5 Tips for Nailing a Research Podium Talk

You’ve asked an important question and worked towards a podium-worthy answer. Congratulations! But how to make sure everyone in the room grasps your main points and your research gets recognized? The importance of a crisp and engaging presentation cannot be overstated.
  1. Present the clinical question
In meetings with lots of research presentations, you need to engage your audience immediately by showing why your study is relevant to them. Give a clinical scenario like the one that made YOU ask this question. If your audience can identify with that scenario and your question, then you have increased the odds that they will want to hear the answer.
  1. Figures first
Research presentations are meant to be visual. One of the earliest steps after data analysis should be to create figures.Visual representations of your data will help you see the main points and it will be the best way to demonstrate your findings. Spend time creating interesting (and clear) figures to tell the story of your findings.
(…And if you find yourself saying “I know this is a busy slide” then CHANGE IT, or at least HIGHLIGHT the important parts to draw the audience’s eyes).
  1. Flow of slides
Understanding human tendencies and adult learning can help keep your audience engaged through proper slide pacing. My mentor/partner (and a widely recognized “Presentation Guru”) Jon Schoenecker stresses the following points (adapted from “Brain Rules” by John Medina)
  1. Something must change on a slide at least every 10 seconds or your audience will turn to their “distraction devices” (smart phones),
  2. The change must be immediately recognizable and able to be processed, and
  3. Your words need to track with the change. No one will listen to you until they acknowledge the change that was seen.
This means that many slides or slides broken up with animations are preferred. Information/images should be revealed as you speak about them (at a good cadence). Don’t have everything pop up at once—no one will listen until they have looked at all of it and tried to understand it.
  1. Acknowledge your limitations
Presenting the limitations of your study and not overstating conclusions is key to keeping the trust of your audience. Be honest about what your study says (and doesn’t say). This is important for making sure your presentation is taken seriously and important for your long-term scientific reputation. It can also defuse some heated exchanges during Q&A and allow the discussion to be more productive.
  1. Rehearse
You’ve worked incredibly hard on the study and planning the presentation. Capitalize on those efforts by knocking the presentation out of the park! Present to trusted colleagues and co-authors to fine-tune the content. Record and time yourself giving the presentation until it is second nature. Make sure it stays on-time, progresses smoothly, and your speech is coordinated with the visuals.
I used to write out my talks with each word chosen carefully. This allows your speaking time to be used efficiently—but I tended to sound a bit “robotic” and it can be stressful if you trip-up over your words or if you have to improvise. I now prefer to let my slides que my speech and will only sometimes write out key transitions or results slides (so I efficiently make my points). By the time of the presentation, I have usually rehearsed enough that I no longer need those visual cues and I feel the presentation is most natural.
When it’s finally time to present, remember to be proud of what you’ve accomplished and have fun!