Are Your Presentations Perfect?

September 3, 2012

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.

Start Strong

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.

Finish Strong

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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ACS Science Policy Fellow: Barclay Satterfield

October 30, 2008

During her fellowship, Barclay has had the opportunity to work on a number of policy development and advocacy efforts with ACS, ranging from the congressional briefing series to the ACS policy website.  In particular, the fellowship has offered her several excellent avenues to work on environmental policy — an issue that has long been her primary professional and personal interest.

Satterfield Video Interview

Satterfield Video Interview


View a video interview of Barclay

Barclay Satterfield is the Science Policy Fellow in the American Chemical Society’s Office of Legislative & Government Affairs.  She completed a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Yale University in 2002 and a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Princeton University in 2007.

As a graduate student, she worked with polymer membrane fuel cells, helped run a student organization, Greening Princeton, and completed a certificate in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy through Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public & International Affairs and the Princeton Environmental Institute.

The Science Policy Fellowship in the American Chemical Society’s Office of Public Affairs experience offers a broad exposure to the workings of the office, the Society, and the science policy world as a whole.

Barclay’s projects have included staffing an ACS-sponsored workshop on non-technical barriers to sustainability in the chemical industry and helping use the workshop results to craft a viewpoint article that was submitted to the journal Environmental Science & Technology.  In addition, she has contributed to two policy statements for the Society: one on visa policies for visiting students and researchers and the other on sustainability in the chemical enterprise.

Barclay has helped develop and organize three congressional briefings as part of the Society’s Science & the Congress briefings project: one presenting the science, policy, and business perspectives on climate change, one on measurements and impacts of the disappearing Greenland ice sheet, and a third on including nanotechnology in science education.

In addition, Barclay has been in charge of developing the office’s policy webpage —   This has been a chance to learn and share advice and ideas for members to become involved, help organize policy activities at the local section level and ensure successful advocacy meetings with their elected officials.   The web project has also offered an excellent motivation to study the office’s goals, methods, and history of achievements and to grapple with effective ways to communicate these to Society members and the public.

Finally, during her fellowship Barclay has had many chances to promote science policy as a career path for scientists and engineers.  At ACS national meetings, she has staffed the Legislative Action Network booth, both recruiting LAN members and answering questions for those interested in applying for an ACS Public Policy fellowship.  She has also traveled to appear on two career panels in the graduate chemistry departments of Northwestern University and the University of Illinois, Urbana Champagne.  She has also described her experiences for the internet audience in a recent video and in this blog.

The ACS Office of Public Affairs is now accepting applications for its 2009-2010 public policy fellowships.  The application deadline is December 31.  To learn more about this exciting opportunity click here.