What makes a presentation good?

Presenting your research results might be the highlight in your undergraduate degree. This is your chance to tell the audience why your findings are relevant. What would make a good presentation? Naturally, the one that convinces them – your work has its place in the pool of knowledge. What’s the formula to make people listen (and follow your story)?

First, let’s make an experiment. Check out this video:

So, how long were you able to keep your focus?

Technically what she did was great – not much text was presented. The problem however was that the bullets shown on screen didn’t match with what was spoken. When watching the presentation, I kept on struggling between having to choose whether to listen and not read or read and not listen.  Pondering this, I drifted away.

Lesson #1: Choose carefully what to display on screen
It has to amplify and stress what you say, not compete with you for the attention of the audience. This is the very same reason why long texts are bad on slides.

Lesson #2: Keep the text minimal
Presentations are not to have audience read a novel; this is what novels are for. Your slides should be read in only a split-second so that people sitting in front of you can switch right back to listening to you. Another great thing about using only short phrases is that you won’t get the temptation to simply monotonously read what you’ve written. It makes you converse with your audience, keep an eye-contact. And that makes them listen to you!

Lesson #3: In fact, you might not need bullets at all
I know, after you cut down a 15-line text to some phrases, bullet points seem the thing you just cannot give up. Still, sometimes, the less bullets, the better you’re able to stress what’s important. Consider this example by Sunni Brown @TED:

Also, did you notice how the style of her presentation matched the topic?

Still, you’re doing a research results presentation. That means data, figures, tables – all that you struggled not to get lost in when trying to make sense from your findings. Don’t cause the same discomfort to your audience.

Lesson #4: Keep the data to the basics
Present what you need to prove your hypotheses and no more. There are some good online and print guides on how to design your tables and figures, but the golden rule is – let the table or figure speak for itself. Don’t overburden it with details and additions that would confuse the audience. You might only show one figure or a table on one slide and walk your audience through it. 

Plus, stats can be great fun! A colourful example on how to make statistics speak for themselves by Hans Rosling @TED:

Lesson #5: KISS – keep it simple, stupid
That also applies for visuals. Keep your presentation simple, with only one font, bright colours, solid background. Simple does not mean plain or boring!
And as stressed above, no need to burden the audience by showing them irrelevant things that make them drift away. Kick out everything you talk about that does not need a visual support (your outline for example! Just tell the audience what you’ll talk about).

Lesson #6: Be prepared
… but not overly. You don’t want to over-rehearse only to sound like a robot monotonously reading your speech. Be natural; imagine you’re talking to a friend (minus the slang). Make pauses, make sure people are following you, and don’t read from a paper – talk! to the people, not to your slides. Know your slides, know your story.

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Maris Vainre

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