I recently got back from a trip to New Mexico with Liv and my mom for a conference where I was invited to give an oral and poster presentation. If there's one thing I enjoy in my work life, it's delivering a presentation (thankfully there are more than just one though). Don't get me wrong, I usually prefer to be in the background working quietly, but when I'm given the opportunity to stand up in front of an audience - representing myself, my lab, my team, or whomever has vouched for me - I feel like I have to knock 'em dead. Here are some tips so that you can do just that when asked to give your next presentation.
- Be an expert in something small. If given the chance to actually choose what you're going to do your presentation on, choose something narrow and specific. Sure melanoma is incredibly interesting, but entire courses could be taught on melanoma - it's much too broad a subject for a short talk (even an hour lecture isn't enough to cover it). Instead, choose something like new treatments for melanoma, or diagnostic challenges in melanoma, etc. If you're presenting your own research this sort of takes care of itself as most of us work in very small niches.
- Know your audience. This is probably the hardest part of giving a poster presentation, when anyone can walk up to your poster (just recently in New Mexico I presented to a 2nd year medical student who knew pretty much nothing about anything at all on my poster, then the next few minutes presented to the chair of a big name dermatology department who is essentially the God of our field - they were even in the work I referenced - I gave 2 completely different presentations)! Other than this case, though, most of the time you can predict the level of knowledge your audience will have. If you can't, it's usually safer to assume they know less and you can include a little more background.
- Know your stuff. Having a narrow topic will definitely help with this. Read all you can about your topic without taking notes, this will help you get comfortable with the literature in your area and get a feel for what you can talk about. Then read again taking specific points you think you may want to use in your talk. You will use these notes to generate your outline, so it's better to have more than what you think you may need.
- Develop an outline. Whether you're giving a powerpoint, chalkboard, or poster presentation, this will be the skeleton for your talk. I like to type this up on a computer so that I can easily cut and paste things as I reorganize for better flow and transition points. From this outline, you can then make your actual presentation. If you're making a powerpoint, make sure not to include too much text in your presentation - included text should be prompts for your talking points, not for the audience to have to read.
- Write out your talking points. If you've typed them up already, this will be easy - but I literally write down everything I want to say (ie, good afternoon, I'd like to thank the organizers for the opportunity to present... and on and on). If giving a powerpoint talk, add these notes to each slide. You can then export it as a pdf and open it on your smart phone for practicing anywhere.
- Practice practice practice!!! I practice my talks so much that a week before the talk I can give the presentation without any slides or notes - just reciting it off memory. When you actually present, of course, you don't want to sound like you're reciting. But knowing it cold like this will help you feel more comfortable up in front of a crowd and make it less likely that you'll be thrown off if someone interrupts with a question. Sometimes we don't have the luxury of enough time to actually practice what we want to say (ie, your attending asks you Monday evening to give a talk on Tuesday morning), but still try to do your best to get through all of these steps and have time to at least practice what you're going to say once or twice). Practice actually talking out loud so you'll pick up on things that don't sound right like all of your "uhs" or the fact that you talk too fast (the things I usually have to work on).
- Never read from notes. You can refer to notes, but no one enjoys watching someone reading from a paper. A few weeks back I had to give a presentation for journal club and no matter how many times I practiced I couldn't for the life of me remember the name of this protein they were assaying (it was like a 6 word name where 4 of the words all sounded the same), so when printing out my notes I bolded that word and highlighted it so I could easily refer to it whenever it came up in the presentation.
- Knock 'em dead! As much as I enjoy the opportunity to present, I still feel like I'm going to pass out and/or vomit in the hours/minutes leading up to my talk. This is ok. We all get nervous. When I actually walk up there, though, I take a deep breath and get to business. All the nerves go away and I own it. So accept the nerves, know that you're prepared, and own it!!
I really hope you can find some use in this system for preparing and delivering a good presentation. Would love to hear your experiences and what works/doesn't work for you in the comments section below!