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Ten Rules for Giving Good Oral Presentations


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This is an update of a lecture I give as part of a course in professional development for graduate students at the University of California San Diego (UCSD). There is also a video presentation of an earlier version of this talk at

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Ten Rules for Giving Good Oral Presentations

  1. 1. Ten Rules - Oral Presentations 1 Professional Development Giving Good Oral Presentations Philip E. Bourne PLoS Comp. Biol. 3(4): e77 On Slideshare 1
  2. 2. How Did My Teaching Professional Development Come About? • About 5 years ago the student council of the International Society for Computational Biology (ISCB) asked me to give them a lecture on how to get published based on my role of EIC of PLoS Comp. Biol. • The exchange that took place was one of the most fun lectures I have ever given • In trying to capture that moment I wrote an Editorial “Ten Simple Rules for Getting Published” … Ten Rules - Oral Presentations 2Preamble
  3. 3. How Did This Come About? • It was downloaded a large number of times • Folks started to approach me with other ideas for Ten Simple Rules • To date there is a “Ten Rules” series downloadable from ules.php • Some of it is available from Ten Rules - Oral Presentations 3Preamble
  4. 4. Ten Rules - Oral Presentations 4 My Bias • Given lots of talks – both good and bad – 31 plenary and keynotes in the past 3 years • Talked to between 5 – 5000 people • Talked on television • Talked on many subjects both science and IT • Talked to many different audiences – 3rd graders (most scary), investors, Nobel Laureates Preamble
  5. 5. Ten Rules - Oral Presentations 5 Experiences • Sydney Brenner • Dorothy Hodgkin • David Searls • Francis Crick Preamble
  6. 6. Ten Rules - Oral Presentations 6 Over Arching Thoughts … • The science you are talking about is more important than the talk • Being a good speaker is a key element of being a good scientist • The best speakers are often the best scientists • Talk for yourself as well as others – talk to get feedback on your work and use it • If you are passionate about what you do your talks will be more compelling and enjoyable 6Big Picture
  7. 7. Ten Rules - Oral Presentations 7 Over Arching Thoughts • Work within the bounds of your personality • If you get no questions you screwed up • Even after what I am about to tell you sometimes I feel I give bad talks and I do not know why • Conversely sometimes I worry about giving a talk and it turns out much better than I expected • You should be able to give the same talk without visual aids Big Picture
  8. 8. Ten Rules - Oral Presentations 8 How Do I know I Gave a Good Talk? • You get invited back to talk • You get invited to talk by someone in the audience • Audience members follow up with you days or weeks later • People are not asleep or reading email Big Picture
  9. 9. Ten Rules - Oral Presentations 9 Rule 1 – Tell the Audience What They Want to Hear • Talk at a level of detail that matches the expertise of the audience • Do not talk up e.g. by saying “this is not my expertise but..” if it is not your expertise they do not want to hear it • Do not talk down in a condescending tone • Figure out who your audience will be before you prepare one slide Rule 1 of 10
  10. 10. Ten Rules - Oral Presentations 10 Rule 2 – Less is More • Do not try and say too much – your message will be lost • Be clear and concise – use visuals to help with this • Your knowledge will come across – do not try and tell the audience everything you know • No more than one slide per minute max. • Too many slides and you tend to talk to quickly – the message will be lost Rule 2 of 10
  11. 11. Ten Rules - Oral Presentations 11 Rule 3 – Only Talk When You Have Something to Say • Your time is precious – the audiences time is yours x the number of people in the audience – Do not waste it with preliminary material Rule 3 of 10
  12. 12. Ten Rules - Oral Presentations 12 Rule 4 – Make the Take Home Message Persistent • Test – Ask audience members a week later what they remember from your talk .. If – They remember more that 3 points … no one will – They remember 3 points you regard as key – well done – If they remember 1-3 points but they were not key somehow your emphasis was wrong – They say “what talk” .. Figure that out for yourself Rule 4 of 10
  13. 13. Ten Rules - Oral Presentations 13 Rule 5 – Tell a Story • People (that includes scientists) love a story • Include a human element i.e. make it different to a paper • Stories have beginnings that set the stage reveal the characters etc. • Stories have middles (the experiment and its results perhaps) • Stories have a big ending, often a surprise one Rule 5 of 10
  14. 14. Ten Rules - Oral Presentations 14 Rule 6 – Treat the Floor as a Stage • Entertain the audience – think ahead of time what will keep their attention and make them enjoy listening • Do not use techniques that are not in your personality. If you are not humorous by nature don’t try and start in front of an audience ditto telling anecdotes Rule 6 of 10
  15. 15. Ten Rules - Oral Presentations 15 Rule 7 – Practice and Time Your Presentation • Practice will avoid you going off on tangents – this can be dangerous – message is lost, don’t get to the big finish, talk about stuff that you know little about… • Practice with colleagues before the big audience – they will think kinder thoughts if you screw up • Practice speaking through journal club, group meetings etc. Rule 7 of 10
  16. 16. Ten Rules - Oral Presentations 16 Rule 8 - Slides • Do not read the slide unless you wish to emphasize a point • Slides are a backup for what you are saying • Look at them on the big screen before the audience does • Focus on content not glitz • Avoid information overload • Use animations sparingly and effectively • Use navigation tricks Rule 8 of 10
  17. 17. Ten Rules - Oral Presentations 17 Rule 9 – Video or at Least Audio Your Practice Presentations and Review (Declared Conflict) • This is a very telling way of seeing bad habits e.g., umming and ahhring, scratching your head (or worse) …. • Work hard to correct those habits Rule 9 of 10
  18. 18. Ten Rules - Oral Presentations 18 Rule 10 – Provide Appropriate Acknowledgements • This is important – Do not run out of time and so not do it • Acknowledge as you go • Use pictures • Acknowledge people you anticipate will be in the audience who have contributed • Include important references Rule 10 of 10
  19. 19. Ten Rules - Oral Presentations 19 Additional Thoughts on Slides… • A picture really is worth a lot of words • Spend time on preparing persistent (e.g. introductory slides you will use over) slides – it is a rewarding experience and a skill worth developing • As much as possible a slide should have an understandable message on its own – Its might end up in Google images after all Additional Thoughts
  20. 20. Ten Rules - Oral Presentations 20 Additional Thoughts on Slides • Reuse slides to emphasize a point • Provide a roadmap – Navigation on the bottom of the screen – Returning to the agenda indicating the point you are going to discuss next – Use recap slides – On the Web Additional Thoughts
  21. 21. Ten Rules - Oral Presentations 2121 Discussion/Questions?