Initially, presenting science and research to your peers and experts feels incredibly intimidating. Imagine looking out at a room full of wobbly necked professors who don’t quite understand what it is to feel the embrace of another human being, and then having to tell them stuff that, sometimes, you don’t really understand yourself. It can feel like everyone is judging how clever you are, and you can’t help but be overcome with a sense that the majority of the audience is thinking “This person is as stupid as their university’s PowerPoint template”.
Don’t worry, the audience’s sense of self-importance overpowers their ability to concentrate on you and your presentation for very long at all. In fact, the audience want the same thing as you: to get through your presentation in the allotted time and eat or drink whatever is being served during the next break.
It is for his reason that you’ll need to up your game and hold your audience’s attention throughout your presentation. Strangely, the presentations that I remember are not from their awesome science but a series of strange events such as, the guy who screamed into the lectern microphone for 20 mins, the guy who never turned off his laser pointer and constantly waved it across the audience, a key note address that was essentially a magic show and another key note from a professor who seemed absolutely baffled by every slide they put up. Now that I think of it, I remember what each presentation was about, so I guess it worked.
To help you give a memorable-for-all-right-reasons presentation I have put together my top tips:
- Your job is not to make us think “I didn’t understand a thing, this person must be so much more clever than me”. Your job is to make us understand every single slide and follow your story. You want people to ask questions at the end of your talk. If there are no questions, you have lost your audience at some point. If the thought of questions scares the shit out of you, quietly excuse yourself by saying “I have worms and need to take my tablets now”.
- Don’t fill the slides with words. The reason I’m at your presentation is so you can tell me about what you are doing. I don’t want to power read your research. Use the slides to support the words that fall out of your mouth. If you need prompts plant a friend in the audience to shout key words at you like an actor who has forgotten their lines.
- Acceptable fonts include everything other than comics sans and wingdings because you are not a 5 year old girl or a cryptologist.
- It doesn’t matter how important you think you are, I’m looking at you professors. We don’t want to sit through 20 redundant slides while you find the one you want to talk about. Sort that shit out before you stand up. Give a practice presentation to someone with acute epilepsy. If your quick succession of slides induce an epileptic seizure, you’ve fucked it up.