I strongly suggest going to a conference as many times as possible during your academic career. Not only will this allow you to work on those networking skills, but you can also show off your latest research via poster or oral presentation. In this post, we’ll give you tips to help you nail your oral presentation.
Out of all the conferences I’ve gone to (which is a fair share), the majority of oral presentations are done via PowerPoint (PPT). One or two have been via Prezi, but you may not always have internet access in order to make this work. You can choose whichever medium, but the majority of my tips will be for PPT since that is what I use.
Powerpoint is great in that it has a bunch of templates that one can customize to their heart’s content. I usually go for a dark blue theme (ocean theme) and go for simple, clean lines. Make sure your color scheme isn’t harsh on the eyes (e.g. bright red and bright yellow font/background) and that those who are color-blind can enjoy it as well (no red/green)!
While the design is a factor, you want your audience to focus on the content, not the designs of your PTT. The take-home message should be, “Wow! I learned a lot! I should meet up with them afterwards…” rather than “Wow! It was such a pretty PowerPoint!”
The first slide should include your title, your name, any affiliations you have, and a way to get in contact with you! This can include your e-mail, twitter handle, or both! Let your audience know if you are okay with your presentation being tweeted and if there are any slides that you do not want tweeted/taken pictures of (e.g. data that has not yet been published). I try to have my twitter handle on every slide of my PPT in case people want to tweet my presentation while I give it (in a future blog post, I’ll discuss how you can live-tweet your own presentation), and will have the twitter icon with a bright red strike across it on the slides I do not want publicized.
As you go from one slide to the next, don’t get too crazy with transitions and sound effects as it can be distracting. Instead, focus on your quality content and no one will notice if your next slide opens up in a star-shape or not! I was taught that font size should be minimum size 18 in a classroom setting, size 24 in anything bigger! Stick to traditional and easy-to-read fonts such as Verdana, Helvetica, Century Gothic, Times New Roman, Arial, and Garamond as a few examples. Try not to use more than three different fonts on a PPT; think of one as a “title” font, another as a “subtitle” font, and a “body” font.
With pictures, make sure the resolution is big enough that it doesn’t get extremely blurry when blown up on a projector. Always, always, always give credit to whoever took the picture!
Even a lot of senior scientists forget to do this, so don’t feel bad if you’ve forgotten to do this already (I’m guilty, too). If your visuals are instead gifs or videos, make sure they work before your presentation. Do alert your audience members if the pictures are of a particularly gory nature, or if they have flashing lights as they may be a problem with those who are epileptic. This can be done via a “warning” slide before said pictures, videos, or gifs.
A presentation will usually start with the presenter introducing themselves and giving a little background on the project, what the research questions are, the methods, and then delving into the results. Make sure your results section caters to what conference you’re at; you don’t want to focus on isotopes if the conference is about telemetry (unless it ties in somehow). From there, you can discuss what you found/did not find, and any questions you are hoping to answer in the future with more research. At the very end, your last slide should be a thank you to all who helped you with your project (it takes a community; acknowledge your university, advisor(s), funding sponsor(s), etc.). This last slide should also have your contact information again, so people can write it down if they didn’t at the beginning. You should take some time out of your allotted time to thank them all, and your audience who came to your talk out of everyone else’s!
Allow time for your audience to ask you questions! If you don’t know the answer, don’t make something up. Instead, admit you don’t know the answer to their question (which is perfectly okay) and that you’ll look into [x] more in detail and would be happy to get back to them at a later time. The point of audience members asking you questions is to make you look at your data in different ways, and some of these ways are not ones we’ve thought of before! These moments are what breed collaborations, which is (or should be) the backbone of science. Don’t despair if you don’t know all the answers, be happy you get to learn more!
If there is one thing I learned very quickly about giving presentations is that not all things will go according to plan. I live by the rule to have multiple copies of my presentation on my person. Usually conferences will ask you to upload your presentation before your “slot” so you can see if everything is working (i.e. videos, sound, animations). You can do this by either USB or e-mail (they’ll let you know their preferred method). In case one copy doesn’t work or something happens, I always have an extra copy of my presentation on my USB and sent to my own e-mail. Rarely has my presentation not worked, but I did have a time when my presentation went missing from the slot time and I avoided a potentially embarrassing moment by having a backup presentation on my USB!
With all eyes already on you, you also want to make sure you are following the professional dress code. I usually go for either a black dress (the attention should be on your presentation, not you) or nice pants and a shirt. Flats or heels work; remember, you will be on your feet a lot during these conferences so comfort is key! If you’re struggling to find something to wear, always try a few pieces on and ask yourself if this is how you want to make the first impression to potential new connections. I tend to go more conservative with my dress code because of this, but this is what makes me feel comfortable; you do you!
Practice your presentation in front of family and friends—they can give you constructive criticism and call out your bad behaviors (i.e. filling in empty space with “um”). If you can’t do that, record and time yourself! Soon you’ll be up on stage giving the real thing, so be prepared and be confident! ProTip: Don’t forget to look at your audience and not your slide. You’ve got this!
Do you have any tips on oral presentations that I haven’t mentioned? Let us know in the comments below!