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:

How can conference exhibitors and sponsors help your research?

Matthias with several participants from the EMBL Conference: Transcription and Chromatin 2018. From left to right: Adam Whisnant (University of Würzburg), Melvin Jesus Noe Gonzalez (Francis Crick Institute), Matthias Spiller-Becker (Active Motif Europe), Gabriel Villamil (Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry). PHOTO: EMBL Events

Meet Matthias Spiller-Becker, Key Account Manager at Active Motif Europe. Matthias acquired his PhD degree in Biology at the Centre for Molecular Biology Heidelberg (ZMBH) where he focused on chromatin and the regulation of the centromere in Drosophila. Now in his 7th year at the company, Matthias is one of the most familiar faces at our conferences on transcription, chromatin and epigenetics – always friendly and welcoming. The popularity of the Active Motif booth at these events has not gone unnoticed, so we asked him what the secret to this success is and what tips he can give to conference attendees when approaching exhibitors.

How many events does your company exhibit at annually? 

In general we participate in about 50+ conferences and meetings/workshops each year, globally. But it’s not only the big and medium-sized conferences that are important to us. We often try to be present at more intimate, local events. Sometimes we sponsor chromatin clubs where only a couple of students and postdocs come together to share their latest research. And we also do a lot of tech talks where we discuss cutting-edge techniques to study gene regulation.

In the era of digital advertising, why do you still choose to be physically present at conferences?

Talking to people face to face changes EVERYTHING!

I think that’s a statement of holistic truth in life! You don’t trust companies in the first place – you trust people. You don’t buy your antibodies or reagents from companies. You buy from people!

And even more: you don’t give away your scientific baby (aka outsourcing your project) to strangers – you give it to people you know and trust. Sure, it happens a lot that folks in the lab search an assay on the web and inform themselves about alternatives on the market before making their “informed” decision, but that is often not the end of the story. It turns out that students and postdocs mostly need to get in touch with us at some point during the experimental process to further discuss their project. And surprisingly often, this first interaction happens at conferences as in “hey, are you working for Active Motif…I think we used your antibody. Can I ask you something?…”. Moreover, being physically present at the conferences is the only way to stay current with cutting-edge research. We discuss with people at their posters and also join the conference sessions in order to see the latest and future trends in chromatin and gene regulation research.

Apart from presenting their newest technology and developments, what else can exhibitors offer participants?

Networking, distraction, fun, and a “Staun-Anlass” (hard to translate that word but probably a reason to positively wonder nails it). Basically, you want to be the red bean in a jar full of green beans. You want to be distinct and recognised among others, leaving a positive impression that lasts.

During my PhD, I always liked companies that didn’t come around too stiff at conferences, but were more approachable”. As a student it takes courage to cross the invisible boarder at a company booth – you don’t want to end up in the web of the sales spider. You are afraid that the company representative might talk you into buying something you never really wanted.

I know this feeling personally – so I try to avoid that when talking to people. My daily goal (whether at a conference or elsewhere) is to be able to help people a bit further. Having a chat at the conference booth can do many things. For example, you may learn that the problem you are discussing with the exhibiting company is indeed a bigger one that’s not to be solved easily. That’s great information! You may also hear that your problem is actually easy to address and solve – even better! You may get info about peers in the same boat as you => networking!

And last but not least, you may simply want to use the chance of talking to people in industry to get an idea about their journey in life & science => career chat!

I try to offer all the above to the people that get in touch with me during a conference!

The Active Motif booth at the EMBO|EMBL Symposium: Metabolism Meets Epigenetics (2019). PHOTO: EMBL Events
What tips can you give participants on how to approach exhibitors?

DON’T BE SHY! Just go and talk to them.

Of course, you need to choose your battles. Often it helps to orient yourself first. Do you already know the company? Is there an overlap between your research and them? If not, just read their banners and roll-ups. Sounds trivial but many people don’t do that. A company would hopefully try to have the most prominent and distinct features of their capabilities written or otherwise sketched out on their banners. If you don’t find any overlap there, I would not necessarily approach them.

But beware: company roll-ups can be like lab websites. Some truths are stated, and some are hidden, so even if your fancy new technique is not mentioned there, as long as the company topic seems to fit your science, go check them out.

If you just want a pen or some chocolate but otherwise, they don’t interest you – simply tell them upfront. You will still get your sweets but honestly, how many pens does a single person need?! 🙂

Can you give an example of a mutually beneficial collaboration that has arisen at your booth through your presence at a conference as an exhibitor?

There are so many examples. It frequently happens that conference participants approach me and tell me that they have an issue with a given technique, mostly Chromatin IP. It turns out that talking them through the experiment step by step often yields at least one weak spot in the setup.

