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Tips and tricks towards an outstanding presentation

Among all human fears (including death) public speaking is a fear No.1. So, what can be worse than that? Well, being questioned in public by the audience, of course. So, your PhD and postdoc is the best time of your life to learn how to fight these fears off. And in this video you will find how… Moreover, I will present also practical tips and tricks that will help you when designing the slides for your presentation and your presentation powerful ending. Finally, always acknowledge people that helped you and never ever go over time.

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Barth’s Random Tips for Scientific Presentations

(adopted from http://psych.colorado.edu/~dbarth)

1) Never assume your audience CARES AT ALL about the subject you are about to present. It is completely up to you to get them interested up front before they glaze over and/or fall asleep, then keep their interest throughout.

2) Assume your audience is intelligent but KNOWS NOTHING about your subject, including

jargon and tiresome abbreviations (i.e. GB2T5alpha receptors, etc.).

3) Don’t lecture to those in the room who you think are experts in your field (i.e. members of

your own lab, etc.). Instead, explain your subject simply and elegantly to the non-experts in the audience. Experts in the room always love a simple, well crafted, general explanation. Nonexperts always hate being lost up front and are not impressed or humbled by their own lack of knowledge. Instead, they glaze over and/or fall asleep.

4) Create generous, clearly labeled, simple graphics. Your graphics should tell the story for you

well enough that even if you are off in some corner having an anxiety attack, the message should get across clearly if someone is willing to advance the slides for you.

5) NEVER write whole sentences in your graphics, even for bulleted statements. This inevitably

leads to a speaker-audience read along. This is perhaps one of the most boring experiences on earth for those in the audience who already have mastered reading.

6) If you use PowerPoint (nice), try desperately to limit the use of bells, whistles, fades,

background vistas, and other idiotic things. This makes you seem more like a sales person than a scientist, and gives the impression that your actual data is pretty insignificant and boring. However, some PowerPoint features are useful for drawing attention to data or concepts.

7) If you use a laser pointer, don’t wave it around the screen or point it into the eyes of your

audience to get their attention. Turn it on and use it only to slowly circle or underline what you want to highlight.

8) Always get to some actual data within about 15-20 minutes for a one hour talk, 10 minutes for a half hour talk, and 1 minute for a 15 minute talk. If you take any longer than this, you probably will either over run your time limit (THE ULIMATE SIN), and/or you really don’t have much of a scientific nature to present.

9) NEVER over run your time limit (THE ULIMATE SIN). One hour talks should only go for 50

MINUTES. Half hour talks for 20-25 MINUTES. 

To avoid the ultimate sin, try the following:

a) Be realistic in what you want to accomplish during your allotted time.

b) Practice your talk slowly, standing up and pointing, speaking out loud, in the privacy of your home. If it times out right slowly at home, it will probably work in public.

c) Keep an eye on your watch, or preferably a clock at the back of the room, during your talk, and plan in advance which slides can just be amputated, and the talk still make sense, if you start running out of time. Don’t just speed up your presentation. That is really silly.

10) NEVER use notes when you give a talk. You will end up reading them, looking really

shabby, and the audience will glaze over and/or fall asleep. Instead, practice your talk sufficiently so that your graphics serve as your reminders and notes (that is NOT to say that your graphics should actually contain notes). If you make notes, fold them up, put them in your pocket, and know they are with you to provide comfort and security.

11) Never take your eyes off your audience for even a second unless it is to briefly turn toward a screen to make a point. Do not lecture to the screen. It does not care what you have to say and neither will the audience if they only get to know your back side.

12) On the flipside, don’t ignore or fail to describe any slides.

13) Try to be animate (or animated as the case may be). Use hand gestures and such for evidence, but don’t twitch, run around, or stand like a statue.

14) Always answer questions at the slightest hint of an interrogative twitch from your audience. Questions are more important than anything you have to say. But answer questions with humility (i.e. your are not being attacked), brevity, and try not to perseverate with run-on answers to questions that were not asked. “That brings up a very interesting subject of...” is usually a sign that you are about to launch into something that is boring even to the person who asked the question, and they will be tortured with looking interested until you mercifully release them. The rest of the audience will glaze over and/or fall asleep.

15) Anticipate questions your audience may have. Have backup slides at the end of the talk if

necessary to assist with explanation.

16) It is nice to start a talk by telling the audience what you are going to say (after you get them INTERESTED or course), then say it, then tell them what you said at the end. tell the audience a story. This provides structure and organization to the talk and generates audience interest (Point #1). Here is a nice example of the structure of a talk:


- Introduction

- Conflict in literature to be resolved

- What you did to resolve it


- What did you do

- What did you get


- Summarize what you got

- How does the new information you got resolve the conflict

- Conclusion

17) The best talks are the ones that are so interesting and clearly presented that the “take home message” actually arrives to an alert and interested audience for delivery, makes it past the door of the lecture hall, maybe actually gets taken home by the audience, and maybe, just maybe, gets mentioned to a spouse or loved one over dinner.

18) Good talks are like good text. With good writing, one sentence flows logically from the last, one paragraph flows from the previous one with some reason for existing as a separate paragraph. In talks, slides are somewhat like short paragraphs. Try to arrange your slides with the same smoothness and logic. Also, think hard about appropriate segues from one slide to the next. A bad segue is “So this next slide shows... etc.”

19) If you present work done collaboratively with others (i.e. your lab), it is nice to show a slide

with their names. THAT’S ALL! The dripping biographies and personal anecdotes will cause

your audience (except those in it who you are referring to) to, yes, glaze over and ... This usually also comes at the end of a talk when your audience wishes you would knock off. The only exception to this rule is the classic “job talk”, where all the warm and fuzzy discussion of

members of your lab impresses the audience (your colleagues) that you are a real nice

collaborative guy running a big lab, and thus deserve employment/promotion. In job talks, it is also nice to note all your funding sources so the audience (your colleagues) recognize how

financially important you are to the department.

for nerds, here are even more tips:

Nature.com: English communication for scientists

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