Effective Scientific Presentations – How to Prepare Yourself

In a previous post on scientific presentations, I discussed some of the finer points of presentation slide design. Once your slides are complete, the hard part starts; going in front of an audience and delivering the presentation.  In this post, I’ll give some tips to help prepare yourself for the presentation.

Before Your Talk

“One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.” —Arthur Ashe

One of the biggest challenges in delivering your presentation is overcoming anxiety, but taking sufficient time to prepare and rehearse allows you to overcome this hurdle. Preparation also involves getting acquainted with Arthur Ashe speechyour audience, the location of the presentation, as well as the presentation technology and tools.

Know Your Audience

Audience composition, expectations on content, and the time allotted are intertwined in their importance. In preparing to give a presentation it is helpful understand whether your audience will be scientists or a general group. This will let you understand how technical you can be, or tell you whether you need to provide basic content or take a more creative approach to help a more general audience understand your presentation.

It may also be prudent to do a little research on possible audience members (if you have this information) to identify areas of common interest or potential questions.

More Time = Less Retention

Time allotted may also dictate the content. The more time you have the further extent to which you can explore your topic, but remember that the retention of information decreases as the talk proceeds, so make sure to emphasize the most important information early on. And with shorter talks, stick to only what is essential.

Setting Up

If at all possible, visit the location where you are scheduled to speak prior to the presentation. If you will be unable to do this, ask for information from your host. Look for potential issues with furniture that would block the line of sight for your audience.

Check to see if the lighting could be adjusted if needed. Also be aware of intrusive noises, for example I sat through a morning’s worth of presentations with a chandelier clattering overhead due to an air vent and found it pretty distracting. Also, if the room is large or you speak softly, request a microphone.

Check your Equipment

Technology has certainly made presentations easier; however it can also cause a presentation melt down. Here are some tips to prevent problems.

  1. Ensure compatibility. First, it is a good idea to ensure that the host computer software is compatible with your file format if you are not using your own computer.
  2. Does it look right? Make sure the fonts, bullet points, backgrounds, and colors are the same as you intended.
  3. Have a backup. Save the presentation to an alternate flash drive, cd, etc just in case. And it is a good idea to ensure your copy of presentation stays in your carry-on if you are traveling to ensure it reaches your destination with you. Or, e-mail yourself and the host a copy so you can access it readily. Depending on your degree of concern, you can print copies of the presentation for distribution in case of major electronic failure.
  4. Special requests. Be sure to ask for special equipment in advance if you need it. Waiting until the day of the talk means you may have to do without it. For example, I have a Mac laptop that requires a special cord to connect to most projectors.
  5. Test before you talk. Definitely make sure to familiarize yourself with the projector and be sure it is already warmed up and ready prior to the talk.

Dress for Success

I’ve heard that about 90% of your first impression is made from non-verbal cues. It may be even more that! That means your appearance matters. When selecting your presentation attire think of what you want your appearance to say about you.

List a few adjectives to describe you, your business, or your industry and judge your outfit against them. For example, if you chose words like creative and innovative make sure your overall look is up-to-date and unique. Think about accessories and choice of color to help accomplish this. Other presentation style tips include:

  • Stay one step ahead — The audience is likely filled with professionals, so dress professional. No one will ever fault you for dress one step up from what’s suggested.
  • Remove distractions — remove items from your pockets and dangling jewelry
  • Beware of the glare — If you wear glasses, it’s a good idea to have a non reflective coating so that you don’t lose eye contact with the audience
  • Comfortably cool — Be sure you can move comfortably in what you decide to wear. Dress in layers so you can add or subtract to adjust to the temperature of the room.
  • Styling — Keep hair well groomed and make-up simple with emphasis on the eyes.
  • Change to spare — Did I mention preparation is key? It’s always a good idea to have an outfit to spare, you never know when you might have a spill.

Figuratively Speaking

Your body language is also an important aspect of how you’ll be perceived. Do your best to avoid pacing and fidgeting during the presentation, again rehearsing helps. Moderate your movements. Gesturing prevents you from looking stiff but don’t over do it. And be sure to keep your gestures above the waist. Low gestures will only draw the audience attention down and away from your face. Penguins may be cute, but they aren’t the best at giving presentations.

Engage your audience by making visual contact, and not just with one individual. If there is a podium you do not have to stand behind it. Get closer to your audience or get a better perspective on the projection screen if possible.

In Part 3, we’ll finish with how to deliver an effective scientific presentation.

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