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What Makes a Great Presentation?


ennui
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As a regular patron of some dire PowerPoint presentations, I'm looking to avoid the same mistakes. It's rare that I've ever witnessed a presentation that was genuinely enjoyable and fun to listen to. Even ones with promising beginnings usually 'sink' in the middle with bogged-down details.

 

In a few weeks I have to do a 10-15 minute PowerPoint presentation to a panel, and I really want to make it excellent. Aside from the problems which dog every presentation (keeping the audience interested, making it understandable, etc.) it has the added difficulty of being presented to some non-scientists.

 

So it'll be a mixed audience of scientists, businessmen and others. None of them will be overly familiar with my specific area of science. So I'm not sure what level to pitch it.

 

What would people recommend? What amazing presentations have you sat through, and what techniques did the presenter use? What keeps people entertained and interested?

 

So far I'm planning to link my research to something familiar; diseases which are linked to the study.

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don't put all your data on the slides

do show a graph or chart that gets the gist of it simply

 

don't have lots and lots of slides

do have a small number, one every three minutes can be a reasonable number, of course this can vary depending on your presentation but try to keep them minimal.

 

don't just repeat everything on the slides

do have a script with more information for the talk, be prepared to accept questions afterwords.

 

don't use fancy graphical backgrounds

do keep it simple, at most have a gradient effect in the background and maybe a little logo if required. less is more.

 

don't use annoying transitions, they may look cool when your making it up and are as bored as hell but they just make people think your childish

do stick with the default transition

 

don't stand there like a robot when your giving your presentation

do, point out stuff on your slides, move around a bit, interact with the audience.

 

but, when push comes to shove there is one universal truth. presentations are as boring as a nun on a friday night. there is only so much you can do to keep it interesting without the audience thinking your a pillock so don't be disappointed if you get a few yawns(or snores).

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Basically, you must ask yourself with every slide: "why does my audience want to know this?"

And don't ask yourself: "why do I want to tell this?" Think about your audience, not about yourself.

 

Most important is: Know what you want to say: know your main message, know your arguments. Then if you make your presentation, make sure to put in the important bit, and leave out the unimportant bit.

 

Explain difficult words to your non-scientific audience using analogies (a polymer = like a chain, a membrane = like a sieve etc...). Don't give the boring official definition, unless it's the only way to avoid a mistake. It's alright to refresh the audience's memory at some point, and hint again at the explanation of the difficult words... especially if you have many definitions (which perhaps you should avoid in the first place - you want to speak in the same language as your audience!!)

 

Don't use abbreviations. TLA's are very confusing. (TLA = three letter abbreviations). The use of abbreviations makes things sound very scientific, but it's often very confusing.

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Keep your slides simple and minimalist. You can use your slides to structure your presentation, but if you do so, one of the best things you can do is to show a short phrase describing what you're talking about. If you insist on having bulleted lists of points, for the love of God don't have more than 3 per slide. Also: show the bullets one at a time, in sync with what you're talking about. Don't hit your audience with 3 bullet points up front when you won't even get to a third point for a few minutes. When your slides have a lot of text, your audience will be reading, rather than listening to you.

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My advice is to have a very clear, but modest goal. People will be interested in the ideas and implications rather than the details. Think about your "take home message". What one or maybe two things do you want the audience to remember?

 

For the presentation I would say that people want to hear you talk, rather than read your slides. Thus, I tend to keep slides very minimal. After you have made a draft of your slides ask what you can remove. Also, I would stick to one slide every two minutes or so. Many more slides would require you to rush.

 

Never calculate in a talk. It will just bore everyone and you will lose them. Details tend to be unimportant, especially in short talks.

 

 

Don't use power-point use beamer.

 

Have fun and good luck.

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To me there are two ways of giving presentations on opposite ends of the spectrum:

 

  1. Don't use PowerPoint or any other slides or anything for organization and just kind of ramble.
  2. Use PowerPoint to organize your lecture and basically just read off the slides.

 

In both cases your audience will go to sleep. I have a history professor who uses only a bare minimum outline sheet to guide his lectures and he ends up going on complex tangents in the middle of other thoughts, bringing up other things he finds interesting and generally making it very hard to listen to him.

 

On the other hand, putting everything in PowerPoint is exceedingly dull. Seriously.

 

If you're going to use slides at all, use them for organization. Include points you want to talk about -- and I don't mean including the actual point itself, just a phrase or question you want to answer -- and then gradually work your way through. If you have a picture you want to talk about then throw that in. (Don't try labeling all the key areas of the picture in the slide. Just point at them and explain. You want people interested in you, not the labels on the slide.)

 

I think another key is to think through your presentation carefully beforehand. What do you want to include? What don't you want to include? You can take advantage of the notes feature of PowerPoint (which lets you take notes that aren't shown in the slideshow) to include additional pointers to yourself about what should and shouldn't be included. Don't be the guy who forgets a key point and has to bring it up later in the middle of something else.

 

And have fun. Nobody likes watching a nervous presenter.

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Also: show the bullets one at a time, in sync with what you're talking about.

 

Actually I prefer to have everything on a slide, but it has to be very short so I can skim through it in a few seconds and then concentrate on the talk (as part of the audience) or to remind me what I am going to talk about and in which context (as speaker). Personally I dislike things popping up. I prefer a slide to be static (with very few exceptions). Talk to the audience and do not stare on your screen, notes, whatever. Rather use the points on the slide to remind you what you want to talk about.

Practice your talk!

Stay in time and allow some for discussion.

As a student or sometimes even postdoc showing nerves is expected, just do not overdo it.

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Be consistent with your bulleted text. If you're going to use initial caps, keep using them throughout the presentation. If your going to put periods at the ends of your bullets, keep doing that. If you're inconsistent people will notice, and that's a distraction.

 

Learn the correct forms of its/it's, you're/your, there/there/they're, and the other tricky aspects of the English language. The Wikipedia has a useful list of these things:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_frequently_misused_English_words

 

Don't over-use the bullet animation feature. If you have to animate the bullets in order to stop your audience from reading them in advance then they're probably too informative -- reduce them to just a couple of words and move the rest of the information to your lecture notes, and then print those out and take them with you to the presentation. (It's also kinda insulting to read off a slide.)

 

I agree with the point several people have made about asking the audience questions and getting them to interact. This is a tough one if you've never done it before, but in practice it's surprisingly easy to do. Just make sure you ask them question they'll know the answer to, or have an opinion on. (grin)

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I agree with the point several people have made about asking the audience questions and getting them to interact. This is a tough one if you've never done it before, but in practice it's surprisingly easy to do. Just make sure you ask them question they'll know the answer to, or have an opinion on. (grin)

If you ask a yes/no question and are met by complete silence from the audience, just pause a moment, wait to see if anyone will respond, and then say "Someone just say 'yes'" repeatedly until someone does. Then go from there.

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This is depends largely on the context of the talk. In lectures it is ok, in short presentations (as indicated above) it is a waste of time and generally frowned upon. Unless you have a brilliant hook of sorts. But even then a rhetorical question may be more appropriate.

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If you ask a yes/no question and are met by complete silence from the audience, just pause a moment, wait to see if anyone will respond, and then say "Someone just say 'yes'" repeatedly until someone does. Then go from there.

 

That's a good one -- and you can make a little joke out of it, too. Any time you can get people to laugh it's a good thing.

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