Presentations (1) basics
Time for student presentations (talks and posters) is approaching in my university, so let me start a few posts on this exercise. Today, the two basic rules. Disclaimer: I was hesitating in writing these because they are very very basic… but I thought about some presentations I heard recently, and not by students… and decided that maybe it is useful after all 🙂 so let’s go.
Basic rule 1: choose your message and get it through
I bet that each time you were disappointed by a presentation, it was by one of the following two reasons: (i) “I did not understand”, or more precisely “I don’t know what I should have taken away”, or (ii) the content itself was disappointing. For (ii), there is no real remedy. But assuming that the presenter is competent and is dealing with potentially interesting content, the success of the presentation depends on the choice of the message to be conveyed and a correct gauging of the audience.
At the moment of preparing, think: what do I want those people to remember? Normally, one message is enough. Surely you have done a lot of calculations, or have set up a complicated experiment. You can use one slide, or one corner of your poster, to remind all this; but nothing more… unless of course the message you chose to convey is precisely “I toiled a lot for this and now I want you to share in my toil”.
If you don’t choose the message, the message will be chosen for you; and most of the time, it will be “this presentation was a waste of time”.
Basic rule 2: stick to the time
Even if you are the smartest presenter with the most exciting subject, people get very nervous if your talk lasts longer than usual; or if you are so talkative in front of your poster that people don’t manage to get away.
For talks, just run through the presentation once or twice before, fully and aloud. If some friends are ready to listen, great; otherwise, close yourself in your room and do it. Golden rule: 1 slide = 2-3 minutes (yes: a 15 minutes presentation is only 6-7 slides, plus the title!).
For posters, look at the people you are talking to in the eyes: incipient boredom is written there very clearly.