Tips for Seminar Presenters
|Presentation skills can
make or break a presentation! Your
seminar grade is based on the quality of your presentation,
and great presentation skills can make even a project you wish you'd
done differently into a first-rate seminar. Below are some tips that
will help you avoid common pitfalls and create a sparkling presentation.
▶ Speaking style
▶ PowerPoint tips
the "big picture" clear. In the first few
minutes of your talk, your audience--even those that know nothing about
your research area--should have a very clear understanding of the big
question your research addresses, your specific objectives and
hypotheses, how you will accomplish your objectives and the
significance of your research. A lengthy introduction before you get to
your research question leaves your audience feeling unsure of what they
will need to remember.
each experiment. A rigid
intro-methods-results-discussion format is required for a scientific
paper, but a presentation needs to be more flexible! In a presentation,
your audience can't flip back to a previous page, so you have to
organize your presentation to help them. If you are presenting several
experiments, a good format is to give some general background, then
introduce the purpose of each experiment, how the experiment was done,
the results and their meaning. Once you've delivered this "package" to
your audience, go on to the next experiment. At the end, summarize the
results of each experiment again before wrapping up with general
me the data! Don't have one slide where you show
the results and then a text slide where you talk about them. The
audience wants to see
what you're talking
about, so put a little text right on the result slide, or leave out the
text completely and just show the results as you talk about them. Spend
enough time on the actual graphs, gels, spectra or other data that the
audience can clearly see how your results lead to your conclusions.
Take the audience through the data step-by-step. Where appropriate,
talk about how many times you've repeated the experiment or show
standard deviations, t-tests or other statistics to provide support for
methods brief. Listeners can easily get lost in
a long list of methods. Instead, list only the key steps of the method
and tell why each step was important. Anyone who
wants to know the details can ask.
- Give enough background.
Anyone in your audience who has taken 200-level courses in your major
should be able to understand your entire talk clearly. And anyone
in your audience should be able to understand the significance of your
research, the hypotheses you were investigating and the take-home
persuasive. As you design your presentation, ask yourself
what you want to convince your audience of. A good scientific
presentation should build a case for whatever conclusion you want your
audience to believe. Don't worry about keeping them in suspense--it's
perfectly OK to tell them the conclusion up front, then build up the
evidence in support of it piece by piece.
- Less is more.
Your audience does not have to hear about every experiment you ever
did, including the one you totally screwed up. Focus your talk on
clearly presenting a limited number of ideas and experiments that
really make your point.
- Give credit where it's due. All
scientific research builds on and connects with the work of others.
Tell how your work fits into the context of what is already known. Show
how others' work leads to or supports your hypotheses, or where your
results might disagree with others'. Demonstrate that you have a good
grasp of the scientific literature in your field. And of course give
appropriate credit! Often, students will put a bibliography slide at
the end, but it's unlikely that the audience will get much out of this,
so it might be more useful to put a condensed reference in small type
at the bottom of the slide where the information is given--something
like Smith et al., J. Biol. Chem. 53:11417 (2002).
your stuff. To engage your audience, you have to
be making eye contact and talking directly to them. If you're reading
directly from your slides or relying heavily on your notes, your
audience will get bored and think you don't know your material well.
Practice your talk until you know it well, so you won't stumble or
wonder what slide is coming next. Then you can look at your audience
when you deliver it. Knowing your material well will also help you get
over any nervousness.
notes are OK. There's nothing wrong with having some notes
to refer to in case you get stuck, or a list of slides, etc. Just don't
use 'em as a crutch. It's a very good idea to write down any details
you think you might forget: a chemical structure that someone might ask
a question about, or a long chemical name that you might blank on.
natural. It's a seminar, not a campaign speech. The people
in the audience are your colleagues, so talk to them as a fellow
scientist explaining what you think are important results that need to
enthusiastic. Hey, this is great research you spent all
summer on! If you sound bored with it, for sure your audience will be,
too. Show them with your voice and manner how excited you are about the
work you did.
yourself heard. It could be the greatest presentation on
earth, but your audience will never know that if they can't hear you.
If you tend to speak quietly, practice with a friend sitting in the
back row and have him or her stop you every time you're not loud
enough. Breathing from your diaphragm and pitching your voice a little
lower than normal can help.
the vocabulary. If you mis-pronounce a key term, your
audience automatically assumes you don't really know your material. Be
sure you know how every term is pronounced! And what they mean--someone
may ask you.
