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How to Give a Great Academic Presentation
Whether you’re a graduate student giving a presentation for a course or a researcher presenting at a conference, being able to give an engaging and well-prepared presentation is a valuable skill for anyone in academia – in COVID times it is invaluable. Today, hardly a talk is given without an accompanying PowerPoint presentation full of flashy graphs, images, exploding sub-titles, and often far too many bullet points.
In this post, we will offer you specific tips on how to hone your presentation and sharpen your speech in order to give an interesting, memorable and overall successful academic presentation. Building on past blog articles including Dress Code for Academic Conferences and How to Write a Cover Letter, this post will offer you advice that can be applied across a range of situations that you will face time and again throughout your career. So, without further ado.
1. Tailor your talk to your audience
Although you never want to underestimate the intelligence and experience of your audience, you also need to be aware of the specific crowd to which you are speaking. If you are at a highly technical conference for researchers in your subfield, going into great detail and skipping over any basic background research would be a good idea. If you are attending an interdisciplinary seminar the following month, however, simply adapting the same presentation is not a good idea.
Take the time to make sure your presentation reflects the education level, interests and general make-up of your audience, and your talk will necessarily have a better reception.
2. Keep text to a minimum
The idea of a visual aid is that it should accompany your presentation, not replace it. Thus, your slides should offer complementary information, rather than forcing your audience to try to simultaneously read and listen to you talk.
Always use a font that is easy to read and keep the size large enough so that even those at the back of the room or lecture hall can see every word. However, images and graphs are always better than words – a simple slide accompanied by a great verbal description is your best option. Check out more tips for designing a persuasive presentation.
3. Practice, practice, practice
Even if you feel completely confident in your presentation skills, it’s always a good idea to rehearse in order to give the best talk possible. Through practice you become more comfortable each element of your presentation and are less likely to forget small but important things such as an introduction of who you are and where you work or study.
By practicing you can make sure that your slides are organized in such a way as to create a good flow for your points, you become more comfortable with all of the transition points and you have the chance to make any necessary changes before you find yourself on stage.
4. Harness your nerves
Even if you’ve practiced like crazy, it’s normal to still feel nervous. If you make the conscious choice to channel that nervous energy into enthusiasm, you can actually boost your own performance and simultaneously build confidence. Taking long pauses and deep breaths are fine practices, and if done in a controlled manner they can add emphasis to specific points within your talk while also calming you down.
If you are someone who forgets what you had planned to say when you’re nervous, make sure you’ve made clear notes to fall back on. Furthermore, you can arrange your slides so that each transition begins with a clear indication for you of what comes next. If you are giving a presentation in a language other than your native tongue, don’t let yourself get caught up in worrying about grammar or pronunciation. Focus on the content of your presentation and your audience will too.
5. Respect your time limit
It is natural to get caught up in your talk and forget to keep track of time. A presentation that drags on forever invariably loses favor with the audience, however, so it’s important to keep to the schedule. Setting a watch or clock on the podium is one way to give yourself a physical reminder of the time without being too obvious about it.
Another option is to ask a friend or colleague to give you a reminder when you’ve hit the halfway point or when you only have five minutes remaining of your allotted time. If you choose to use a reminder, remember not to speed up or rush even if you feel like you’re running out of time and still have lots to say. Prepare for this scenario ahead of time and choose which slides you could skip if need be. Regardless of whether you’ve had to skip certain sections, always have a strong conclusion planned. People tend to remember the beginning and end of events the best, so going out strong is important. Finally, always thank your audience and your host before leaving the stage.
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