Are You Making the Best Presentation You Can?

During the course of our education and chemist careers, we as scientists are often asked to present information to our cosmetic science minded peers and other colleagues. A well-formed presentation can be a very powerful tool, though it can often be difficult to present data in a compelling manner and presentation slides are often misused. But by taking time to carefully prepare and design your presentation slides you can create an effective presentation.

Getting Started

Let’s start with defining what is a presentation and what is not. The true purpose of a slide presentation is to reinforce content visually but the focus should be on the presenter. This approach requires substantial effort to prepare but engaging your audience so they take away the right message is well worth the effort. It is not a document for your audience to read and nor is it a teleprompter from which you read.

To start you must have a clear vision of your goal for the presentation. You must also understand your audience needs and align your communication strategy with these needs. In addition to understanding demographic information, ask questions like:

* Why are they here?
* Is there a problem that you can solve for them?
* What do you want them to do after your presentation?
* How might the resist the message?

And, most importantly, you will need time to prepare a truly compelling presentation. 36-90 hrs is a good estimate for a presentation with 30 slides. The largest portions of your time should be spent on research and slide design, but ideation, collaboration & review with colleagues, and practice also need to be part of the process.

Data Slides

Carly Fiorina once said, “Our goal now is to then transform data into information and information into insight”. Data slides are not just about numbers and graphs, but the conclusion derived from those numbers and charts.

Have you ever watched a presenter explain a data slide over the course of several minutes and you could still not understand the meaning of the slide? Your audience cannot pull up the data for close inspection so slides are not always a good format for extremely complex data. When this is the case, print it out and distribute, I cannot stress this enough…

if your information is overwhelming the slide create a separate document.

5 rules for presenting data

1. Tell the truth and maintain credibility. Trying to hide or distort conflicting or unfavorable data will ultimately lead to problems later.

2. Get to the point by articulating the conclusions you want your audience to adopt.

3. Select right tool for graphical format. Experiment with different chart types to see which clearly illustrates the point. e.g. pie charts are good for large differences in proportion, but more than 8 slices is not as effective.

4. Highlight the important information by keeping the background neutral and choosing a contrasting color for the data of interest.

5. Keep it simple, clutter and animation can be distracting.

Using Principles of Design

What is design? Design often requires a designer to consider the aesthetic, functional, and other aspects of an object or a process. This requires considerable research, thought, modeling, interactive adjustment, and re-design. Design at its core is about solving problems.

In the words of Karim Rashid, “Designers don’t look at challenges as problems but as opportunities.” By utilizing design principles, we, like designers can make each experience beautiful and memorable.

Effective Design

And effective slide design hinges on the combination of three things

* Arrangement
* Movement
* Visual elements.

Let’s breakdown these components.

Arrangement consists of 6 factors

1. Flow. The flow guides the audience in the order in which you want them to perceive information.

2. Hierarchy. Top to bottom, small to large. This allows you to define a relationship between elements.

3. Unity. Unity can be a grid, graphical style or theme that keeps your slides consistent.

4. Proximity. Proximity shows meaning, objects close together belong together and those separated by large distance can be seen as dissimilar. Lining items up or disordering them also conveys relationship.

5. Whitespace. Whitespace does not necessarily mean white, but open space. Open space is is a good thing, its giving visual breathing room. Clutter is a failure of good design.

6. Contrast. Contrast helps you identify things quickly. Using differences in color, shape, location help the audience quickly identify important points.


When considering the addition of movement and animation to your presentation, I recommend that you use it with caution. It can be more distracting that useful in most cases. However, custom animations may be useful. I once used an animation to demonstrate how the process of molecular imprinting in polymers.

Visual elements

The visual elements of your presentation are the background, color, text and images. The background is you slide master. It’s best to keep it simple, and you do not need to use existing templates. Your choice of a color scheme could be considerate of your industry or perhaps your company. The choice of color can also reflect personality in appropriate settings.

Fonts have personality, but chose those with clean lines. The size of your font is also very important, view your presentation at 66% to be sure that it is easily visible even to those at the back of the room. Ideally you do not have so many words on one slide that they are extremely tiny.

And finally let’s consider images. Photographic images can be very powerful in conveying concepts. Keep in mind the rule of thirds when selecting images; good photographers rely heavily on this rule. The composition is more appealing when the element of interest is not directly in the center. Divide your image into a three by three grid and move the point of interest into one of the thirds.

The Home Stretch

Once you are finished preparing slides, take some time away from the presentation. After all you have been focused on the same thing for days (at least I hope you have been). Review your presentation and look for instances where you can replace words with an image.

If you find you have trouble reducing the content, consider that a slide presentation is not the right format and elect to hold a meeting or write a report. Don’t forget to ask a colleague or friend to review, a fresh set of eyes will help.

Also, be sure to practice your presentation. You can record yourself giving the presentation to feel more comfortable with the delivery. Repeat these steps, continuing to refine your slides until you are satisfied they clearly convey your message. By the end of this process you will have a powerful and effective presentation.

Next, see part 2 for how to prepare yourself for an effective scientific presentation.

Kelly Dobos is currently a research scientist at Kao Brands. You can follow this ‘coolest cosmetic chemist‘ on Twitter.

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