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 somehow to who you are so that it appears natural.

9. Include your poster number

At onsite conferences 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 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!

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

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10 tips for presenting at virtual events

By guest bloggers and EMBL AV experts Christopher Höhmann and Jan Abda

Virtual events are on the rise, largely due to the necessity to adapt to the physical distancing enforcements and travel restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

EMBL is continuing to offer advanced training for the scientific community as safely as we can, with many events pivoting to virtual. With speakers spread all over the world with different internet connection speeds, technical support and varying levels of experience with virtual presenting, the EMBL Audiovisual team have put together a guide on how to make sure your presentation is smooth and you come across as professionally as possible for your digital lecture.

  1. Choose your location wisely

Make sure you choose a location without a window in the background, as this will result in a high contrast, causing you to appear dark and hard to see. Make sure the background isn’t too busy, or has anything that might draw the attention away from your talk.

Be sure to have a neutral background with nothing that might distract your audience
  1. Pick a quiet room

When selecting the location for your presentation, make sure there is no loud background noise and that you won’t be disturbed. Who can forget Prof. Robert Kelly’s live BBC broadcast starring his adorable children as unexpected guests!

Make sure the room is quiet and you can sit comfortably
  1. Use a headset

Ideally, use a headset in order to ensure the best possible sound. It may feel a bit strange at first, but your audience will thank you for it!

Check out a review of some of the best options here.

  1. Use a wired connection if possible

If you have the option, connect your device directly rather than relying on a wireless internet connection. This will help avoid any possibly wireless instability or network breaks.

  1. Avoid using the web browser

There are many different streaming software options out there. If there is a video conferencing app available for the event you are presenting at, for best results download this in advance to use for the live stream rather than relying on the less reliable web browser version.

  1. Close other programmes

In order to save bandwidth and processing power, close all unnecessary applications on your device before your presentation starts. This will result in a smoother streaming of your talk.

  1. Share your entire screen – carefully!

It always comes across better if you share your entire screen rather than just your keynote or PowerPoint presentation. Just be sure to keep in mind that as soon as you share your screen, everything that you can see can be seen by your audience, so be aware of what you have visible!

Troubleshooting on Macs

If you have a Mac (running Mac OS Catalina 10.15), you may have some initial problems with sharing your screen. If this is the case, try the following:

Go to System Preference → choose Security & Privacy  → select the relevant app under Screen Recording and tick the box.

The (VC) app will have to be restarted in order for the changes to take effect.

  1. Unshare before question time

When you have finished your presentation, end your screen sharing before the Q&A session starts. Your audience wants to see YOU when they are asking questions about your presentation, not the final slide of your talk.

  1. Make it readable

Remember, people will be watching your presentation on different devices with different-sized screens. Make sure your digital presentation is clear and that the font is readable – if you can’t read it easily, neither can your audience.

  1. Test, test, test!

At EMBL, our AV team will test the setup and conditions with you before the live event. Make sure that you carry out the test with exactly the same set-up as you plan to use on the day to eliminate the risk of any nasty surprises.

 

So now there’s nothing stopping you from giving a smooth and polished presentation at your next virtual conference. Take the time to get familiar with your streaming applications, practice and test the software in advance, and you shouldn’t have anything to worry about!


Check out our tips on how to give a good scientific talk and how to become a better scientific presenter!


Jan Abda and Christopher Hoehmann are dedicated Audiovisual Technicians in the EMBL Photolab, and are responsible for ensuring the technical aspects of our onsite and virtual conferences and courses run as smoothly as possible. We would be lost without them!

 

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How to turn your conference into a virtual event

The current pandemic has forced many event organisers to freeze all ongoing projects with no end date in sight. The impact on the events industry has been dramatic, but it has also provided the opportunity to rethink how we do events and explore other avenues such as virtual conferencing. 

The EMBL Course and Conference Office has just successfully completed its first virtual conferencewhich we managed to put together within a couple of weeks with the tireless work of the scientific organisers, the EMBL IT and AV teams. It has been an interesting experience, not without hiccups of course, but we have learned a lot and are looking forward to applying those learnings to our next online event in May. 

