1. Cater to your audience
Engaging your audience is vital to maintaining their attention and fostering active participation. Your title slide should be used as an opportunity for you to introduce yourself and connect with your audience. Do not simply read the title! Try to scan the room and make eye contact with people and smile - it will make your audience feel more relaxed. Furthermore, background slides are arguably the most important part of your presentation, as they put your research in the context of the larger scientific conversation. It’s essential to think critically about the level of knowledge of your audience and prepare enough background slides accordingly. Much of your audience is there primarily because they want to be educated in your field and get excited about research - even if they are at a higher level in their career than you. Background material should be pedagogical but research-oriented. Make sure you highlight the major gaps in the literature that motivate your research.
2. Present your research as a story and focus on broader impacts
Humans are wired to connect with stories, so incorporate narrative elements into your presentation. Frame your research in a relatable context and explain why it matters. Develop a storyline that progresses logically, highlighting the problem, your methodology, and the significance of your findings. Your research slides should be accessible to the lowest common denominator of your audience. Think of the high-level take-home messages and be sure to make that message clear in your slides, even if it involves some repetition. Each of the slide titles in the results section of your slides should have your take-home message written on it (don’t simply name the title of your slide “results”). And be careful: although it is tempting after you’ve spent many months or years working on your project, do not show all of the gory details of your work and do not be overly technical in your language. Focus more about the broader message of your work and how it fills the gaps in current knowledge.
3. Cope with presentation anxiety by being prepared
Do not include anything on your slides that you can’t explain in greater detail. Think about the kinds of questions people will ask and be prepared. If talking in front of a large audience makes you as anxious, try to memorize at least the first few minutes of your slides to get over your initial nervousness. Arrive for your presentation early and try to test your set-up beforehand to avoid equipment malfunctions. If technical difficulties do occur, try to take a deep breath -all members of your audience have been there at some point and they know it’s not your fault! Finally, it is absolutely critical to practice your presentation multiple times beforehand. If you can practice in front of a group of people, this is even better because it incorporates an element of stage fright.