1. Start preparing early
It’s important to start formulating your talk, crafting your talk, and practicing your talk well before you are scheduled to present. You want to have time to feel confident in your presentation and have other people review it and provide constructive criticism. You should know what you are going to say each time you advance the slide. Notes are only a reminder if you need them.
2. Keep the slides simple
Too many words or crazy diagrams are the easiest way to get people to check out. There are lots of rules floating around on how many bullet points and how many words you can include on each slide but in general fewer is better. The slides are there to help people to understand what you are going to say. Too many animations can also make the talk more difficult to understand. A couple of key moving pieces for emphasis can be helpful but not every element of a slide should be moving around. If you must apologize for a “busy” slide or how difficult it is to understand, you should break the slide into multiple different slides or gradually add pieces to the slide so that you can slowly explain what you are demonstrating. For example, it can be helpful to gradually add in elements to a chart and explain what each line or bar means.
3. Pictures are better than words
Pictures that can be easily understood and make your point are far better than words and will keep your audience engaged. These can be clinical photos of what you are discussing, diagrams that you have drawn, or graphs and charts displaying data. In the case of diagrams, graphs, or charts, they should be easily interpretable and may need to be simplified from what you would include as a figure in a paper. When people are reading or trying to understand a slide, they are not listening to what you are saying and unfortunately, they are always going to try to understand the slide before they start listening. To keep the pictures simple with each transition, it can be helpful to gradually build upon the previous slide as you add elements to the figure or more bars or lines to a chart and you can explain each step slowly. If you use videos, keep them short, anything more than a minute is likely too long and could be broken up into smaller clips to enable you to explain what is going on in the video.
4. Don’t read from the slides
And don’t count on presenter mode either. Unless you have the chance to load your presentation early and practice it from the same computer system, you never know what kind of resources are going to be there for you. If you are reading from your slides, you likely have too much information on them and it’s a good way to put your audience to sleep. However, if you memorize your entire presentation word for word make sure that you know it well enough to provide engaging vocal inflections. This requires better memorization than just knowing the words and takes more time. If you do not have that kind of time, it may be better to have your bullet points memorized but not every word so that it flows more naturally. Look up and make eye contact with a few of the people in the audience – choose friendly-looking people or others you know to help you feel more comfortable. It is normal to be nervous and most people in the audience will expect you to have some nerves.
5. Make the talk your own
You are hopefully excited about the research or other work that you did and want everyone else to be excited also. Know the material forwards and backwards and forwards again and prepare for possible questions you will get. You don’t need to necessarily include the answers in the presentation but have the answers readily available in your mind. Going over the presentation with others before you present can be helpful in identifying these questions. This also means that your talk doesn’t need to follow a certain formula - if it’s a little bit different or unique that will also help people pay attention and learn something from you. The pace should be conversational, not scrambling to fit all your words into the allowed time, and pauses can give the audience a chance to digest what you said. It is better to skip over some finer details of what you are discussing in order to make what you do cover easy to understand.