A classic is that people often use the same amount of antibody for ChIP, independent of the varying targets and the respective antibody clones they may use. This is (like many protocol-related “facts” in the life sciences) a dogmatic – or nearly a religious – topic. People can be determined to use “always 2 µg of antibody”. Then you ask them “but did it work when using 2 µg?” and they may need to admit that “no, it didn’t”.

This is a good example that talking with a person outside your own lab can help you to critically re-consider an established protocol, and see things from a new angle.

Another example is that some projects can truly benefit from outsourcing parts of it. Everybody does it in academia but they mostly call it a “collaboration”.

You can take it a step further and outsource parts of your work to a company that offers paid scientific services. This “commercial relationship” can truly boost creativity and assay development. A company that does ChIP-Seq as a paid research service for years will always see more model organisms, more common and uncommon obstacles and more antibody targets than any other lab working only on their own project.

What approach do you use to get into contact with participants?

“It’s just me, myself and I” LOL…

No, it’s not 100 % like that but mostly…you need to simply engage the people!

I try to see every interaction with a person as the most important one in my life at that specific moment. I tend to call that my “Dalai Lama approach”.

How else can you do it!? At Active Motif, we often use our chromatin-related T-shirts to break the invisible barrier between conference audience and the booth. People usually like nerdy science shirts and ours are no exception to that rule. I mostly play a game where people can win the shirts or at least have some distraction from the packed conference program. Often, I implement a little quiz session: people need to give me one or two lines about their research and I create a question around it. If they can answer it, they can play the game to win a shirt. This shows them that we belong to the chromatin community and they often feel more encouraged to talk about a given experiment or planned project.

Is there anything you always wanted to try out at a conference but didn’t do yet?

YES! In a perfect world, I would want to sit in a tweed jacket in my very British armchair, a boiling tea kettle next to me…people can sit down in my little chromatin tea room called “The Nucleosome” and have a relaxed chat around gene regulation and epigenetics with me, or do some networking with others.


Follow us:

14 tips for a smooth conference experience

The date of your first EMBL conference in Heidelberg is fast approaching. You are excited, have already bookmarked interesting abstracts in the conference app and are ready to make your travel arrangements. Here are 14 tips that will help you stay out of trouble and focus on the science.

1. Don’t try to book a flight to Heidelberg

Although it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Germany, Heidelberg does not have an airport. The closest airports are Frankfurt International Airport, Stuttgart Airport and Airport Karlsruhe/Baden-Baden. More information on how to reach Heidelberg is available here.

2. Make sure you read the final logistical email (FLE) we send you

The information provided in this email is vital for your travel plans and conference schedule and will be your bible for the days you spend at the conference. It provides important attachments such as the programme, the onsite handout and the poster listing.

3. Try not to miss the shuttle bus

The EMBL campus is located on a hill outside of Heidelberg which makes it a beautiful and inspiring place to visit, away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Heidelberg. However, it also makes it more difficult to reach by public transport. Although efforts have been made to improve the public transport connection to the campus, there is still the need of conference shuttle busses that operate on a strict schedule (included in the FLE). So if you miss the shuttle bus, your only way up the hill may be by taxi. Please note that there are no UBER services in Heidelberg.

Our team has prepared an onsite handout with pictures of all bus stops so that you don’t miss the bus because you don’t know where the correct stop is. This information is provided in the FLE.

4. Get the app instead of the abstract book

When you register online, you will be asked if you would like to receive a printed copy of the abstract book. If you click yes, you will get your copy onsite, but make sure that you don’t lose it as this is the only copy you will get. Many participants diligently take notes in the abstract book during the sessions, only to go home one day realising they have lost their copy.

One way to avoid that is by using the app instead. It includes everything contained in the printed abstract book and more, and it also allows you to review the abstracts ahead of the conference and offers the option to export your notes directly to your email.

5. Share your dietary requirements

The EMBL canteen makes a special effort to cater to everyone’s needs by providing fresh food every day and appropriate substitutes for participants on vegetarian, vegan, lactose-free or gluten-free diets. In our registration system you have the option to indicate your preferences, but should you have special requirements based on food allergies or intolerances, please do not hesitate to reach out to us, so we can ensure you are well fed.

6. Send your flash talk slides well in advance

If you are presenting a flash talk, make sure to send us your slides well in advance to make sure they are looped on the screen in time. You will have only 2 minutes to present your poster in the flash talk, so you don’t want to waste any second with technical difficulties.

For some more tips on how to give a flash talk, watch this video.

7. Avoid asking for a certificate of participation during the registration

As much as we’d like to help you out, registration is not the best time to ask for a certificate of participation. These are normally sent out after the end of the event via email.

8. Hold on to your badge

Your badge is your access card to the conference venue and your coupon for the lunch and dinner buffets, so make sure you don’t lose it or leave it in your hotel room.

