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

 

Follow us:

15 tips for giving a good scientific talk

Are you giving a presentation at an upcoming conference, but not sure where to begin? Read on to learn our top 15 tips to help get you on your way, and ensure your next scientific talk is smooth, interesting and a huge success!

Preparing your talk

  1. You are the expert

Remember that you know way more about your subject than anyone else. Be confident!

  1. Never assume knowledge of the audience

Always pitch your talk at a level where you are sure that everyone will understand, whether they’re an expert or not.

  1. Practice!

Prepare your talk well in advance, run through it multiple times and if possible present it to people who know nothing at all about what you work on because they’re the audience you’re trying to capture.

  1. Design is everything

Keep your slides as simple and as clean as possible. Only use animations if they are really needed to accentuate the point that you’re making.

  1. Stick to the allotted time

Generally calculate 1 minute per slide. If you’re giving a 10 minute talk, more than 10 slides is almost certainly too long.

  1. Minimise stress before you give your talk

Get your slides to the AV technicians well in advance of your session, make sure that they are projecting.

  1. Familiarise yourself with the equipment beforehand

Take time to go to the podium, check what button you need to press to change the slides, and what you need to do to use the laser pointer.

During your talk

  1. Eye contact, eye contact, eye contact!

No one wants to look at the back of your head or watch you reading the slide.

  1. Use your laser pointer sparingly

Just point out critical pieces of data to illustrate the point that you’re making.

  1. Stay calm

If something’s not working, first just try to calmly do it again and then if you need help, subtly indicate this to the AV technicians.

  1. Be aware of your audience

Look around during your talk, and you’ll be able to tell whether people are with you or not. Don’t be afraid to adapt!

  1. Project excitement!

Don’t be afraid to get wound up in the data. The more passion and the more information that you give, the more likely people are to remember your talk at the end of the day.

  1. Be memorable

Don’t worry if people remember you as the crazy person who waved their arms around! That’s fine as long as you’re communicating your science in a way that everyone can understand put every bit of passion and interest in it that you can.

  1. Take your time to answer questions

When answering questions after your talk, make sure you let the questioner finish their question before you answer. Think about what question they’re actually asking, and answer the question directly.

  1. Be aware of timing

When the sign comes that you need to start wrapping up, don’t go through all of the remaining slides at breakneck speed, but start wrapping up before you’re forced off the stage. Be prepared to skip a few slides to get to the end.

Original video with Julian Rayner from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, UK, in collaboration with EMBL.

Follow us: