As scientists, we are often called upon to give oral presentations about our work. ACS national and regional meetings, job interviews, and departmental seminars are great ways to let others know what you have been doing, and at the same time get instantaneous feedback from your peers. Whether you are presenting to other scientists or to a lay audience, careful planning and tailoring of your message are crucial for effective communication.
Know Your Audience
The most important question is “Who is my audience, and why are they here?” By keeping in mind the characteristics of your audience (educational level, amount of scientific background) and reason for attending (interest or job requirement) you can tailor your presentation to their needs. Their level of familiarity with the subject matter will directly affect how much background information and detail you should include.
Your first few sentences set the tone for your entire presentation. First, decide what information you need to include – an introduction of yourself? The purpose of your presentation? A broad outline of your talk? Background on your area of research? Then, plan the wording carefully – It may be easiest to draft the introduction last, after you’ve figured out exactly what and in what order you are going to present your ideas.
You want to lead your audience through a compelling story. Present your data in the most logical order (which may or may not be chronological), with clear demarcations between sections. Ensure that the transitions between slides, and between sections, are well-marked and smooth. While you may not want to write out every word of your entire presentation, you do need to know how you are going to transition smoothly. Use outline slides or other cues to remind the audience of where you are relative to the overall flow, or introduce them to the next section of the presentation.
You Are the Expert
You probably know more about the topic than anyone else in the room, so the audience will be looking to you for expertise. Don’t undermine your own authority by mumbling, apologizing for the slides, or rolling your eyes. If you have confidence and a command of the subject matter, your audience will sense and respect that.
The end of your presentation is every bit as important as the beginning. Summarize your key points, point out the next steps, and thank your host.
The shorter a talk is, the longer it will take to prepare. Almost as soon as you know you’re going to be doing a presentation, start gathering information, drafting slides, and framing the content. You may not be able to fill in everything right away, but the more time you spend thinking about the overarching framework and organization the better it will be. You will be more confident, and your audience will have a better experience.
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