9. No cash policy on the EMBL Campus

If you arrive on campus outside of the conference times and you would like to get something to eat or drink, it might not be possible. EMBL has a no cash policy on its campus and the only way to purchase something from the cafeteria or canteen is via a special guest credit card. Therefore, it would be a good idea to grab something to eat on your way to the campus, especially for breakfast as we normally only have coffee available in the mornings.

10. Do not ask us for medicine

As much as we would like to help you with your headache or cold symptoms, we are not authorised to hand out any medicine. However, we have a list of pharmacies that are close to the conference venue which we are happy to share with you.

11. When you sign up for a social event, show up!

Most conference social events like dinners, lunches, parties take place in the EMBL Advanced Training Centre (ATC) and are open to all conference participants without prior registration. In the case that there are organised social events taking place outside of the conference venue such as tours or downtown dinners, these are usually restricted to a limited number of participants, and prior registration is necessary.

All the logistics are meticulously coordinated with the service providers and very often there are waiting lists for these events, so if you are unable to attend, please inform us, so that we can give your spot to someone who can.

12. Stay on the paths in the woods

The EMBL Heidelberg Campus is surrounded by a beautiful forest which offers a great opportunity for lunch-time walks or runs. However, before you set on exploring the woods, please familiarise yourself with the paths so that you easily find your way back. In the app you will find 4 different walking routes of various lengths.

13. Take down your poster on the last day

You have put in so much work in your poster that it is a shame to leave it with us. Make sure you take it down on the last day of the event as you may end up needing it for another conference.

14. Stay away from red push buttons on the emergency exit doors

Not all exit doors in the ATC Foyer may be opened. Look out for a silver button with a key on it to open the door without activating the emergency exit alarm.

Follow us:

10 ways to get your scientific course application accepted

 

Rejection.

We have all experienced it in one way or another. Scientists perhaps more than others – rejected papers, job applications, fellowships, grants or training applications. But what can we do when it happens again and again and again?

In the EMBL Course and Conference Office we see it all – our scientific courses are way oversubscribed, and competition is tough! We’ve taken a look at the most common mistakes that will lead to your application being rejected. These 10 tips will help you to be among the minority of successful course applicants, and while we can’t promise that every application you submit will be accepted, following these tips will ensure that you stay towards the top of the pile!

  1. Apply on time!

It sounds simple, but we have so many requests from late applicants to submit after the deadline. Newsflash – you won’t be considered! The application deadlines are part of a well-planned process, and we stick to it. So plan in advance and don’t leave things until the last minute!

  1. Complete ALL questions directly and clearly

Again – sounds simple, right? It’s amazing how many applicants think some questions are optional. Organisers have to select participants from a highly qualified pool of applicants, and if they have no comparison, you will be put straight on the “no” pile.

  1. Submit all requested documentation

Take the time to collate all requested documentation before submitting your application. If you make it past the first round, these will be vital in securing your spot in the final selection.

  1. Read the guidelines…and follow them!

Generally course guidelines will be provided. Take the time to read through them and make sure you follow them – they are there for a reason!

  1. Be sure that it is the right course for you

Make sure the course WILL actually be of benefit to you. Check that you have the required pre-requisites, and that the learning outcomes are the same as your learning desires.

  1. The motivation LETTER – not the motivation THESIS

Most likely you will be provided with a word limit. Stick to it. If you don’t have a word limit, don’t take this to mean you can write a thesis. The scientific organisers have a lot of applications to go through and limited time to do it. Yours needs to catch their eye from the onset, so make sure the important stuff stands out! 

  1. The motivation letter – the important stuff!

This is perhaps the most important part of your course application, so take it seriously! There is a lot of competition, so show that you have put some effort into it. Things that you should definitely include:

  • Why would you like to attend?
  • What do you expect to learn?
  • How will you benefit from what you learn?
  • How and when will you use the skills learned on the course?
  • A brief description of your current research and future plans
  • Any relevant skills, experience and qualifications
  • Your scientific career and training
  • Relevance in the lab – is the knowledge lacking and can you pass it on?
  1. Show academic curiosity

Make it clear that you have done your research and are actually interested in the topic. If it is clear that you are only applying for the course because your PI told you to, chances that you’ll be considered are slim.

  1. Make sure you can spare the time and, if necessary, get a visa on time

If you have other commitments or think it won’t be possible to get a visa on time to enter the country where the course is taking place, please reconsider and apply for a course taking place at a later date. Otherwise you will take the spot of someone else who would be able to attend.

  1. Show your application to your supervisor

Ask your supervisor to check over your application before submitting. They will have much more experience in submitting successful applications and can give you advice on what to change and adapt to increase your chances of getting accepted.

 

So it’s over to you now! And if you’re not sure where to start looking for your next scientific training course, take a look at our upcoming events under www.embl.org/events.

Check out our video for some more tips on successfully applying for practical courses!

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: