Do you find yourself dreading every presentation you’re supposed to give?
Then our tips on how to avoid the four most common mistakes in scientific presentations will give you one less thing to worry about.
1. Boring titles, boring listings
If the titles of your slides alternate between “Introduction” and “Aims” and every one of them consists of nothing but endless bullet points, it’s about time to make a few changes.
Attract (and keep!) your audience’s attention with expressive headlines that perfectly capture your main message.
“Easier Handling” sounds better than “Advantage No. 1”. Wording the titles for your slides will become easier when you insert them after you’ve collected all the information you want to put in the slides.
The more text the slides have, the longer it will take for people to read them. But as long as they’re reading, you’re not the center of their attention.
This is why it’s all about stripping down the text to the bare essentials. Try to find exactly one main point per slide. If you’re familiar with Twitter, this should be a bit easier for you as tweets are limited to 140 characters. So whenever wording the main point makes your brain hurt, set yourself a character limit.
Main points are good, but when you’ve got some images to support them, then that’s even better.
Please always make sure to use a high-quality version of the picture (at least 300 dpi).
If you want to project formulas onto the screen, you might want to use the formula editor or scan them.
From a legal perspective, it’s important to be cautious when choosing these images.
When you’re using graphics you didn’t create yourself, they’re basically protected by copyright law. If license conditions are nowhere to be found, you’ll need to seek permission from the copyright owner first. Further details regarding copyright law can be found on Camille Freeman’s blog.
2. As striking as possible
At pretty much every conference, there are remarkable presentations. In some cases, it’s not their substantial scientific content that makes them stand out but rather their unfavorable design. And sometimes, the design decisions are so questionable that they grab more attention than the content.
Abstain from sound effects and animations. Texts and images that fly in or rotate won’t be greeted with wild enthusiasm. They may provoke some eye-rolling though.
Modest reservation is also a good idea when selecting fonts for your presentation. Fancy fonts will definitely get some looks, but they’re constantly on the edge of being either too fussy or too squiggly. Your audience will face some serious problems deciphering the words. And it doesn’t matter where you are: As a fan of Comic Sans, you’ll belong to a small minority.
Always be in favor of a legible font. With or without serifs, classic or modern – it’s all fine as long as everyone can read it. We recommend a font size of at least 20 pt., so that everyone in the back row can read it as well.
If you’re not in the mood for plain-colored monotony, you’re free to adjust your font colors. Ensure that all the colors go well together. Don’t use them haphazardly. Instead, you could change the color for headlines or mark the beginning of a new chapter by adding another color.
However, you should choose font colors that contrast strongly with the background color. A yellow text is hard to see against a white background and hence won’t be met with terrific acclaim by the audience.
Typos or missing words won’t be well received either as your audience might assume that you put your presentation together in a hurry on your way to the conference. You clearly don’t want to create such an impression, so always check what you have written.
3. Presenting doesn’t mean reading aloud
The slides are supposed to support your speech. They’re not supposed to display every single one of your words. Thus, presenting is not about reading aloud. Try to speak as freely as possible instead.
If you’re just reading the text from the slides, your audience will probably give you a hard time because you not only seem tense but they possibly get the idea that you’re not really a trustworthy expert on the topic.
A change of perspective is always helpful. Try to put yourself in your audience’s position. Ask yourself what they’re expecting from your presentation and what you can do to surprise them.
Think of your own experiences. Maybe you were in the audience when someone held a similar presentation. Reflect on what the speakers did well and how you can use that for your own presentation.
Maintain eye contact with people in your audience. If you turn your back on them in order to read the text on the screen or you spend the entire time staring at your laptop or the floor, you won’t come across as self-confident or convincing.
You can also express self-confidence in your way of speaking. Speak clearly, not too fast and in short sentences. Verbose phrases will only increase your nervousness, and getting caught up in your own sentence structures is certainly not funny at all.
Even if you’re speaking in front of a professional audience, you shouldn’t automatically assume that everyone has the same level of knowledge when it comes to your topic. Sometimes an additional explanation is necessary to make sure everyone is able to follow you.
4. The following Presentations are being delayed by up to 30 Minutes
Even the most interesting presentation eventually comes to an end. At conferences, time is a factor that is particularly important.
Of course that doesn’t mean you have to finish your last sentence exactly to the second. There’s no need to be that precise. But if your presentation takes much longer than scheduled, you’ll stretch your audience’s ability to concentrate as well as the patience of all upcoming speakers.
While exceeding the time limit by two minutes doesn’t sound too dramatic at first, it certainly will become more severe when you only have ten minutes to give your presentation. Two more minutes are actually another 20% in that case.
That’s why it’s always better to test if you can keep the timeframe. And there’s even another positive aspect: You start to internalize your words which will pay off when it comes to speaking freely.
If you’re running out of time during your presentation, try to cut out less important information.
Don’t leave out main points.
Stay on topic and focus on the facts. If you justify your own approach a bit too detailed just because you’re afraid of possible criticism, you’ll probably lose too much time. However it’s not wrong to prepare some arguments but better save them for later. If someone really starts asking questions of a critical nature, you won’t have to think about what to reply and how to put it into words.
To make your ideas hit home even more, we’ll show you five PowerPoint alternatives next week.