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8 tips to give a great presentation

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How many scientific presentations have you heard that left a mark? A handful, probably? What do good presenters do that the others don’t?
I believe they create a compelling narrative, to  seduce their listeners and deliver effective messages. Here, I will enlist eight tips to improve your presentation skills to be able to do the same.

Structure your presentation: Present as if you’re a storyteller and frame the story in a logical way. Sometimes, sharing an outline of the presentation can help the audience to follow the flow of the presentation. Always start with an introduction to give some background about what is already known and emphasize the knowledge gap that your work fills. You have to explicitly state your research questions and hypotheses. If you use a lot of different techniques on various samples, it is advisable to describe them before showing the corresponding results. Enlisting the techniques earlier and showing the applications much later will only confuse your audience. The next step is the results section. Presenting your data in a chronological order is not mandatory and may not deliver the right messages in a timely manner. It is best to proceed coherently and work on the transitions. If you have a lot of data, an intermediate summary of your conclusions could be a good way to keep the audience engaged. The presentation should ideally end with a  recapitulation of your main findings and a clear take-home message. In some cases, such as lab progress reports, a discussion or perspective slides can be added. Remember to thank your supervisor(s), colleague(s) who contributed to the project, and funding sources.

Know your audience and cater to them: It is important to take into account who you are telling your story to and adapt the content accordingly. If it is for a very specialized congress, you can afford to include technical details, but, for a more general audience, it is best to avoid being too detailed. Similarly, if you work at the interface between two (or more) fields, you may need to explain concepts in varying degrees of detail, depending on  your audience.

Avoid jargon and abbreviations: No one likes to remember what an abbreviation stands for, especially if it is not a commonly used one. This distracts the audience and they may lose focus trying to recall what the abbreviation stood for.

The devil is in the details: Follow the cardinal rule, ‘if it appears on the slide, explain it’. This applies to pictures, movies, and graphs. For example, it is advisable to mention which proteins are shown by each colour. On a graph, briefly  explain what is plotted on the x and y axes.

Rehearse: This is the best way to find the weaknesses of the presentation and fix them. Practicing the story accompanying the slides helps find powerful sentences and get a smooth flow. This is also a good way to identify when to add a pause, what to point out, and to work on your posture and body language.

Breathe: Paying attention to regulate your breathing will help counter stage jitters and modulate the word flow.

Be present: Breathe life into the presentation! Don’t just read out the slides or speak for yourself. Look at your audience; try to maintain eye-contact with at least 4-5 people located in different parts of the room. A smile doesn’t hurt either! Try not to gesticulate too much or make any quick or repetitive movements that might distract the audience.  

Enjoy the process: Last, but not least, enjoy your storytelling: this is your chance to communicate the exciting research you’ve done!

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

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