After some time in academia you realize that getting people to understand your research is as important as the scientific methodology you have used. And this is even more true when you are trying to secure funding for your future research. There are many ways in which you can convey your message, through journal publications, reports and presentations. I think presentations are the scariest one, particularly at the beginning of your scientific career, and many students spend sleepless nights preparing for these.
Commonly, in the attempt of showing how much work we have done to get those results, we tend to overload the presentations with information which, unless the audience is very much into the technical details, will be lost on them. Even worse, it may cause them to fall asleep.
It is very tricky to get the right balance: keep people interested, while not diminishing the value of your research. So how can we do it? I think this mainly depends on the target audience, and there are plenty of courses that explain how to improve one’s presentation skills. Certainly one common mistake I have seen is not to include a proper introduction and background of one’s work. When this is the case, I always switch off my brain and I immediately lose interest in the presentation.
When preparing a presentation, I follow two simple rules:
- if in doubt, leave it out: if you are not sure whether some details are relevant or not, just leave them out and check whether the story flows also without them. Can your audience still follow your reasoning and appreciate the novelty and value of your work? If the answer is yes, definitely leave it out, even though you might have spent a lot of time working on that.
- say it three times: in Latin it would read as ‘repetita iuvant’. It makes sure that your audience will be able to understand your main massage even when not paying full attention the whole time. So I try to clearly state the main message at the introduction, when the audience is hopefully still awake, in the main part of the presentation, and in the conclusions (when they might wake up).
Apart from that, I think that making a crack presentation it is a matter of experience, particularly in terms of the right tailoring to the audience in front of you.