Planning an oral presentation

Learning the art of presentation of research findings is very important for graduate students. You  may have obtained very speaking interesting results, but communicating your findings effectively is also very important. This article discusses how to make an effective oral presentation; it can be a conference presentation or in-house symposium presentation or thesis presentation. You need to work on few basic aspects to deliver a good lecture: Timing, Audience, Content, Organization, Presentation tool, and Tone and body-language of the speaker.

Timing: First, find out the duration of presentation, whether it is a 15 min (presentation: 10 min + question: 5 min) or 45 min or 60 min. It is better to finish little early, rather than overshooting the recommended duration. Overshooting presentation time is not only against professional courtesy, but also reflects lack of preparation. Therefore, it is extremely important to plan your presentation according to the recommended duration. Obviously, planning for a 10 min talk would definitely be different from a 60 min lecture. For the short talk, you only have to show the key points without discussing much on the individual research methods. However, for a 60 min lecture, you may elaborate on important research methods used for your study.

Audience: The success of a presentation lies on your ability to understand your audience and accordingly make the presentation. Now how to get an idea about the audience will you have. Well, that’s not very hard to find out. If it is a conference of specialized field (e.g., Asian Society of Spectroscopy, Experimental NMR conference, etc.) or thesis presentation, you may audienceexpect peers or experts of the field as your audience. On the other hand, if you are presenting in conferences, like American Chemical Society or Royal Society of Chemistry, you may expect general audiences from various fields of Chemistry. When you are presenting in front of peers or experts of a particular field, you need not have to bother about jargons or acronyms or technical terms regularly used in your field. However, for general audience, you need to define them or restricting yourself not to use much jargons. If you need to use such term, then make an effort to explain those to your audience. You may expect more general audience when you are going to deliver a talk in a college or in a university set up, where students and teachers from diverse fields of science may be present. Here, you need to be more cautious about the planning of your talk. Always remember that the objective of your presentation is to communicate your research findings effectively with your audience, and they should at least understand the overall implication of your work.

Content: Well, you need not present all the details. Plan the content of your presentation keeping in mind the “timing” and “audience”. Before deciding the content, think about the “take home message” you want to give the audience. To make your presentation interesting, take a step back and think what made you interested to take up this project, while working on this project what are the new things you learnt, and what are the main points you want the audience to remember after you finish your presentation.

Organization of contents: Once you have decided the contents, it is time to organize them. Following is a rough outline:

  1. First wish the audience and introduce yourself and then start your presentation
  2. Title: make it interesting but simple
  3. Background of the project: keep it brief
  4. Objective: what made you undertake this project and what would you like to examine
  5. Methods: keep it brief highlight the key points (use flow diagrams/schematics/pictures/ short video clip for showing actual reaction or experiment), but save some extra slides at the end of the presentation so that if somebody is interested to know the actual method,those slides would be helpful.
  6. Results: the most important part, show only the key results. Club the similar type of results together instead of showing single graph for each parameter. Never forget to show control while comparing.
  7. Discussion: compare the related work by others
  8. Conclusions and future direction
  9. Acknowledgement

Use flow diagrams, schematics and minimize the use of text. Write the bullet points not a whole paragraph of text.

Presentation tool: These days people rarely use transparent sheets for presentation. Everybody uses power-point, the most effective tool for presentation. Few points to remember while using power-point:

  1. Choose background color and text color in such a way so that it would be visible in more or less any interior lighting. Do not go for fancy, keep it basic. Most importantly, be consistent throughout. Do not use different background color for different slide.
  2. Choose font and font size so that it should be visible from the last row of audience in a standard size of lecture room. For heading choose one size and another for text, but be consistent throughout the document.
  3. Do not play with colors. Use multiple colors only when required to distinguish or highlight some points.
  4. You may use animation but do not overdo it. Use only if required.
  5. It is okay to waste slide space but never over-crowd slides.

Tone and body-language of the speaker: Talk in an audible voice so that everybody can hear you. Talk slowly and pronounce clearly each tone and body language word. Always face the audience and never read your slides line by line. Make eye-contact with your audience. Do not be nervous. Practice and give mock presentation in front of your labmates or friends. If you are afraid of forgetting something, bring notes. Think about the questions audience may ask. While giving mock presentation, ask your labmates or friends to ask questions. Keep some back-up slides, you may need while answering some question. However, it is okay to say “I don’t know” rather trying to give a vague answer which actually you do not know. Practice makes one much refined and confident, but never be overconfident or aggressive to prove your point. Try to address the questions with proper scientific reasoning. Finally, dress well — dress like a professional.

Practice…….. Practice…….Practice…….

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One thought on “Planning an oral presentation

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