The scientific talk has become one of the most important communication forums for the scientific community. Being able to make a strong presentation is important not only for communicating the work, but also for communicating your contribution to the work. Audiences often assign credit for the work to the person who makes the presentation, even if that person presents on behalf of a team.
The speaker must manipulate visual media, project an aura of being at ease with the material, and have the presence to answer unanticipated questions. A poorly prepared talk makes a statement that the speaker does not care about the audience and perhaps does not care much about his subject.
There are two key issues in the preparation of a talk:
The message: What do I want the audience to know when I am finished?
The audience:How do I present my talk so the audience will understand and remember what I have to say?
Here are some tips for giving an effective presentation:
Prepare your material carefully and logically.Tell a story. The story should have four parts: (a)Introduction (b) Method (c) Results (d) Conclusion/Summary.
Polish your graphics. See our newsletter on the Effective Use of Software in Scientific Presentations at http://www.sfedit.net/newsletters.htm
Respect time limits.Your audience is likely to be on a tight schedule. Going over your allotted time is disrespectful to your audience, organizers, and fellow presenters. Budget 2-3 minutes per slide (e.g. 30 minute talk = 10-15 slides).
Don't put in too much material.A good speaker will have one or two central points and will adhere to that material.
Practice Practice Practice. Stand up and practice the talk out loud. You will come up with better phrasing to describe what you want to say allowing you to develop a natural flow. Don’t memorize the talk.
Cite the work. Make it clear who did the work and where.
Be enthusiastic. Enthusiasm is incredibly important in engaging your audience. You should be animated in your voice, varying your volume and speed of delivery and making sure you project your voice. Also, be active in your gestures: use your hands, wave them around, point to things.
Talk to the audience not to the screen. To keep their interest, it is important to have eye contact with the audience.
Have only a few concluding points. People can't remember more than a couple of things from a talk, especially if they are hearing many talks at large meetings.
Acknowledge collaborators. Have a slide in which you briefly outline your supervisors, collaborators, and others who have helped with your research. Also remember to include your funding agencies.
Thank the audience. Thanking the audience for their attention is important and provides a nice segue into the question-and-answer session.
Be personable in taking questions. Keep your answers short and to the point. Prior to your talk, you may be able to anticipate major questions and, to answer them, have additional slides ready. If you don't know the answer, say "I don't know, I will have to look into that." If the questioner disagrees with you and it looks like there will be an argument, defuse the situation by saying “We obviously don’t agree, so let’s discuss this later so I can can continue answering other people’s questions”. Never insult the questioner.
Familiarize yourself with the room. Before the talk check out in advance the room where you will give your talk and the equipment that you plan to use. Not only should this make you more comfortable, but it may also help you avoid unexpected technological problems.
For more detailed information regarding writing a manuscript for publication, please review some of our other articles at http://www.sfedit.net/newsletters.htm. These articles approach such subjects as Writing the First Draft, Writing Effective Results, Methods and Materials, Discussions, Selecting a Journal, Responding to Reviewers, etc.