How to present a memorable flash talk in 12 easy steps

Flash talks are a great way to give an introduction to your work, and whet people’s appetite for your research.

Generally flash talks last for 1 to 2 minutes, and presenters are normally allowed one simple PowerPoint slide or, in the case of virtual events, a 1 – 2 minute pre-recorded video. But is it really possible to present something really memorable within such limitations?

Here are some things to take into account when preparing your flash talk to make sure the audience remembers you, and contacts you after the session to find out more. Because that’s the goal, right?

1. Keep it brief

You should definitely start by giving a very brief introduction that makes people understand why your work is interesting, and ends by saying how people can contact you afterwards. Of course you can say where you’re from and your affiliation, but the critical thing is to attract to people’s attention.

2. Cover the basics

Answer the following questions:

  • Why is it interesting?
  • What is it about?
  • How did you do it?
  • With whom did you carry out the work?

3. Connect with the audience

For live events be sure to always look at the audience – don’t lose eye contact. Keep scanning the room for the duration of your talk, and definitely do not turn your back to them. In the case of a pre-recorded video, treat your camera like an audience and talk directly to it.

 4. Leave the audience asking for more

Try to build up the anticipation and attention of the people who are listening and watching– put out something you’ve investigated but don’t tell them the whole story. You want to leave them hanging and intrigued enough to want to find out more.

5. Be dynamic

Your flash talk is going to be short so your audience will generally be paying attention to you. Build up to something where you clearly emphasise one or two points. These are the sort of things that are going to bring their attention to the most important parts. Be enthusiastic – if you show that you’re really into your science people will come along and want to know more.

6. Don’t be afraid to use visual tools

If it’s relevant, there is no problem with using props in your flash talk. Alternatively, make your talk visually memorable by using dynamic diagrams, graphics and images. Videos will normally not be possible for live flash talks, so don’t rely on these.

7. Avoid special effects

It is possible to make something visually memorable without going overboard on big special effects such as PowerPoint animations. If your science is good it doesn’t need any fireworks.

8. Do the unexpected

If it fits with your character, you can try to make people laugh. Doing something that the audience is not expecting can be very effective. We’ve seen everything from interpretive dance to a guitar-accompanied talk – anything is possible! Just make sure it matches to who you are so that it appears natural.

9. Include your poster number

Definitely, definitely, definitely include your poster number during your flash talk! It will make it much easier for people to come and find you later on at the poster session.

10. Be a slide minimalist

As already mentioned, diagrams, graphs and images are great when you have only 1 or 2 slides at your disposal. Make sure though that there is a minimum of information on your slides to try to bring people into the main message – focus on the thing that you want them to remember.

11. Practise!

Like all talks, you need to practise beforehand! Even if you want to bring across that you’re relaxed and everything is quite informal there is no way around it – you’ve got to practise to be prepared.

12. Stick to the time limit

With a flash talk this is so important – the time limitations are extremely strict, and you will be moved off the stage when your time is up, or your video won’t be uploaded to a virtual event platform. So make sure you have condensed everything into the time provided, and don’t go over or you may be stopped mid-sentence!

Check out these examples of great flash talk slides!
Single-slide flash talk by Fariha Akter
Multi-slide flash talk by Pablo Gonzalez-Suarez

Original video with Dr. Cornelius Gross, EMBL Rome, and Dr. Francesca Peri, University of Zurich

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How to visualise biological data

Isn’t it always the way? You have amazing results, but you can see your colleagues’ eyes glaze over when you try to explain it to them. Why not try to present your data in a visually appealing way, and make sure all eyes are on your work? 

 1.     Make the data speak for itself

When you start to think about visualising your data, try to make them as standalone as possible. If you are presenting the work – for example, on a poster at a conference – make sure the visualisation is clear and comprehensible, so that people can grasp the concept without you needing to stand there and explain it.  

2.     Ain’t nobody got time for that!

One thing you have to realise – people want information, and they want it fast! They’re not going to read the captions, they’re not going to read all the beautiful text you’ve written, so the more you can put directly on the visualisation to help people understand it, the better.

3.     Drama, darling!

When you start talking about creating illustrations for more broad communication other factors come into play – use dramatic elements, make it eye-catching, appeal to human emotion, make it relatable and appealing, or possibly even controversial! It needs to stir emotions!

