8 Tips for presenting your research at conferences
Whether presenting your work comes to you naturally or not, preparation and practice is key to making sure your talk goes smoothly and you get the most out of the speaking opportunity.
Here are a few tips from science communicator extraordinaire and BSN President, Dr Giles Yeo:
1. Define the purpose and your audience's needs
Before starting your outline think about why and to whom you are giving the talk as well as what you'd like the outcome to be. This will help your talk be as relevant to the audience as possible and will make sure you get what you want out of the experience, e.g. advice on a particular problem, a shift in mindset, a potential new collaboration.
2. Write the outline first, remembering WHY HOW WHAT
With the audience needs and purpose of your talk now in mind, draft an outline of your talk using the “Why, How, What” concept below BEFORE writing any slides. An outline will help your talk flow well and will make sure your slides are only a support act rather than a set of talk notes you end up reading out!
As you write your outline, always remember Why, How, What. In the words of Giles Yeo, “this concept is the foundation of all science communication.” Ask yourself:
- Why are you asking your question? Why are doing what you are doing?
- How have you chosen to answer your question?
- What have you found out? What does it mean?
Whether spoken, written, long or short, from single experiments, to projects, programmes and careers – the Why, How, What concept is entirely scaleable. For example, when talking about a single experiment:
- Why - I want to see if my reagents work
- How – I used my reagents
- What – My reagents don’t work
When talking about Giles Yeo’s own career:
- Why – Obesity is serious existential problem linked to many different diseases
- How – I use genetics to try and understand why there is a variability in bodyweight in a similar environment
- What – Largely because of a myriad of different circuits within the brain, some people are more driven towards food and therefore find it more difficult to say no
Watch Giles Yeo's TEDx Talk on Starch, Milk and Alcohol: How have our genes adapted? to see him put this concept into action
3. Use stories
It is easy to assume everyone in the audience knows as much as you do about your research. However, this is often not the case, especially with a diverse area such as neuroendocrinology. Bring the audience with you by telling stories. As you tell a story you will automatically be more concrete and clear with your ideas. Stories don’t have to be overly emotional or gimmicky – how about telling the story of how you came to research your topic, what you did, what you’ve found and what you think will happen next (your Why, How, What)? Invite the audience to join you along your research journey. You may even want to ask the audience questions early on to establish a connection and engage them with your talk. End your talk with the end of the story – a take home message.
4. Keep it focussed
Generally, use one slide for one minute of talking and one main point/idea. Keeping your talk clear and concise means it stands a better chance of being understood and remembered by your audience. You can always reference other areas of research, e.g. “I have also worked on xyz which I won’t be discussing in this presentation”, so the audience knows they can ask you about it afterwards. See Jane Robinson’s 2019 Alison Douglas Lecture where she does this.
- Watch make a presentation that sticks in the mind of your audience by Dan Heath for more on keeping your talk focussed
5. Use minimal text and clear graphics on slide sets
Slide sets are there to support your talk rather than a way to cram in all the points you want to remember to say! Reading many bullet points from a slide set is difficult for the audience to listen to – I’m sure you’ve noticed your mind start to wonder whilst listening to a presentation being read from a set of slides. Similarly, one graphic per slide makes sure the audience can digest what is being shown and keeps your message clear. Try to steer clear of using unnecessary images. They will only confuse the main message.
6. Stop editing
Once you are happy with the slides and narrative stop editing and practice. Last minute changes are likely to throw you when you are standing in front of the audience.
7. Practice in your head and out loud
Practicing a talk (or any scenario) in your head before it happens is like a mental flight simulator. By rehearsing a talk, when it comes to the real situation your brain will know what it needs to do. Also, as you practice in front of friends, family or an imaginary audience, notice and avert any nervous ticks, e.g. if you play with your hands a lot while talking, hold a pencil.
8. Breathe, smile, speak slowly and clearly
Before you stand up to give your talk take time to breathe and smile. Think about how what a privilege it is to have a captive audience who wants to hear about your work. Remember most people in an audience want you to do well and are on your side (think about how you feel about speakers when you are an audience member). Speak slowly and clearly so people have the best chance of digesting what you are saying. You’ve got this!