10 tips for adding polish to presentations


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Too many presentations, especially in academia, fail because the audience leave without understanding or remembering what was said. In many cases, people make slides without fully understanding who the audience of the talk is, and/or what the key points of their talk should be.

Here are some simple tips, gained from experience of many presentations at different levels, that will hopefully help you add some shine to your presentations.

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10 tips for adding polish to presentations

  1. 1. Adding polish to presentations 10 tips to make your talk shine Keith Bradnam# Author: Keith Bradnam, Genome Center, UC Davis# This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike3.0 Unported License.# 2012
  2. 2. 3 things that your talk should be
  3. 3. 1) UnderstandableIf people don’t understand it, what’s the point in them being there? A waste of time for them*and* you.
  4. 4. 2) MemorablePeople may understand what you’re talking about while you’re saying it, but if they forget itright away then that’s not good either. You want your talk to be remembered by others, longafter you give it.
  5. 5. 3) EnjoyableMany people never even think about making their talks enjoyable. It *may* be enough just topresent the facts, but if you can entertain people at the same time then why not do that aswell. Sometimes all this takes is showing a degree of passion.
  6. 6. What will be the best part of your presentation?
  7. 7. Your results? Your visual content? Your spoken content? Your sparkling personality?Don’t just worry about the actual results/data that you have to present. The whole package isimportant: the data, the slides, how you speak, and how your personality comes across.Deficiencies in any one of these areas can make a dent in an otherwise good talk.
  8. 8. SLIDES THE PERFECT TALK? DELIVERY CHARISMANot many people make fantastic looking slides, and have a great style of public speaking,*and* have bags of charisma to boot. Steve Jobs was one such person, and he’s a greatexample of someone who gave flawless presentations time after time. Always the results ofpractice and hard work.
  9. 9. Some things to consider before you present
  10. 10. Things to do before your talk Think & make notes Write plan Make slides Practice 20% 45% 10% 25%Plan your talk *before* you fire up Keynote/Powerpoint! Think about what you want to say,and what message your talk should have. Most importantly, allow time to practice your talk.The above figures are approximately how much time I might devote to something like a labtalk.
  11. 11. Who is your audience? Preparation time Preparation time Venue (expected) (observed) Lab talk 3–7 days 2–24 hours Department 2–4 weeks 1–2 days meeting Conference 1–2 months 1–2 weeks presentationPreparation time obviously depends on the nature of the talk. The bigger the talk, the moretime you should allow. Most people prepare talks at the last minute, and/or work through thenight to get their slides finished. This is usually very obvious to the audience!
  12. 12. Two types of questions TA L K D “That’s some really cool science...what does OO this mean for x, y, or z?” G “Could you clarify how you did...?” TA L K D “What’s the rationale for doing...?” B A “Which program did you use to do...?” “What species do you work on?” “Was that RNA or DNA that you were using?”Two types of questions can be asked at talks. The first category is a sign of a good talk. Thesecond category is a sign that your talk didn’t explain things in enough detail.
  13. 13. 10 tips for a better presentation
  14. 14. 1) Be preparedThings to do before your talk
  15. 15. Before your talk... Research your presentation environment: projector computer version of Powerpoint/Keynote pointer? microphone?Don’t turn up and be disappointed to find out that they don’t have a computer capable ofhandling your slides. Do you know if you have a lectern to stand at? Will you assume that apointer is available? Will the lighting in the room make your slides hard to read? You shouldcheck all of these things in advance.
  16. 16. Before your talk... Silence your cell phone Have a plan B! Save a PDF copy of talk Put backup copy on flash drive and/or online Could you do your talk without slides?Don’t rely on one copy of your talk. All storage media can – and will – fail at some point. Ifyou really know your material, you should be able to fall back and give a good summary ofthe material using a white board or even just from a spoken summary of the key points.
  17. 17. 2) Eliminate distractionsWhat don’t you want your audience to see?
  18. 18. If the first thing people see about your talk is all of the crud and mess that lives on yourcomputer, then you are already lowering expectations before you even open your mouth.
  19. 19. Typical slide during talk Lots of bullet points But you’re about to make a big point Very important to keep focus Don’t distract the audience at this pointPop-up alerts in the middle of your talk? Classy, real classy.
  20. 20. Distractions ON A MAC, USE A GUEST ACCOUNT!Incoming Skype calls? Such things will happen if you don’t quit any application you don’tneed. On a Mac, simply turn on a Guest account and use that for your presentation. You canguarantee there will be no other software which will interrupt your talk.
  21. 21. 3) Don’t mix stylesChoose one style and stick to it
  22. 22. Ugly slides If you needlessly change your fonts between slides... ...or even within slides And if you use lots of different colors or font sizes...It’s amazing how many people just throw slides together from different presentations. I callthis the ‘instant headache’ effect.
  23. 23. IT LOOKS UGLY!Some color combinations will induce nausea.