4.     Determine your target audience

Obviously if you’re going to publish in a scientific journal it’s really important to be accurate, because you’re trying to communicate with peers who have a similar level of knowledge to you. If you’re on the front page of the New York Times it’s probably more important to engage people and get people interested.

5.     Understand the concept

If you’re looking at complex multivariable relationship start by looking at the individual variables, and make sure that you understand what’s going on at a low level before you try and do something more complex.

6.     Don’t skip the planning phase

Decide on the concept. Sketch your plan. Draw a storyboard. Record narration if required. Once these processes are done you can move onto the design, and then we go into the design, modelling and animation process – depending on which medium you’ve chosen for your visualisation.

7.     Find patterns
By visualising biological data, scientists can see patterns. Find these patterns and make them stand out, and in doing so you’ll be able to better communicate your ideas to others and get them excited about your science.

8.     Filter, map and render
There are 3 main steps to getting your work visualised:

  • First you filter the data to find exactly what you need
  • Then you map – this might be working out how the data corresponds to the spatial layout of the visualisation
  • Then it’s time to render – this is how you then encode the change or the signal on that map you have created.

9.     Keep it simple
Don’t try to put too much information in. Think about what needs to be removed to keep the message as concise and impactful as possible. It’s more important to get people excited about what you’re trying to show them than to convey every last detail 100% correctly.

10.  Determine your software
There are a number of tools out there that you can use to look at different types of data. Having visualisations that are done in Keynote or PowerPoint can be just as good as long as you know they’re useful.

Graphics programs such as the Adobe Illustrator Suite enable us to create a wide range of things. An excellent tool for scientists to create visualisations is a software program called R. It’s a programming language and an environment for interactive data science and data


 Get inspired!

Check out these pages for great visualisation!

https://vizbi.org/Posters/
https://beatascienceart.com/

 

Original video with Janet Iwasa, Hadley Wickham, Seán O’Donoghue and James Proctor

 

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8 tips for preparing a digital poster that stands out from the crowd

Virtual meetings are rapidly gaining popularity, due largely to the necessity of continuing knowledge exchange during the social isolation brought on by the Corona pandemic.

Even before the pandemic, EMBL´s Course and Conference Office was already exploring options to improve our services and the event experience on-site, including the option of digital poster presentations.

Our software provider iPosterSessions comes with easy to use WYSIWYG templates. Users can display high-resolution images, videos & animations, and the content can be updated at any time right throughout the conference – allowing poster presenters to present their research digitally and dynamically.

If you are presenting a digital poster at an upcoming (virtual!) meeting, here are eight tips to help you on your way:

  1. Download the official template from the software provider

Most digital software providers have an official template that you can download – use it! This will reduce the risk of glitches, resolution problems and sizing issues in the final product, and you know from the outset what you have to work with.

  1. Check out the tutorials

No two digital poster tools are the same, so take the time to browse through the online tips and tutorials to make sure you are comfortable with the software before starting. It will save you a lot of frustration in the long run!

  1. Make your design eye-catching – it should stand out from the crowd

This is the same principle as creating a printed scientific poster – there are so many of them, so make sure yours stands out! It should be eye-catching and visually appealing. Include clear data representations, and make sure the text is to the point. It should grab attention but not explain every little thing about your results – that’s your job during the discussion.

  1. Use media – images, sounds, video. Check that they work and display properly

Graphics and media can express details more quickly and memorably than paragraphs of text, so have a think about how you can present your work in this way and put some time into it. Be sure to check that the media files work with the software, and test every file to make sure they display or play properly.

  1. Link to external resources

Digital posters differ from printed posters in that you can generally link to other pages online – so if there is a great external paper or online source you want to link to in order to explain your point in more detail, do it! Your audience will be grateful to have further reading handed to them on a plate if they want to find out more after the poster session.

  1. Check your work

This should really be a no-brainer. Check your work is complete, correct and final before publishing your poster! Silly mistakes only show that you haven’t put as much time and effort into the work as you probably should have, so get someone else to go over your poster before you release it to the conference community.

