Sometimes we get too close to our research. Ok, all of the time we’re probably too close. If you’re like me, you’re fascinated by what you do, and even when things are slow-going, you’re still excited to wake up and think about things.

The problem is, you might spend all day, every day, thinking about specific things, but rarely will others do the same. So, when you have to present, how do you choose your focus? And how do you best present things which must flow sequentially when the ideas are linked conceptually (rather than chronologically)?

These are hard questions to answer, but I’ve been able to synthesize some ideas on how to clearly present the main points for yourself and your audience (once you decide what they are!):

  1. Decide what is important, what your goals are, and how generally the presentation should flow. If you’ve got the ideas sketched out, the presentation will flow more logically and will be constructed faster.
  2. Use color. Do so consistently, in contrasting shades, and with caution. Remember that color can be used to trigger associations (e.g., red for danger), but also keep in mind red/green or other types of colorblindness might prevent seeing distinctions.
  3. Use text sparingly, and when you do, make it easy to read. Use a large enough font to see from the back of the room, and ideally an arial font, as it can be read more easily. Don’t use all caps, as it is actually (for many) harder to read than regular text. Remember that, between text on a slide and what you are saying, audiences will focus on the slide first, so don’t overload it!
  4. Use (high-quality) images. If you can show a picture, the ideas tend to stick better.  Be sure the images are not blurry, though!
  5. Use consistent slide design, but avoid templates. Often we try to make stuff ‘fit’ a template that doesn’t fit the content. Don’t be afraid to make a new one.
  6. Leave space by not cramming every idea, graph, or image onto a single slide. Some may live and die by the “1 min/slide” rule, but if your 1 minute is spent with your audiences’ eyes roaming the slide trying to figure out the point, you’ve failed to convey anything.
  7. Don’t overdo animation. Some is good, but too much can be distracting.
  8. Use the slide sorter and presenter view to discover whether the logical flow of your presentation is as good as you think it is. Often, slides should or can be broken up to help the audience, and putting notes to yourself about the transitions can help you see whether a few words or a whole slide need to be devoted to transitions.
  9. Check spelling and grammar. We all make mistakes. Correct them!
  10. Have a backup, particularly if you have a very large file or are switching devices. Sometimes things won’t display correctly or at all, so be sure you can deliver a lower-tech version and/or explain your presentation even if the slides don’t cooperate.

What tips have you got? Tweet them to me @choosy_female !


2 thoughts on “Presentations!

  1. prubin73

    Nice list, to which I would add the following.
    1. Subscripts are legible in the first two rows of the room … only.
    2. Tables full of data/results/statistical analysis are legible about one row further back than the subscripts are. (“Legible” does not necessarily mean “of interest”.)
    3. Mathematical notation is wonderfully concise for expressing models in papers, but in presentations it causes catatonia unless supplemented with verbal labels (e.g., “blood pressure = constant times # of stupid questions”).
    4. Important in quantitative disciplines: PDF is your friend, especially if you will be using the first presenter’s laptop. In one track at a conference, I saw empty spaces where presumably math had once lived in about 60% of the presentations, because they were PPT without embedded fonts, and the laptop du jour lacked the required symbol fonts.
    5. Can’t recall who said this, but everyone wants to see the baby; nobody wants to hear the birth. Talk about results/outcomes/conclusions, but leave the details of the proof/experiment/analysis to the paper.


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