University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

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15th Annual Chemistry Graduate Student

Research Symposium

June 7th, 2016

University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Presentation Advice

No two presentations are exactly alike, and what works well in one instance may be unsuitable in another. Nevertheless, some general points can be made with respect to what constitutes a good seminar. You should consider the following in preparing your presentation:

  1. The most common mistake made by a speaker is to assume that the audience has as detailed an understanding of the subject as does the speaker. This is only very rarely the case. It is best to devote at least 5 minutes to fairly general background, explaining in particular what general factors motivate the more specific research to be discussed thereafter. What is the big picture? Why should anyone care? What specific questions are to be addressed by the speaker's research?

  2. The second most common mistake is to assume that it is better to give a cursory overview of many results rather than a cogent presentation of a subset of all that the speaker has accomplished. The motivation tends to be that speakers want to look as though they've accomplished a great deal, but the net result tends to be that no one in the audience has a clue what actually got done because insufficient time is devoted to any particular topic so as to make it comprehensible. CLARITY IS ALWAYS TO BE PREFERRED OVER QUANTITY.

  3. To assist in fostering clarity, the density of information on a single slide should be such that it takes about 2 minutes to discuss it. This is obviously a ROUGH guideline, since there are occasionally good reasons to violate this rule in either direction. However, if you need MORE than 2 minutes for a slide, chances are it is too dense in information, and the audience will be confused trying to follow your discussion. Consider breaking it into two or more slides or into a slide that "grows" (e.g., in a PowerPoint presentation, new portions could be flown in after a stripped-down version is initially discussed; in an overhead presentation, additional transparencies can be laid over the first accomplishing the same thing). Note that for a 20 minute talk, this suggests 12 to 13 slides/foils/images is about the right number.

  4. In choosing topics for slides, consider doing your conclusions FIRST. Now, evaluate each possible slide based on whether it provides evidence that permits you to arrive at your conclusions. If no, discard it (even if it took you 6 months of work...). Short talks need maximum focus.

  5. Text in a font size smaller than 16 is illegible to most of the audience. Look at every one of your slides from the back of a lecture hall and THEN decide whether you think they are acceptable.

  6. Garish graphics detract from a talk rather than enhancing it. Avoid the impulse to animate, colorize, provide wild backgrounds, UNLESS IT CLEARLY ENHANCES THE POINT YOU ARE TRYING TO MAKE. Color can be very effective in highlighting small portions of an otherwise large graphic where the discussion will be focused. Animation can be useful in making 3-dimensional structures more comprehensible. Just remember that the science is the message.

  7. Practice your talk in front of an audience at least once or twice, and do that only after having practiced alone to the point where you know what you WANT to say as each individual slide comes up. Practice speaking slowly if you have a tendency to rush.

  8. Point at things as you discuss them. Speakers often assume that the audience must be looking at exactly the same part of the slide as they are, but the audience has not had the benefit of several prior runs.

  9. Project confidence! Chances are, you know more about the subject you are presenting than anyone else in the audience. Open the audience's eyes. It's OK to be nervous, but focus on a measured pace and a clear voice to overcome any deleterious effects of nerves.