During your career you will likely be encouraged to give a presentation in front of either a group of co-workers, the public, or fellow scientists. It’s a great chance to demonstrate your expertise and develop your reputation as a scientist. It’s also helpful if you’re in sales.
I’ve done a number of presentations and there are a few things that would have helped me immensely with some talks if I knew them. These tips have been developed over time only because I have made the mistakes the tips are designed to prevent. Follow them and you will be on your way to giving the best presentation you can.
1. Slides should assist you not distract the audience.
If you start a slide by saying “I know this slide is an eye sore” or “I know you can’t read this…” Then it shouldn’t be a presentation slide. Slides like this are totally distracting and frustrating to the audience. If there is a point you are trying to make with the slide, make a slide that spells out the point. If it’s a graph of data, the text should spell out the conclusion. Don’t make your audience struggle to read your slides.
2. Have a clear structure. Otherwise you’ll confuse people or worse, bore them.
Starting with an Agenda or Objective slide will help prepare the audience to best receive your message. That way they can anticipate what you will be talking about and when you will be done. This is very useful to the vast majority of your audience. Telling them how many slides you have or how many minutes you will be talking is also a good idea. You don’t want to bore people.
3. Be aware of time. Hit breaks & finish on time!
It doesn’t matter how great your topic is or how entertaining you are, if there are breaks scheduled the audience will start looking at their watches & start wishing you were finished. Don’t ever go long unless the audience says they want you to.
4. Engage the audience with activities
Getting the audience to participate in the talk by posing a question or getting them to do some activity will better keep them engaged & make your talk more interesting. It’s hard to pay attention for more than half an hour. An audience participation break will make it easier for your audience to continue giving you their attention.
5. Be prepared for technological problems.
If you’re giving a talk anticipate all sorts of technological problems. You should have a plan in the event that the computer doesn’t work or your slides don’t show. What would you do? Bring your own computer! Have your slides on a thumb drive. Bring connection cables for the projector especially if you use an Apple computer. It’s also a good idea to have speakers & don’t rely on accessing the Internet. Even if a place tells you they have WIFI don’t count on it.
6. When people ask questions, repeat the question for the audience before answering.
At the end of the talk if there are questions but no microphone you should rephrase the question before you answer. That way everyone in the audience will be able to follow what you are saying in your answer. It will also help to ensure that you understood the question asked. There is little more frustrating than asking a question and getting the answer to something you weren’t asking.
7. Know your audience.
Each audience will have a different background and you should taylor your talk to that audience. For example, if you are from the US and are giving a talk in Canada or the EU about cosmetics try to avoid definitive statements about regulations or even labeling rules. Things that are true about the FDA regulation of cosmetics may not be true in other places around the world. Find out what the regulations are that affect your audience or avoid talking about the topic.
8. Be clear on why your presentation will be useful to the audience.
When you are giving a talk about cosmetic science or any other topic, your audience is there hoping to learn something that will be both interesting and useful to them. Make it clear in the beginning why your presentation will be useful to the people in the audience.
9. Avoid misspellings!
While not everyone in the audience will care about blatant misspellings there is no doubt that there will be a number of grammar nazis present. There is nothing that makes you look less credible than slides with misspellings on them. It’s not hard to fix so just don’t have any.
Well, there you have it. 9 tips about giving scientific presentations that occurred to while watching scientific presentations. Keep these in mind the next time you give a talk and hopefully your audience will pay more attention to you and spend less time answering emails, checking their phones, or brainstorming ideas for blog posts.
And for more on creating your talk see this series we did on giving a science presentation.