Monday, August 13, 2012

How to Create a Power Point Presentation from a Finished Paper

Academic presentations are often based on research in progress or unfinished work. However, sometimes we may find ourselves creating presentations based on full drafts of papers.

What happens when you have completed your 8 or 10,000 word article and now you have to create a 15-minute presentation on the basis of your paper? Luckily, there is a fairly straightforward system you can use to create a presentation from a full paper.

presentation skills

I once heard someone say that a presentation should be viewed as an advertisement for a paper, rather than an attempt to present all of the information in the paper. Keeping this in mind will help you to focus on what’s important and avoid the temptation to attempt to convey all of the rich information in your paper in a brief presentation. Unfortunately, trying to cover too much often means you fail to highlight what’s important.

In my field – Sociology – there is a straightforward formula for giving presentations. I am sure that there is one in your field as well, and it may be very similar to the formula in Sociology. In Sociology, presenters often use Power Point, and presentations often look like this:

  • Introduction (1 slide)
  • Research Questions/Hypotheses (1 slide)
  • Literature Review/Theory (1 slide)
  • Methods & Data Collection (1 slide)
  • Data Presentation/Findings (3-5 slides)
  • Conclusion (1 slide)

Admittedly, many people use many more slides than this, but I advocate for sticking to the rule of no more than one slide per minute. I also think it is important to focus most of your attention on your findings, and as little as possible on other people’s theories and findings. And, you will bore people tremendously if you spend too much time on your methods and data collection. There are many exceptions of course – if your paper is all theory or primarily methodological, then it will look quite different.

To create a presentation from a full-length paper or article, you can pull out the most important parts of the article, based on the above list – or based on the subheadings in your own article.

For the introduction, you can use the same compelling introduction you use in your paper. If you are using Power Point, try and find a provocative image that conveys the point of your paper.

Your next slide should contain your research questions – which your introduction should point to.

Then, spend no more than a minute contextualizing your research questions and project within the literature. Don’t make the mistake of spending too much time reviewing what others have written about your topic. Spend just enough time on the existing literature to make it clear that your work contributes to existing research in the field. People don’t come to conferences to hear literature reviews – they come to hear about new research like yours. The purpose of the literature review is to establish the importance of your work, not to show you have read every relevant article.

Once you have established the importance of your project, explain just enough of your methods and data collection to establish your ability to speak on the topic. Think about the questions people might have – what data set did you use? How many interviews did you carry out? How many months of participant observation did you complete? How many newspaper articles did you code? What is the timeframe for the data? Give just enough information to validate your findings.

Try to get through all of the above in the first five minutes so that you can spend as much of your time as possible sharing the rich detail of your own data and analyses. If you have ethnographic data, you can tell one story from the field for each point you want to make. For statistical data, you can present a table with findings for each finding you wish to highlight. For interview data, you can use one interview quote for each theme you plan to highlight.

Once you have chosen the parts of your findings you wish to highlight, you can leave a minute or two for your conclusion.

As you make each slide, remember to put as few words as possible on each slide, and place an image on each slide to convey your points visually.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Get Your Goals and Projects out of Your Head and onto Paper

Like many academics, I often have several ongoing projects and it can be overwhelming to figure out when I will have the time to make progress on each of my projects, tasks, and goals.

Sometimes, just thinking about all I have to do is overwhelming, and it seems I may never finish my books and articles. I find writing everything I have to do down onto paper to be very helpful when I begin to feel overwhelmed.

At important milestones during the year – the beginning or end of the summer, fall, spring, or annual year – I like to sit down and map out where I am on all of my projects and when I expect to finish them. This is a great exercise to complete because it is a reminder that each of my projects is, in fact, terminable.

Today is August 5, which means that the beginning of the Fall semester looms ahead. For me, it is helpful to separate out what must be done before the semester begins and which projects can wait until I am back from my extended research trip in Peru. Unlike when I was doing my dissertation research, I now have to keep up with my other ongoing research projects and professional responsibilities even when I am collecting new data in remote locations.

Just thinking about all I have to do can be overwhelming. That’s why putting my goals and projects down on paper can be comforting. Even though it can also be scary to see all that I have to do, writing the tasks, goals, and projects down is the first step towards making a workable plan to complete them.

So, what do I actually need to do before the semester starts?

My discipline is Sociology. We sociologists have our annual meeting each year just before the beginning of the semester. This means that each year, in addition to planning classes and meeting other deadlines, I have to prepare for the annual meeting. This year, I have agreed to present three papers and serve as a discussant on one panel. Here are my four meeting-related tasks that must be completed before I leave Peru on August 15:

  • Prepare race and humor presentation
  • Prepare due process denied presentation
  • Prepare human rights and international migration presentation
  • Read and prepare comments on four paper for my role as discussant

Like most other academics on a semester system, I also have to prepare for my classes, which begin on August 24. This Fall, I am teaching just one class, and it is a class I have taught before. However, I have changed the syllabus considerably, and am teaching at a new university. I need to finalize the syllabus before the semester begins. Thus, we can add to the list:

  • Finalize syllabus for race class

As the semester starts fairly late in August, and I am dedicated to writing every day, in addition to these responsibilities, I also hope to finish up two other writing projects in August. These two projects are:

  • Complete tasks for R&R for LS project.
  • Complete Chapter 5 of DEP book.

Now, I have a complete list of what I will focus on until August 31. There are quite a few things on this list, but having this list permits me to stay focused, and ensures I will not work on any other projects during the month of August.

I do have several other things that I could work on, but I have moved all of these other projects off of my current priority list and onto my “Fall Semester Goals” list.

My Fall Semester Goals include:

  • OUP Chapters 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 14, 15
  • DEP Chapters Intro, 1, 2, 3, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, Conclusion
  • ERS R&R
  • Intro to SI for ERS
  • Papers with YI and SD
  • SWB Paper

Now that I have a list of all of the projects I hope to complete during the Fall Semester, I can work on a semester plan. It is clear that when I do that, I will again have to prioritize and decide what can actually be completed in the Fall and what will have to be moved to the Spring. But, having everything I have to do in front of me permits me to make a realistic assessment of what can and cannot get done. Thus, when my editor emails me to ask when I will be finished with Chapter Six or my co-author wants to know if I can finish the R&R by October 15, I can give them a reasonably accurate answer.

What about you? What do you need to finish today? this week? this month? this semester? this year? Does writing it all down help you?