We are happy to share with you some of the steps we followed to quickly turn an onsite conference into a virtual format and how we dealt with the challenges we were faced with.

Commit all your speakers

Once it was clear we were going to try to go virtual with this event, we had to make sure we had all the invited speakers on board to be able to pull together a high-quality programme. Of course, not all of them could join, but if you manage to get the majority of the originally planned speakers, you are good to go!

Explore the technical limitations

One critical thing of course is the technical setup that needs to be tested and working properly during the conference. If you have a dedicated IT and AV team, you are in a good position, as they will be the supporting pillars of your virtual conference. Involve them early on, as they can best advise on and set up the streaming platform. Also, should there be any unexpected technical problems, they will be able to fix those quickly or come up with a working alternative.

Behind the Scenes: The AV team getting ready for the virtual conference.

For instance, in our recent virtual conference, the server crashed due to an automatically scheduled password change on the EMBL media site (talk about bad timing!), and it was only thanks to our great AV team that we managed to migrate the conference to a new platform (Zoom) within the hour.  The programme was adjusted accordingly to accommodate the break and things ran smoothly from then on.

Define the programme

Now that you have the speakers and the software established, it is time to consider the programme. Originally, you would have had 2 or 3 days full of talks with the occasional coffee break and meals in between. However, in a virtual event, it is just not possible to do that. When you define your programme, ask yourself “How long would you sit and listen to online talks?”. Probably not longer than 3-4 hours, so consider this when assigning the speaker slots.

Make it widely accessible

Ideally, your choice of timing of the programme would cover at least 2 time zones so that more participants can join in (e.g. start in the afternoon for CET, which would be morning for ET). For participants in other time zones, you could consider recording and streaming the talks on-demand.

Cover all presentation formats

Live streaming of all talks (invited, short talks and poster presentations) may be what you would expect in an ideal world, but for the reasons we described in the previous two points, it is just not possible. Therefore, in our case, we decided to live stream only the invited talks, while giving the participants the chance to access the pre-recorded short talks and digital posters in a dedicated time slot in the main programme as well as on-demand. Q & A were then taken to the main discussion platform. 

Provide a discussion platform

One of the great benefits of in-person conferences are the peer discussions and networking opportunities which can result in great collaborations and career advancement. 

In a virtual event, these are of course a bit limited, but a dedicated discussion platform outside of the main streaming software can help foster collaborations and knowledge exchange. We chose Slack as the main discussion platform for Q & A which worked very well, but there are many other applications out there that can offer a similar experience.

Involve your sponsors

If you have committed sponsors to support your event, you would want to provide them with opportunities to reach out to the community. Depending on what package they have booked, you can replace the onsite services with online benefits, such as a pre-recorded short talk, a discussion channel, online banners, logo placements or adverts. 

Test, test, test!

Most importantly, before you launch the online conference, make sure to test everything. Schedule test sessions with each of your speakers and chairs to make sure that all works well on their end as well before going live.

Behind the Scenes: The AV team getting ready for the virtual conference.

But remember that even if you follow all the steps and make sure that every tiny detail is thought of, you may still end up having some unexpected problems during the live stream, just as you may encounter difficulties at an onsite event. The truth is that for all of us (both event organisers and participants) this is a new experience from which we can only …

…Learn and improve

For our first virtual conference we are extremely grateful to have received so much constructive feedback that we are currently working on implementing in the future.  Our participants have been amazingly understanding and willing to help us improve. At the end of the day, despite some technical difficulties during this test run, looking at the feedback we realise that we have managed to achieve our goal to connect the community and get the science across.

“Congratulations for organising this very first virtual meeting. It was really great despite some technical issues. It was really good and thus too short.”

“Science and technology help people in good and bad times. This conference was for me a fresh breeze of exciting science and a taste of life normality during forced social distancing. Thanks!”

“The Four-Dimensional Genome EMBL Symposium was great! Many inspiring talks on chromatin & nuclear organization with partially unpublished data. I couldn’t have participated hadn’t it been VIRTUAL: thanks to @EMBLEvents team & all organizers for making it possible!”

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