Top Tips for preparing an oral presentation…
…by Phoebe / from the United Kingdom / PhD Tissue Repair 2013-2017
My abstract was chosen for an oral presentation at the ENII Summer School, I had my big RIP talk to give and my abstract for the SRF Annual Meeting has also been chosen for oral presentation. Therefore I thought I could give tips on how to prepare an effective presentation as it seems I am often trying to do so these days! This is a bit of a long tip but hopefully there are some useful hints within so stick with it!!!
The main thing to consider when creating a presentation is making sure you are explaining everything in sufficient detail so your audience really understand or at least can follow what you are saying. In terms of slide design stick to a simple clear layout avoid anything too fancy and don’t use too many colours: ease of understanding should always be the main objective of each slide- don’t cram one slide full when you could use two slides and just spend less time on each. It will flow a lot better and actually the more frequently the slide changes the more likely you are to hold the attention of those listening.
And in terms of delivery: speak calmly and slowly and with clarity, it will be easier to retain peoples’ attention if you sound at ease and they can clearly understand you. I know it feels like you have to rush through the slides to get it over with but no one will hear what you are saying and remember no matter how slowly you think you are speaking you can probably always slow it down a little more…and most important of all remember to BREATHE and you really don’t want to pass out in front of a large audience!!!
Most presentations follow the format where there is an introduction to the area of science your research addresses, the hypothesis and aims of your work, the workflow and methods and then results in appropriate sections. This is followed by a summary, the conclusions and then future studies and plans for the work and finally the acknowledgements.
The extent of detail in your introduction will be dictated by your audience so bear that in mind and tailor the information to the intellect and experience of the audience you are addressing. For example for my ENII Summer School presentation I introduced the female reproductive tract, speaking briefly about the anatomy, cellular structure and functions of the system before addressing the specific area of research, as my audience there were immunology specialists who may not have known much about female reproductive biology. In contrast for the SRF Annual Meeting I will require less of a basic background as the audience are reproductive biologists so will be a little more clued in. In this instance I can go into greater detail about repair and regeneration in the tissue as my introduction.
Hypothesis and Aims:
Make sure your hypothesis is simple and snappy as you will more easily hold the audiences interest and if it is easy to grasp they are more likely to remember it throughout your talk so your results make more sense. The hypothesis is the overarching question which encompasses your work on the whole and your aims are the specific research questions that your work addresses, usually 3 or 4. Again these should be succinct and clear and they actually lay out the structure for the rest of the talk as you address them one at a time.
Workflow and Methods:
When it comes to explaining your experiments a workflow diagram can be really helpful so that everyone knows exactly what you did and why you did it. If there is a technique, model or experiment that is of particular importance don’t be afraid to spend a little time explaining it as clearly as you can as this will really help your audience understand the results. Diagrams and images are really nice to help illustrate the methods again making them easier to understand.
In terms of results it is best to group them under the outlined aims and then introduce them one by one. In some cases for example a fairly long talk, it may be necessary to introduce each results section with a brief background (1 slide) setting the work in context, showing previous work on the topic you are investigating and explaining the reasons for completing such an experiment. Include as many images as you can as not only does a picture say 1000 words but they are pleasant to look at and will prevent boredom in your audience. Make sure you fully label and explain everything on the slide, if you have an image of an immunofluorescent stain for example make sure there are coloured labels for your markers and highlight the important structures before explaining the result. Similarly if there is a graph on your slide make sure the axis titles are clear and legible and explain the trends within.
Summary, conclusions and future plans:
A nice summary of the results at the end of the talk will sum up what you have spoken about and highlight the most important aspects of the work that you are trying to communicate. You can then you can lay out your conclusions or take home messages and drum home the importance of your work. A future plans slide is imperative as scientists like to know that there is a future with your work and that you are constantly thinking and adapting your work with each result gained! I would suggest again grouping your future studies under each aim so it really looks like you have a well thought out and realistic plan.
An aknowledgements side of a course ends the talk to thank all those who have helped you so far, offered support, guidance and expertise or even just companionship in the lab… and remember to always thank your audience for their attention!
I hope these few pointers will help when you are preparing for a talk and don’t worry- people are actually telling the truth when they say it isn’t as bad as you think!