  24. 24. Templates Avoid out-of-date templatesSome color combinations are a good way to let people know that you first learnt how to usePowerpoint circa 1995
  25. 25. A little more advice on style Only use a few font sizes Be consistent with text alignment It’s okay to change the font size to improve word wrappingSentences that have just one word that wraps to another line can make slides look ugly. Youare not legally obliged to use the same font size for every slide. Sometimes bumping a fontdown by one point is enough to eliminate word wrap.
  26. 26. A little more advice on style Use only a few font sizes Be consistent with text alignment It’s okay to change the font size to improve word wrappingThe same slide, with some consistency.
  27. 27. Transitions Is your talk divided into sections? Will people know when you switch sections?If you talk about more than one subject, or even if you have different sections to your talk(which you probably should have), then will people know when you transition from one partto another?
  28. 28. Next: Mixing slides from different presentationsUsing a different colored/styled slide makes for an easy visual cue to your audience that youhave moved on. This is very useful if people in your audience were waiting for ‘the nextsection’ and were not paying much attention to your opening slides. This can sometimes be aplace where you use slide animations effectively. I.e. only animate slides which indicatetransitions between sections
  29. 29. Older data from my boss • My boss has some Interest in talk results that use a 100 different slide template 75 • It has different colors and fonts 50 • It might even contain 25 irrelevant data 0 • I’m too lazy to change it 1 2 3 4 5 Number of different slide designs thoughDon’t include slides from other presentations (e.g. from your boss or lab colleague) withoutfirst changing the theme of the that slide to match the theme of your slides. Be prepared toedit and remove objects from these slides which are no longer relevant to the point you aremaking.
  30. 30. 4) Use imagesWe are visual creatures
  31. 31. Data I studied conserved genes in: Arabidopsis thaliana Mus musculus Xenopus tropicalis Gallus gallusDoes your audience always need to read lists of things?
  32. 32. Data I studied conserved genes in: Arabidopsis thaliana Mus musculus Xenopus tropicalis Gallus gallusWouldn’t the addition of some pictures make the slide more appealing?
  33. 33. DataMaybe you don’t even need the text – you could still add text beneath pictures, but if there isan opportunity to use a picture, use it! We are visual creatures and having images on slideshelps break up the monotony of the usual, text-heavy, talk.
  34. 34. Assessing methods of genome assembly Keith Bradnam Korf Laboratory MONDAY 8/22/2011Some people plaster their title slide with every piece of information they thing should go onthere. Usually these end up looking horribly cluttered.
  35. 35. Assessing methods of genome assembly Keith BradnamYou could instead use a simpler opening slide...
  36. 36. Korf Laboratory, UC Davis Genome Center...and then use a separate slide to let people know where you work. And this is anotherexample where you can easily throw in a pleasing picture.
  37. 37. Use a quotation “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”Set the scene for your talk if possible. Is there a quotation or passage of text that helps tointroduce the subject? People like to be eased in to subject matters with at least someintroduction/background. Setting the scene gets people thinking about your material beforeyou even show them any results.
  38. 38. Use a quotation “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”And if you do have quotes, make sure that the person in the picture looks like they arespeaking the quote. This might require you to flip an image. This is not hard.
  39. 39. 5) Reduce bullet pointsAnd reduce chance of people falling asleep
  40. 40. Death by bullet point Some talks contain so many bullet points that it makes you want to go out and shoot somethingYawn.
  41. 41. Too short? Download data Process CheckYou had better explain such things very clearly, otherwise slides like this are redundant.
  42. 42. Too long? Need to obtain sequence data from suitable database in order to find set of intron sequences A script was written to process sequences into suitable data format (process_data.pl) All species that were investigated had data sets that did not produce any errorsConversely, some people don’t like reading too much text. This still might be a preferredoption though if English isn’t your native language and you want to be sure peopleunderstand you.
  43. 43. A happy compromise Download intron data from GenBank Process into new format No species contained errorsStrike the right balance. Make sure what you say complements what’s on the screen, anddoesn’t just reproduce it verbatim.
  44. 44. 6) Avoid data overloadOnly show what needs to be shown
  45. 45. If you reproduce figures from published papers (or other sources), you are not required toshow them all in one go.
  46. 46. MASKING USED TO HIDE PARTS OF IMAGEUse image masks or crop images before you add them to your slide. Let people see just theparts that they need to see.
  47. 47. ADD SHAPES TO HIDE PARTS OF IMAGEAlternatively, hide out parts of the image using white shapes and reveal them one at a time.This keeps the audience focused on one thing at a time.
  48. 48. Don’t look at the cheeseIf you have lots of different things on one slide and they all appear at once, you willimmediately ensure that many of the audience will be looking at different things.And I bet you looked at the cheese didn’t you?
  49. 49. FIGURE 2When you present things in a series of events, this is a great opportunity to animate eachstep.
  50. 50. I always use a wipe effect to reveal each element. In this case, the white rectangles that arehiding the objects would be revealed with a ‘wipe downwards’ effect.
