research communication presentation tips


As a teenager, I was never a confident speaker. My grade 10 science teacher told me recently that he still remembers me as shy and quiet. Today, I am much more confident in my public speaking abilities due to my experiences in research communication as a graduate student. In addition, I have completed a professional development course on preparing presentations that has helped me tremendously with execution and structure. These experiences have helped me focus on the overall importance of my research. I have been fortunate enough to have presented in different situations: guest lecturing; speaking competitions; and conferences.

My discipline of anthropology likes complexity. Anthropological writing, such as in academic journals, can be convoluted and verbose, which does not lay the foundations for clear research communication. The research we do is complex and nuanced, therefore; we (especially I) want to talk about everything. Below is a general overview of what I have kept in mind for verbal research communication: making my research digestible while still conveying nuance. While I am not a seasoned presenter, I hope these non-discipline specific tips will be useful especially for those who may have little to no experience in verbal research communication. All communication skills take continuous practice to hone. Therefore, I highly recommend (graduate) students to partake in research communication opportunities whenever available.

Click here for specific information on my experience doing the Three-Minute Thesis (3MT) 2018 competition at Simon Fraser University.

Click here for a short Q&A I did with ScholCommLab on the importance of research communication.


observing others

When I watch presentations, I always pay attention to the presenter's content and execution. I believe we can learn from watching someone else, even stand-up comedians. We can learn even from boring presentations: what could the speaker have done to salvage their delivery?

Through my observations, I have reflected on my own presentation style and practice. If someone moves around too much, I start to think about how I appear to the audience when presenting.

I recommend carefully watching videos and listening to your favourite speakers. Carefully think about what you like about them.

  • Do you like their energy, e.g. their enthusiasm?

  • Do you like the cadence of their voice? Their pacing of words/sentences?

  • Do you like their body-language and movement, e.g. how do they use their hands?

  • Are they animated in their gestures? Facially expressive? How do they use the space?

  • Do they incorporate humour? If so, how?

  • Do you like the way they explain? How do they convey complex ideas?

  • Do you like the way they handle questions, perhaps how they rebuttal?

  • How do they link points together?

  • Do you think their visual aids are effective?

  • Do they rely more on emotional or rational appeal? Or both?

One of my favourite speakers is the writer and contrarian Fran Lebowitz (whom I had the pleasure of seeing in Vancouver in 2018). I enjoy her humour, sarcasm, and quick wit. While, I appreciate Fran’s way of speaking, such as her choice to emphasize certain words through repetition and her use of body language, satire may not always be appropriate during presentations.

I enjoy this talk on urban spaces by the landscape architect Walter Hood. He incorporates effective storytelling, metaphor, and focus on certain concepts/words. With these strategies, he helps the audience to understand the complex topic of urban spaces. To help exemplify his argument, he provides easy to understand case studies. He has just the right amount of movement and expression for me.


content planning

These are the general questions that I ask myself while preparing for my research presentations

Type of presentation

  • Is this a holistic or a specific topic within your research? How general or specific should you be?

  • Where do you want your talk to be in the spectrum of emotional or logical appeal? Should it incorporate both?

  • Could you use an example from your research or a metaphor to better illustrate your point(s)?

  • Are you going to say something that potentially could be misconstrued or that can be a sensitive topic? If so, how can you mitigate any potential misunderstandings?

  • Will you be recorded? If so consider how certain types of colours/prints may appear on camera. Here’s a resource: dressing for the camera

Audience

  • Are they native speakers of the language you’re presenting in?

  • Are they knowledgeable about your subject? What does and doesn’t need to be explained to them?

  • Do certain acknowledgements need to be made? Such as research funders and participants? Land acknowledgement?

  • Why should they care about your presentation?

  • Do you want their engagement during your presentation?

  • If the audience is knowledgeable but not from your field, should you preface your research positionality in your talk?

  • What questions have been frequently asked? Perhaps your audience may ask similar questions.

Time

  • How much time do you have?

  • Will there be time for questions?

  • If you’re in a conference panel, where your talk fits in relation to the other talks and the overarching panel topic?

Location

  • What does the room look like? How much space do you have?

  • What technological resources are available? What happens if this technology fails, how would this affect your presentation?


planning the execution

Tell them what you’re going to tell them; tell them; then tell them what you told them.
— Alexander, my UBC Extended Learning instructor on presentation structure

Ask yourself if you would be interested in your talk? No - then go back to content planning.

If yes, proceed:

  • Think about how you’re going to get the audience’s attention, consider starting with a provocative statement; statistic; story; personal anecdote.

  • Provide an overview at the beginning of what you’re going to talk to the audience about. Conclude with an overview of what you said.

  • Think about whether your presentation is accessible to the general public. For instance, is your presentation too reliant on visuals?

  • Have keywords or images that will remind you and the audience of the content.

  • Simplicity is key.

  • Academic writing is much different from academic presenting. You don’t want to sound like you’re rehearsing a journal paper: incorporate vernacular speech and pauses.


visuals

  • Do not have text-heavy slides, if a particular quote is important then highlight the parts to draw the reader’s attention. Slides that are text heavy often diverts the audience’s attention away from the presenter

  • Do not be reliant on your slides to tell your presentation i.e. do not read off your slides.

  • Keep it simple. Keep colours simple, be mindful of those who are visually impaired and colourblind.

  • Be consistent. Have a standardized slideshow template for consistency.

  • Font size should be larger than 28.

  • Think about whether acknowledgements need to be made, such as institutional, community, and funder logos to show affiliations.

  • If your research explicitly explores sonic or visual methods/media, incorporate it!

  • Have a backup copy of your presentation just in case. In addition to having a copy on a USB, I usually email myself my slide deck.

  • If there are no animations in your slide then I suggest just saving and presenting it via pdf. This mitigates any possible formatting errors when its opened on different computers and software programs.

This is an example slide from my Three-Minute Thesis Competition presentation

This is an example slide from my Three-Minute Thesis Competition presentation


Execution

  • Scan the room during your presentation. Maintain eye your contact with people for least two seconds at a time. Here’s an article that provides 10 reasons why eye contact is essential.

  • Have open body language. Use the space if you’re able to. I encourage movement. I know it may be awkward at first but the more you practice the more natural it will feel.

  • Show enthusiasm and emotion. The audience can tell if you’re passionate. Smile!

  • Be gracious to your audience: thank them for listening.

  • To the audience, you look less nervous than you actually are.

  • Refer back to points or slides that you have said/used.

  • If you’re an instructor/teaching assistant, I recommend experimenting techniques in your classroom. You can ask your student’s for their feedback. Don’t be afraid to be innovative!

  • Record yourself or have someone watch you. I recommend asking someone who is more experienced than you and who can give constructive advice.

  • Be explicit at the beginning on whether you want questions from the audience during or after your presentation.

  • Remember: you know your research better than anyone. Therefore, you don’t need to memorize it all. If you miss a point, no one will know: just play it cool (however, at speaking competitions or when you have a short-time to present, I do suggest memorization).


I made this resource as a part of my seminar work in Simon Fraser University’s fall 2018 President’s Dream Colloquium: Making Knowledge Public, as a graduate student with the colloquium chair Dr. Juan Alperin.