At some point in their career, most researchers will be asked to give a presentation at a conference. These podium talks can be a great way to promote yourself as an academic and also to disseminate your work to a wider audience. Standing up and giving a talk to a large audience can feel scary, particularly if you feel underprepared. However, with enough preparation and practice this could become an enjoyable experience and maybe even one you look forward to!
Here are a few tips from us to help you with preparation for your next (or first) presentation.
Keep it Simple
Typically, any talk you give will be accompanied by a series of slides. The key thing to remember here is ‘less is more’. Keep the message on each slide very clear with minimal text and ideally an image on every slide. Remember that these slides are designed to support what it is that you’re talking about rather than being a script to read from.
Have a Structure
Prepare your slides with a clear structure in mind. If you’re presenting an experimental study, this may be as simple as: Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion and Conclusion. Think about what one thing you want the audience to take away from your talk – what’s the take-home message? A common mantra that’s used by many researchers is to (1) tell the audience what you’re going to tell them, (2) tell them and (3) tell them what you’ve told them. Simple!
Practice, practice, practice
There’s really no better substitute for building confidence in giving your talk than by practising it as much as you can. That’s not to say that you should learn it word for word and simply repeat from memory, but instead, it should feel very natural by the time you come to present. A great idea is to write out a script of what you’d like to say and then amend it as you read it out aloud – you’ll find the way you structure your sentences or the words you use may differ slightly as you present out loud versus just writing down in text form.
Practice by yourself as you’re developing your thoughts and the flow of your talk but make sure you also practice in front of others, such as those in your lab, your supervisor and your friends and family.
It’s all in the delivery
You know what you’re going to say, make sure you also practice how you’re going to say it. Make a conscious effort to speak a little (emphasis on the little!) slower than you normally would. Don’t forget to breathe and be happy – this is a chance to show off the great work that you’ve been doing. Speak clearly and not too quietly and try to connect with your audience – think of this as a discussion you’re having with them about your research. If you can, try to arrive at the presentation hall before others arrive so you have an opportunity to stand at the podium and visualise yourself giving your talk – this way when you actually go up to present, the environment will be a little more familiar to you. Enjoy it!