Making the Most of Your Presentation

by Morgan Conley

Think about one of your favorite presentations when you were an audience member and the presenter used PowerPoint. What was that presenter doing that made his or her presentation memorable? How did he or she speak? How did he or she move? Chances are good that the presenter clearly organized slides, engaged the audience, and practiced before the presentation. Below are a few tips to make the most of your presentation.

1. Organization. An organized PowerPoint presentation helps keep your presentation on track. Remember that the slides don’t make up the whole presentation; they are tools that keep you on track. Slides should be brief and to the point, not weighed down with text. Where appropriate, add visuals like pictures, charts, and diagrams to further explain a concept. PowerPoint presentations are linear, so your presentation will flow from one slide to another. The ordering of slides should make sense for what is being presented..

2. Engagement. As mentioned previously, you, the presenter, are the star of the show. Engaging the audience makes whatever you are presenting that much more exciting and interesting. One of the easiest ways to get your audience engaged is by asking a question related to their own experience. Ask them how they generally think about something related to your topic, and solicit a few responses. Then follow up their comments with how you are thinking about something in your presentation. For example, if you’re presenting on the benefits of parallel circuits over series circuits, ask your audience to imagine a string of Christmas lights. Have they ever wondered why, even when one light is burned out, the rest light up? From there, you can present the differences between the two types of circuits. Because your audience has connected your presentation with their own experience, they are able to relate to your topic more easily and remain engaged. This is only one of many ways to get your audience engaged.

3. Content. As much as your presentation is about performance, content matters too. More than likely, people will come to your presentation because they’re interested in what you have to say, so what you tell them is important. For starters, make sure what you are sharing is correct and honest. Share your PowerPoint with graduate students in your lab as well as your faculty mentor. If possible, practice your presentation with your lab as an audience. They’ll be able to provide feedback on your content and your presentation style.

4. Practice and Preparation. Prepare for audience questions by thinking about potential questions and how you’d answer them. Also practice ways of acknowledging a question you can’t answer. For example, an audience member might ask you about a topic that’s tangential related to your research (but may be central to her own research!). By thanking the person for the question, explaining that the topic wasn’t within the parameters of your research, and briefly touching on one or two ways your research could expand to include the topic, your presentation stays on track, and you aren’t trying to sound knowledgeable about an area you haven’t researched. Nerves can sometimes make people forget and they make share something that is incorrect by accident. To avoid this, practice. It feels necessary to say this multiple times; practice, Practice, PRACTICE! This is the best way for you to become comfortable with your material and confident about the information you are sharing.

Obviously, this list is not exhaustive of all the ways you can prepare for your presentation. Consider these tips as foundational and think about ways you can expand to make your presentation fit into a style you are comfortable with.

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