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.
As with posters, there are two parts to an oral presentation: you and your slides. If you’re going to be talking to an audience for what could be up to 45 minutes, you can’t afford to have your audience drifting off to sleep within the first five minutes. Therefore, the way you present your content can be almost as important as the content itself.
A practical point first: Back up your talk in as many ways as you can think of before you arrive at the venue. Bring it on a USB stick, save it in an internet-accessible email account, save it on your phone, whatever, but make sure you have access to it from several sources just in case the worst happens and for some reason one version of your talk doesn’t work.
Dress professionally but comfortably so that you’re not distracted by a piece of clothing when you’re talking. Start with a confident introduction of your name, where you come from, and what you’re going to talk about so that people can connect your face, your institution, and your work. Do this even if you’ve been introduced officially by the chairperson of the session, and you can even just use your first name to make the connection with the audience a bit more personal. Some people and cultures, however, don’t generally use first names in professional situations, so bear this in mind when deciding whether to use your first name or not.
The number one thing to avoid in a presentation is reading everything from your slides with your back to the audience. This is an instant atmosphere killer! People do not need to have slides read to them because they can read what’s there themselves. The occasional glance at your slides as a reminder of where you’re up to is fine, but what the audience is interested in is the story behind the slides and the insights you can offer them into the data on the screen. If you read from the slides, your voice is likely to become monotonous, the story will sound rigid and uninteresting, and you’ll lose the attention of the audience very quickly, so make sure that you look around your audience when you’re speaking and address the whole room.
Keep to your allotted time and don’t be afraid to show some enthusiasm when you talk. One of the purposes of a presentation is to advertise your work, so if you don’t seem excited, why should the audience be? Take the audience on a journey of your story including all the ups and downs that you’ve experienced along the way. People are much more likely to connect with a person who shares their experiences of what they’ve achieved than someone who gives a robotic-sounding report of numbers and graphs.
Finally, thank the audience, chairperson, and organizing committee as appropriate for the chance to present your work, then sit back down in your chair, listen to the excited chatter among the audience, and enjoy the buzz that you’ve generated.
- Next month: Tips for Your Presentation: Taking Questions (5)
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