Anne and I attended Eradicate Cancer 2018 in Melbourne and the ThymOZ conference in Heron island a while ago to present our work and more importantly see other people’s latest research progress and innovations. Really interesting stuff being presented, but this all got me thinking about how important presentation skills are in our field.
We had the chance to hear the minister of health give a speech and what I noticed was how comfortable he was at the podium and how he delivered a talk of 20 minutes without a script or hesitation. It was a casual conversation as well, which improved my “quality time” spend listening. While he had no slides to show he was able to convey his message clearly and engage his audience. In a similar manner, some of the speakers had the same influence only this time showing data on slides. I thought I put up some good pointers on at least how to structure your slides and how to improve your presentation skills.
Be on time. There, that wasn’t so hard. There is nothing worse than having a speaker go over time. It is easy to be carried away by your data but you have to remember that you are there to inform not discuss every detail of your experiments. Reviewers in your paper will do that job. You want to spend about a minute on each slide so if you have 20 minutes scheduled that means you are given 15 minutes to talk and 5 minutes to answer questions. You are NOT given 20 minutes to talk. Going over time is disrespectful to the audience and the rest of the speakers. People want to ask questions but if you talk too long you are depriving them of the opportunity.
Going by the 1-minute guide as an example, if you have a 20-minute slot then you make 15 slides. This includes the title slide and the acknowledgement slide.
Amount of data
Fill up the slide. Don’t crowd it, rather try to avoid too much background space and stick to the data that is important. Make it neat as powerpoint is very good at handling multiple data on one slide. You can have your data appear while other pieces of data disappear. Don’t over-animate as it can become distracting. Simple transitions are best and people can focus on your words rather than the slide. Always be on the lookout for simplifying your slide. Could you use an image rather than words? Does this one graph suffice to make my point or do I need two?
Words (in the slide)
If you are putting text in your slides make it in bullet point format and rephrase the text as you show each point. If you quote someone you have to read the phrase. If the audience has to read a long text they won’t be listening to you.
You want a structure in your presentation. There is a beginning, a middle and an end. You need to tell your audience why you did what you did, how you did it and what the conclusion was. My favourite is: “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you just told them”.
Think about your audience. Are they experts in your field or rather a mixture of different backgrounds? If the former, your introductory slides can be less as they will know what you are talking about in the first place. If the latter, then you might need to spend more time on your introduction to make them understand the background of your work. The same for abbreviations that might be common in your field but unknown to others.
Be confident, this is your data, your expertise, and people won’t know every detail of the troubleshooting you did to reach that conclusion or the reasons behind your methodology. They will ask questions because they are curious. That is a good thing.
Try and practice as much as possible beforehand. Steady your pace of delivery so that you can meet your timeframe. For each slide, you need to be sure that the important points are communicated clearly. Make a mental checklist of what is the one thing you need to say before moving to the next slide.
Think about talks you enjoyed. Talks that engaged you and the language the speaker used. Think about incorporating some of these techniques into your presentation. You will eventually develop your own style but at the beginning, you need guidance.
If all else fails… stay on time!