Making presentations engaging for an audience can be a challenge. Richard Threlfall, Managing Editor, Asian Journal of Organic Chemistry, gives you some tips on how to design your slide show, step into the spotlight, and take questions.
Notes Vs Fluency
Many people make a list of notes or even write a full script for a talk and try to memorize it. However, think about the best presenters that you’ve seen, did you ever see them using notes? In all likelihood you won’t use any of your notes because the writing will be too small to read quickly enough when you’re speaking or you’ll forget your script because you’ll be excited, nervous, eager to finish, and probably all three at the same time. Even if you do remember to use your notes or script, reading out bits of text is likely to make the presentation sound rigid and uneasy. In most respects, extensive note writing for a presentation is a waste of time.
The secret to giving a good presentation is fluency, that is, a natural flow of words and ideas that is easy to follow. Talk to the audience as if you’re explaining your latest results to your boss or another slightly more senior colleague. This way you’ll use a slightly more formal tone than you would when talking to your co-workers, but will still seem approachable to the audience, which is good for encouraging them to ask questions later on.
Design your slides as visual cues for yourself when you’re talking. Have the two or three main things that you want to say about each of your slides in your head and don’t plan every word you want to say for every slide because it’s unlikely that you can remember a whole talk. You also can’t panic about forgetting your script if there isn’t one to forget!
If you lose your train of thought while talking, your simple design and clear, uncluttered layout will help you as much as the audience. It’s much easier to remind yourself of where you’re up to with a quick glance at your slide when it has only a few things on it than it is to read through lots of text or figures to work out what you want to say next.
Practice is, of course, another key element to a successful presentation, so find some kind co-workers who are willing to listen to a couple of practice talks and ask them to give their honest opinions at the end. Don’t let them leave the room without telling you at least one thing they didn’t like or that wasn’t clear, because friends tend to be too kind to each other. Also, don’t forget to return the favor when it comes to their presentations! Running through your complete talk two to three times should be sufficient for you to identify parts that you need to revise or reorganize so that the flow is smooth. Any more than that and you may find yourself becoming a bit robotic and just reciting parts that you’ve overpracticed.
Keep it natural and a bit spontaneous and you’ll breeze through without a note in sight!
- Next month: Presentation Tip: The Main Event – Stepping into the Spotlight (4)
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