  1. Practice your presentation

Yes, it’s a digital poster presentation, and no, you won’t be talking face-to-face with your audience as you normally would, but you still need to practice your presentation beforehand and know exactly what you want to say and how you want to say it. It may feel strange online, so try presenting the poster online with a colleague or your boss (e.g. with Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts) and get them to give you feedback and pointers.

  1. Stick to the publishing deadline

There are deadlines for a reason, so please stick to them! You don’t want to risk your poster being excluded from the poster presentation because of tardiness. Give yourself plenty of time in case of any issues that may arise with uploading or compatibility (this shouldn’t be an issue if you followed the template and guidelines, but sometimes computers have a mind of their own!).

So why not check out our list of upcoming virtual events to see where you can try out your digital poster presentation skills!

For general pointers about creating posters, see 10 tips to create a scientific poster people want to stop at.

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How to become a better scientific presenter

Presenting your work to your colleagues and peers is an integral part of being a scientist. However, sometimes presentation nerves can get the better of you. Never fear – you are not alone! 9 out of 10 people suffer from presentation nerves. If you’re in this majority, read on for some tips to help you become a better scientific presenter.

  1. Breathe

To overcome nerves, the best thing you can do is breathe. Breathe in to a slow count of 5, and then out to the same slow count of 6, and you will feel your pulse gentling, you’ll feel yourself getting calmer and the world will seem a better place.

  1. Pay attention to your audience

Don’t worry about yourself. If things go wrong – which they may do – just make it okay for the audience. As long as they’re sitting there thinking, ‘well that happened to me last Thursday’, you haven’t got a problem. If they’re sitting there worrying about you, then you do have a problem.

  1. Don’t be predictable

At the beginning of a presentation it’s best not to give your audience a boring and predictable introduction. If, for example, you get a set of results and you try and hit them with a whole bunch of data, they won’t remember it. If you tell them about the moment you got those results and how they thrilled or frustrated you, let them share your excitement or frustration. Then they’ll remember.

  1. Give them the shiny bits

Audiences are like magpies – they like shiny things. Any kind of bling is good. Those are the bits that get taken back to their nests. It doesn’t matter how good you are, if you bombard your audience with mountains of data and expect them to remember it, they won’t. Give them little shiny polished messages, stories, analogies, anecdotes, case histories, specific examples, powerful pictures – those are the shiny bits that will go back to their nests.

  1. Look forward

There are so many presenters who seem to think the audience wants to see the back of their head, or possibly their right ear because they’re pointing or talking to the screen behind them. Big mistake. You want to be talking to your audience. Look forward, make eye contact (or at least appear to do so) with all your audience (not the one smiling, nodding person in the front row)!

  1. You have a face – use it

If you smile, the audience can hear it. If you are surprised, your eyebrows go up and your voice goes up with it. If you’re in despair, everything sags and your voice goes down with it. Facial expressions and voice work as one, so use them to your advantage.

  1. Don’t over-practice

One of the biggest mistakes is over-practicing. If you’re writing a script and trying to stick to it slavishly, you put yourself in a kind of straightjacket. If you do use notes that’s fine – but be obvious about it – don’t pretend you’re not using them!

  1. Keep it simple

With an academic paper people can read it as many times as they like over as many cups of coffee as they need.  Over time they’ll get it. With a presentation you have to get them on the first pass – they have to understand it straight away. So keep it really, really simple, even to the point it might mildly offend you – it won’t offend them!

  1. Three bullets

If you must use bullet points, three is the magic number. Never use more than three per slide – we’re pre-programmed to remember things in threes. If you are doing bullet points keep them tight and really short. Better still give them bullets (see shiny bits above).

  1. Avoid using a pointer

If you need to use a pointer there’s something wrong with the slide – it’s too busy. You can pre-select what you want the audience to see – circle things, draw boxes around them, highlight them. If you’re waving your pointer around manically – which happens a lot of the time – the audience may or may not bother to look at where you’re pointing. If you tell them where to look, they’ll look there.

  1. Finish with a bang

If you can leave the audience with a big idea – something to take home – that’s a good thing, but please don’t tell them “this is your take-home message”. It makes your audience very grumpy and makes them determined to take home any message except the one you’ve told them to.

  1. Have fun

Above all, enjoy yourself. If you enjoy yourself, the audience will have enjoyed your talk.

Original video with Media and Presentation Trainer Ali Sargent, UK

 

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