought, but this is not mandatory. Start with an introduction to give some background about what is already known and then emphasize the knowledge gap that your work fills. You need to explicitly state your research questions and hypotheses. If you use a lot of different techniques, it is advisable to describe them briefly before you show each result. It does not make sense to catalog them upfront, if you show the corresponding application 15 minutes later. Your audience may not recall what you did to get this data and will lose interest. The next step is the results section. You may be tempted to follow a chronological order when showing your data but this may not necessarily make sense. It is best to proceed coherently and work on the transitions. If you have a lot of data, you can give an intermediate summary of your conclusions. The presentation should end by recapitulation of your main findings and a clear take-home message. In some cases, like lab progress reports, you can also add discussion or perspective slides. Also, don’t forget to thank supervisor(s), colleague(s) who contributed to the project, funding, etc. It is a nice gesture.

2. Target your audience
Know your audience! You can then adapt the content of your presentation accordingly and deliver information efficiently. If you are presenting your work at a very specialized congress, you can afford to have many technical details. However, if you are talking in front of a more general audience, you may want to avoid too much scientific jargon. In the same way, if you work at the interface between two (or more) fields, you may have to explain concepts in detail, according to the field of your audience.

3. Avoid jargon and abbreviations
No one likes to remember what a certain abbreviation stands for, especially if it is not a commonly used one. This distracts the listeners and, while recalling what it means, they could lose focus on the other important details. Avoid using complicated scientific terms and long sentences filled with abbreviations. Simplify and shorten, always!

4. Describe concepts in detail, but not too much detail!
If you show something on your slides, you have to talk about it. This works for pictures, movies, graphs, etc. For example, in an immunostaining image, it is relevant to mention which protein you observe in each colour. In a  graph, you have to explain what is on the x and y-axes. Take care not to over-explain images and graphs, this will only make the presentation long and boring.

5. Rehearse
This is the best way to find the weaknesses of a presentation and to fix them. Practicing the story accompanying the slides helps you construct efficient sentences and to get a smooth flow. This is also a good way to identify when to incorporate a pause, what to point towards and to work on your posture and gesticulations. Be aware of your nervous ticks, for some of us, it could be speaking too fast, or pacing too much on the stage or using our hands in distracting ways.

6. Breathe
This may seem trivial, but it is important and it helps regulate your word flow and tones down stage anxiety.

7. Be present and involved
You have to give life to the presentation! Don’t just read or speak for yourself. One very important act is to look at your audience; you can choose to maintain eye contact with 4-5 people located in different parts of the room. Smiling is also a good way to come across as welcoming and interested. Modulate your voice so that it does not sound like a monotonous drone. If that doesn’t help, include a few jokes or funny pictures to wake up some of the sleepers!

Try these tips and tricks for your next presentation and your audience will erupt in applause!

Written by Isabelle Arnoux; Edited by Radhika Menon; Featured image NGC/Design.

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