There are many more ways to get a presentation wrong than there are to get it right. Good presentors (and presentations) are hard to come by. But I believe it is a skill that can be learned and acquired.
As such, I present below a summary of my experiences from watching others give good (or bad) presentations, reading articles, and learning from the wisdom of my mentors who unfortunately had to be at the bearing end of my presentations. Alon, U. How To Give a Good Talk. Mol. Cell 36, 165–167 (2009). Tufte’s 10 rules of an effective presentation
- Know your audience. Organize your content such that all three categories of people: least familiar, moderately knowleadgable, and experts have something to take away from your presentation.
- Audience is your friend. For most scientific presentations, your audience wants you to succeed. They have invested their most precious commodity, their time, to come see you and hear you talk. Believe in yourself.
Remember the main question. Before anything, you must know the main question at the heart of your presentation. Every slide must work towards resolving that question.
Give premise to each slide. Use full sentences to title your slides. The title should describe a single specific result concluded from the contents of that slide. For example, example, “Cell death vs time” versus “Cell death decreases with time in ABC knockout cells.”
Limit text on slides. Do not dump a large amount of content on a single slide. Cluttered slides look bad. Use figures, a few bullet points or lines, and a legible font (>22 pts).
Limit the number of slides. For short talks (10-15 min), no more than 10-12 slides. The general rule of thumb could be to have 1-2 min per slide. Prefer to sacrifice content over clarity in tight situations.
Picture a story. Tell a story – tell your audience about your characters and how awesome they are. Share your enthusiasm and make them feel what you feel about it. TED Talks Playlist: How to Tell a Story
Mind the contrast. Avoid default powerpoint themes. They are terrible. Go for a clean presentation with generous use of whitespace and black-on-white contrast scheme.
Number your slides. Numbered slides allow quick indexing and are specially useful during Q&A sessions. Use them!
Use upto 3 colors per slide. Use colors meaningfully and limit to 3 per slide. Choose harmonious canva.com – Color wheel and colorblind friendly colors. Okabe, Masataka, and Ito, Kei., Color Universal Design (CUD) – How to make figures and presentations that are friendly to Colorblind people.
- Minimize nervous gestures. Get a feedback of your on-stage body language from your friends. Minimize any distracting gestures. For example, racing impatiently across the stage as if it’s on fire.
- Maintain visual connection. Presentation is a two way communication with the audience. To do this, make eye-contact with the audience and keep them engaged. Don’t bury yourself in your slides.
- Walk or move if space permits. Prefer to walk across the stage (or available area) once in a while to ensure connectivity with the whole audience.
- Prepare transcripts, if necessary. It is wise to outline a rough transcript of what you are going to say and memorize some key sentences that introduce critical slides.
- Practice. And not just a little practice, but many, many hours of it. Record and listen to yourself if necessary. Gallo C., The One Habit That Brilliant TED Speakers Practice Up To 200 Times. Forbes.
- Remember, it’s about the story. Prefer not to begin with, “The title of my talk is foo bar”. Remeber the story structure, setup (the beginning), encounter (the middle) and resolution (the end). Follow it for every section. TED Talks Playlist: Before Public Speaking
- Avoid monotony. Do not read the content verbatim from the slides.
- Talk slowly. Remember that you know the most about your own work. Talk slowly and clearly with the audience. If you feel you’re speaking too slowly, you’re speaking at about the right speed. Paul Graham: How to Present to Investors
- Be precise. Try to make your message precise and your arugments less convoluted. It will make your talk more memorable.
- Speak from the heart. You are not reading a technical spec. Speak from heart. Use jokes, infuse humour. Do it sparingly and do it effectively. Open up to your audience.
- Express wonder. Use a childlike curiosity. Make your audience wonder about your next slide. Marvel at your work. Use drama. Use verbal cues as needed.
- Be calm. Maintain a calm, composed body language. Make eye contact with the questioner as you hear the complete question.
- Respond to question, not the person. When you receive feedback in a confrontational or challenging tone, remember to respond to the question and not the tone of the person who asked it.
- Repeat. Repeating and rephrasing (if needed) the questions is a good strategy. Ask the questioner if you have understood it properly and then proceed to answer it.
- Admit. It is good to say, “I don’t know”, “I didn’t think this before”, “Let’s talk about it after the talk”, or “that is very important criticism.”