  51. 51. 7) Use your voiceYou have an instrument, learn how to play it
  52. 52. ACTORSPresenting science data requires you to be a little bit of actor. Adopt a stage persona if thathelps you. Most tips on acting apply to science presentations (project your voice, pause fordramatic effect etc.)
  53. 53. SALESPEOPLEEqually, you have to be something of a car salesmen. You are selling data and need to makepeople understand why your results are important.
  54. 54. Tips for speakingVary pace & volumeUse pausesPractice words you may be unfamiliar withAvoid excessive reading of textBe confident
  55. 55. Put people at ease Remind people of timing Let people know if they can interrupt Tell jokes? Tell anecdotes?Don’t tell jokes if you are uncomfortable in doing so, and never say things which might beconsidered inappropriate. But a little levity goes a long way. If you are having a good timewhen you present your talk, this will come across to the audience.
  56. 56. 8) ContentHow do you choose what to say?
  57. 57. Anatomy of a talk Introduction Background Results Summary 2% 5% 10% 15% 8% 25% 55%80%Most people cram their talks full of results and leave little room for anything else.
  58. 58. Background material Make sure you include sufficient background!!! Make sure background is appropriate to audienceThis is my number one problem with most science talks. Speakers are not respectful of theaudience and dive straight into what they did without first setting the scene.
  59. 59. This good guy (Luke Skywalker) finds out that this bad guy (Darth Vader) is really his dad. But Luke still becomes a Jedi and kicks his dad’s ass to piss off the Emperor And the good guys blow up this Death Star thing and crush the evil Empire. Yay, the good guys win. The End.Imagine if someone described the Star Wars trilogy without making reference to the first film(Star Wars, episode III). This film is necessary to set up the whole story and make ussympathetic to the protagonists. Similarly, your talk should include a section which sets upyour results.
  60. 60. 9) Have a planDo you know how to get from A to B?
  61. 61. Tell a storyIf you plan your talk before you make your slides you are much more likely to come up with abetter flow to your whole presentation. It should have a beginning, middle, and end. Goodtalks even set up drama by revealing problems, and then add a resolution (how you overcamethe problem).
  62. 62. Less is sometimes more TIME Talk 1 Talk 2 Talk 3 Result 1 Result 2 Background Result 2 Result 1 Result 2 Result 3 Result 3 Result 3 Result 4 What this means What this means Where this is Where this is Result 5 going goingToo many talks are like Talk 1. All results. Talk 3 may contain less data, but the results willbe discussed in the appropriate context and people will be more likely to remember the talk.
  63. 63. Make your talk flowThe order in which you produced results is notnecessarily the order in which you present results!
  64. 64. Have a goal What are the key ‘take home’ messages? If you don’t know what they are... ...your audience won’t eitherAs you plan your talk, and as you make your slides, always ask yourself ‘why should theaudience care about any of this?’
  65. 65. 10) Practice!People will notice if you haven’t practiced
  66. 66. What to practice? Timing Opening words (of talk and/or each slide) How to say unfamiliar words Run through entire talk (vocally)If you are new to public speaking, it will really, really show if you don’t practice. Practicing isnot the same thing as spending 5 minutes running through your slides. You should recite thetalk to learn how long it takes.
  67. 67. Learn to use software Do you know how to use Powerpoint/Keynote? Do you really know to use them? Can you: mask/crop an object? align all objects to an edge rotate objects by exactly 90º? animate an object along a custom path?Knowledge of what your presentation software is capable of can really help you be muchmore efficient in putting slides together.
  68. 68. Practice, practice, practice! Practice rehearsing your talk as you will give it Check every slide, animation, and transition Get feedback from friends/colleagues Be prepared to edit and refine slides Know your talk inside and outIf you don’t practice your talk, then I refuse to be friends with you. Do you know yourmaterial so well you could run through your talk without the slides? Can you ad lib on topicsrelated to, but not included in, your main subject matter?
  69. 69. Giving talks for 2nd time Still need to practice! Things change (data, background material etc.)! You’ll have new ideas about your talk You can always make a talk betterDon’t assume that because you have made a set of slides, that you will never need to changethings if you present the same talk again. Audiences differ, your results may have changed,the background material may have changed, and you may have better ideas of how toexplain/present your data...all of these things mean that you should always go through everyslide and make changes if appropriate.
  70. 70. Summary
  71. 71. Giving a talk is easy Giving a good talk is hard Giving a great talk is difficult!Don’t ever assume it will be easy. Great presentations happen because of great presenters.And presenters become great through hard work and practice.
  72. 72. One great talk could change your career forever... ...so take the time to make every talk fantastic.If you give a talk at a conference, the audience may contain your future employer or grant/manuscript reviewer! Treat every talk like it is the last talk you’ll ever give.
  73. 73. The End.# Author: Keith Bradnam, Genome Center, UC Davis# This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike3.0 Unported License.