Some Random Advice for Giving Formal (Powerpoint) Slide Presentations

by A. A. Tovar, Ph. D.

Slide Preparation

1. Have a coherent plan, and a logical point.

2. Your first slide should contain the name of your project, your name, your affiliation, the date and occasion, and an abstract of your talk.  Give the audience something to look at before your talk starts.

3. Usually your second slide will be a table of contents of sorts.  This lets the audience know where you plan to go.  Be blunt - tell them your coherent plan and logical point.  If the talk is longer than 20 minutes, periodically put this second slide back up.  This lets them know what you just did and what you're about to do.  It will wake some of them back up.

4. The last slide should be a conclusion.  This not only reviews what you did, the reemphasizes your logical point.  You can also talk about future work, or other possible extensions of your work.  This is also a good place for Acknowledgements.

5. Don't make text (or anything else) too small on your slides.  Assume that there will be "old" people with vision problems at your talk (this will in fact happen).

6. Don't have too many equations in presentation.

7. Plots are a good thing, especially if your project involves data.  However, raw data may or may not be the best thing to graph.  You may need to normalize your data in an intelligent way. Also, the fewer plots the better.  If you can explain what's happening with 1 or 2 plots, do it.  Too many graphs can make an audience sleepy.  Make sure the plots have text which is large/easy to read, and make sure the axes are labelled.

8. Schematics are also a very good thing (if you've done an experiment).  If the schematic has many components, draw boxes around each group of components which perform a specific function, and label what that is.  You're trying to give the audience the big picture more than the details.

9. Do a simple calculation of #slides/minute.  It should be take 1 - 2 minutes to cover an average slide.  I've seen 20 minute talks where the speaker had over 25 slides - bad news!  But wait, you've made 30 slides for you 20 minute talk and you don't want to "waste" any of them.  I know it's tough, but it comes down to choosing excellence or choosing mediocrity.  Choose excellence - only use 14.  Of course there are exceptions.  You may have slides that you don't really need the audience to read in detail - ones that you're really just trying to make a quick point on and move on.  Count those as 1/4 of a slide for purposes of your calculations.  (Really, be careful with this slides/minute thing.  I've seen otherwise MANY brilliant speakers give awful talks because they tried to stuff too much in).

10. Of course you need to keep in mind who your audience is.  Don't give the same talk to generalists as you would to specialists in the area of your research. Believe it or not this error is VERY common among people with grants.  They have the slides to give 3 or 4 talks so they throw together a long, rambling mess disregarding the audience level and type altogether.
 

Speech Preparation

1. Be prepared to emphasize your coherent plan and logical point.
 
2. Dress professionally, period.  (If you're going to suck, at least you'll look good doing it.  If you're awesome, you'll come off as super-awesome.  There's no downside here.)  Error on the side of overdressing (even if everyone else is dressed in casual attire).  For example, here's what I wear: I always wear a white shirt and tie, black or very dark blue pants, black socks and black leather shoes at any sort of conference.  However, I don't wear suit jackets, I wear white shirts with some cool looking dark stripes and make sure to have a FUN tie.
 
3. Write notes on the papers from which your slides were copied to remind yourself of the points you want to make.

4. Figure out what some of the possible questions might be and have planned answers (and maybe even extra slides) ready.
 
5. Practice your talk - at least twice.  You can practice on a friend, the mirror, or even your dog - but do it.  This will help with your confidence and insure that you are talking about what you want to be talking about and that your speech is the right length.  It's actually a very good idea to project your slides on a large screen and video your practice talk.  Then, watch what you did well and what you did poorly.  Rinse, repeat.

During Presentation
1. Before you are introduced, have the front page of your talk ready with title, your name and affiliation, and a 1 paragraph abstract with your logical point.  This will give the audience something to look at and give them an idea of who you are and what you're talking about.  Ideally, it will actually give them something to look forward to.

2. Tell the audience they can ask questions at any time during the talk.  Audience questions generally wake up and reengage the audience.

3. Take a deep breath and read the 1 paragraph abstract of your talk on the first page.  This will get you talking and calm you down.  Emphasize your logical point!

4. Don't talk to the screen, talk to the audience.  For example, you may want to stand at a 45 degree angle from the audience and the screen so you can read the first part of a sentence looking at the screen and the rest of the sentence looking at the audience.  Yes, you have to be standing at the right place to do this.

5. Speak Clearly and Confidently - Project, Don't Whisper, Don't Mumble. and Don't Ramble.  (It's mentioned above, but this takes practice and experience.  It also takes having a firm grasp of the technical content of your talk).

6. You should be in a Professional Mindset where you don't use profanity, casual language (for example, "dude") or hip language (for example, "gg, noob").

7. Words to Avoid: "Clearly", "Obvious", "Obviously", "Um", "Uh".

8. Don't talk down to your audience or pontificate.

9. Don't go off on unscheduled tangents (unless, perhaps, in response to a question).  Don't Ramble, stick to the points on your slides.  If you want to talk about something besides what's on the slides, change the slides in advance.

10. If a question rattles you, take a deep breath.  Often what's being asked isn't as threatening as it initially sounds.  It's OK to ask for a clarification if you don't fully understand the question.  It's also OK to say "I don't know" or "That's a good idea, I'll have to look into that."  Under no circumstances should you pretend to know something you don't.

11. Keep track of time: DON'T go too long.  It's completely unacceptable and disrespectful to go long for more than a minute or two.  Of course answering questions during or after the talk would be an  exception to this.  If someone asks you a question during the talk that takes 3 minutes to ask and answer, then you may and probably should go 3 minutes over.

12. In your conclusion, remind the audience of your logical point.

 

Grading

1.  Whether you are giving a presentation for a teacher or for a conference you will be graded.  Consider the audience falling asleep and having no questions at the end a poor grade.  You will be graded on 2 things:
     a) Your ability to present your research
     b) The technical content of your research.

2.  Here's the bottom line:  Did the audience have an opinion on your logical point?  They don't have to agree with you, but they should care enough to have an opinion.  Of course, to do this they must understand what your logical point was.  If they fell asleep, they probably didn't understand your coherent plan.  If they didn't ask any questions, they didn't understand your logical point.  The good news is that there is usually a session chair whose job it is to ask you a question if there are no other questions (in an attempt to get the question-ball rolling).

Quick Review

In case, you didn't quite understand all of that, here's a quick review:

Have a coherent plan, and a logical point.
Have a coherent plan, and a logical point.
Have a coherent plan, and a logical point.
Have a coherent plan, and a logical point.
Have a coherent plan, and a logical point.
Have a coherent plan, and a logical point.
Have a coherent plan, and a logical point.
Have a coherent plan, and a logical point.
Have a coherent plan, and a logical point.
Have a coherent plan, and a logical point.
Have a coherent plan, and a logical point.

Oh yeah, one more thing....
Have a coherent plan, and a logical point.
Have a coherent plan, and a logical point.
Have a coherent plan, and a logical point.
Have a coherent plan, and a logical point.
Have a coherent plan, and a logical point.
Have a coherent plan, and a logical point.
Have a coherent plan, and a logical point.