Wednesday, April 20, 2011

How to Give a Fabulous Academic Presentation: Five Tips to Follow

One of the easiest ways to stand out at an academic conference is to give a fantastic presentation. If you have ever been to an academic conference, you should be able to see my point. The majority of presentations at conferences are not very good. This makes it fairly easy for you to be impressive.
presentation skills
In this post, I will discuss a few simple techniques that can make your presentation stand out. It does take time to make a good presentation. However, it is well worth the investment.

Tip #1: Use PowerPoint Judiciously

These days, most good presentations make some use of visuals. The extent to which you should use visuals will vary a lot depending on your field. Nevertheless, there are a few basic things you should know if you will be using PowerPoint or another method of showing visuals.

  • Never use less than 24 point font. If you use smaller font, people will not be able to see your information and you will have too much information on the slide.
  • Use bullet points. PowerPoint slides do not need full sentences, and should never have a paragraph full of information.
  • Use images effectively. You should have as little text as possible on the slide. One way to accomplish this is to have images on each slide, accompanied by a small amount of text.
  • Never put your presentation on the slides and read from the slides.
  • Do not have too many slides. Definitely do not have more than one slide per minute of presentation.

Tip #2: There is a formula to academic presentations. Use it.

Once you have become an expert at giving fabulous presentations, you can deviate from the formula. However, if you are a newbie, you need to follow the formula. Again, this will vary by the field. However, I will give an example from my field – sociology – to give you an idea as to what the format should look like.

  • Introduction/Overview/Hook
  • Theoretical Framework/Research Question
  • Methodology/Case Selection
  • Background/Literature Review
  • Discussion of Data/Results
  • Analysis
  • Conclusion

Tip #3: The audience wants to hear about your research. Tell them.

One of the most common mistakes I see in people giving presentations is that they present only information I already know. This usually happens when they spend nearly all of the presentation going over the existing literature and giving background information on their particular case. You need only to discuss the literature with which you are directly engaging and contributing. Your background information should only include what is absolutely necessary. If you are giving a 15-minute presentation, by the 6th minute, you need to be discussing your data or case study.

Tip #4: Practice. Practice. Practice.

You need to practice your presentation in full before you deliver it. You might feel silly delivering your presentation to your cat or your toddler, but you need to do it and do it again. You need to practice to ensure that your presentation fits within the time parameters. Practicing also makes it flow better. You can’t practice too many times.

Tip #5: Keep To Your Time Limit

If you have ten minutes to present, prepare ten minutes of material. No more. Even if you only have seven minutes, you need to finish within the allotted time. If you will be reading, a general rule of thumb is two minutes per typed, double-spaced page. For a fifteen minute talk, you should have no more than 7 double-spaced pages of material.

Good luck!