- Practice your talk. Don't just prepare the slides: prepare yourself. Go through the whole talk and figure out how
you're going to say what you need to say. Where will you need to spend
the most time? Where would an example be helpful? In addition to
practicing on your own, it is helpful to practice in front of friends
and your research mentor.
nicely. A suit and tie or dressy dress isn't necessary,
but cutoffs and a torn shirt don't make much of an impression. Your
dress helps let your audicence know you're in charge.
jargon. Scientists use lots of lab slang, but in a formal
presentation, you need to be sure you're using terms precisely and that
your audience understands them. Don't say "I Geneclean-ed the DNA," say
"I purified this DNA fragment from my gel using the Geneclean kit."
Instead of "we PCR'd up the gene," try "we used PCR to amplify the lacZ gene from the E. coli chromosome."
Flashy backrounds or fancy animations don't work well in a formal
presentation. Use simple clear fonts and plain backgrounds. Black or
dark blue on white, light gray or light tan or else white on dark blue
work best. Avoid glaring or clashy colors. Use animation only if needed
for emphasis, not for entertainment.
If there are a lot of words on your slide, your audience will spend its
time reading them instead of listening to what you're saying. Plus, you
will be tempted to read them instead of making eye contact. Just a few
key words will help your audience get the message without distracting
going to read all this text??
easier for the audience to grasp!
pictures. Wouldn't it be easier to explain that
complicated experiment if you had a diagram? Plus, photos and drawings
add life to your presentation. You can take photos (ask to borrow a
digital camera), find appropriate images on the Web (try Google image search)
or just draw your own--remember, PowerPoint is also a drawing program!
- Be sure text is clearly readable even from the back of the room.
- Portray results appropriately.
No one wants to squint at tiny numbers in a table when a nice, visual
graph would show them better. Consider whether a bar graph is
appropriate for your data, or whether a line graph is called for. Label
all graphs and axes, and add titles to graphs and captions to photos
where appropriate. Don't forget units! Add labels or arrows to a photo
or NMR spectrum to help make your point.
accidentally "squash" photos or graphs. When you
resize an illustration, be sure you shrink or stretch both its width
and height at the same time. Your audience will notice if you flatten
or stretch it by changing its size only in one dimension.
- Proofread carefully.
Use the spell checker built into PowerPoint, but also read through
every slide carefully before the presentation. You don't want a
typographical error to appear in 48-point bold text for your audience
to focus on!
- Make your visuals look professional.
If you need to show a chemical structure, use ISIS Draw. In an Excel
graph, change colors, fonts, sizes, backgrounds, etc. to make your
graph as clear as possible and remove unnecessary legends, equations,
etc. Learn how to insert subscripts, superscripts, greek letters, and
so on. Use standard scientific notation: 1.3 x 104
looks a lot better than the computer shorthand 1.3E04. Watch your
signficant figures, and don't let your figures get cluttered with
numbers like 147.021341112.
your presentation in the seminar room at least the day before you give
it! Be sure your images look right,
your text shows up, any videos or animations work, your fonts look
right, etc. Be sure to go through the actual slides so you don't get
surprised by animated text you didn't realize was animated, etc.
your file size small. PowerPoint presentations
with lots of images get big fast. To keep your file to a reasonable
size (so it loads and saves quickly and can be e-mailed if necessary),
reduce the size of your images. An image that is 1000 pixels wide at a
resolution of 96 dpi will fill a PowerPoint slide (and higher
resolutions are not needed unless you need high-quality print-outs of
your slides), but most digital cameras give you images that are much,
much larger than this. Crop your images to include just what you want
to show, and then shrink them to an appropriate size before
moving them into PowerPoint. A great freeware program for working with
images is IrfanView.
Another way to reduce file size is to use File | Save As | Tools |
Compress Pictures when you save your presentation. Set the resolution
to "Web/Screen" and check both of the options at the bottom.
standard fonts. If you use a font that's on your computer
but not the computer you use for your presentation, it won't display
properly. If you must use an unusual font, then use File | Save As |
Tools | Save Options | Embed TrueType Fonts to save the font
information with the presentation.
how to run your show. A little playing with PowerPoint
will pay off in making your slide show smooth. Did you know that either
the space bar or the left mouse button will advance to the next slide?
Did you know that the backspace key goes back one slide? Did you know
you can hit the "B" key to temporarily black out the slide (for
example, so that you can write on the board or while you're waiting to
sure your movies will play. If you have a movie, video
clip or animation inserted into your PowerPoint, keep it in the same
folder as the presentation and move the whole folder at once.
Otherwise, PowerPoint will lose track of where the movie is and won't
play it. Not all computers (even classroom computers) have exactly the
same software installed, and some will play some kinds of movies but
not others, so be especially certain to test your presentation on the
seminar room computer if you have multimedia.