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Scientific presentations

New Contributor
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Day one of talks at the 4th EuCheMS Congress in Prague is in the books, and I thought I would share a few pieces of advice for presenters. I think that in the vast majority of cases, the presentation is often perceived as being poor because of a few easily correctible mistakes: the presenter is nervous; they try to squeeze to much information into the allotted time; and they assume that everyone in the audience is an expert in the field. I think every presenter can benefit from the following three tips.

Relax. This applies mostly to graduate students without very much experience talking at conferences, but not exclusively. I understand that it takes a lot of nerve to get up in front of an audience of experts in your field (I did this myself yesterday), but if you are so wrought with nerves that you can’t complete a sentence, the audience will not be able to follow your ideas. The bottom line is that no one in the room knows more about the specific experiments you’re talking about than you. Others may know more about a small portion of your work or a particular technique you discuss, but no one else has slaved for months or years carefully collecting the data you are presenting. In addition, you’ve put it the effort in arranging all of that data to tell a good story – don’t let nerves get in the way of you physically being able to tell it.

Don’t discuss your entire career. This applies mostly to faculty members who have diverse research areas, but also to grad students eager to highlight all of their successes. Presenting thirty slides in a fifteen-minute talk doesn’t allow the audience any time to properly process the ideas or data you show. Do the math – it’s only 30 seconds per slide. The audience understands that you’ve worked hard for a long time, but racing through them is no way to convince anyone of how important or interesting your work is. My favorite talks discuss one paper (or a couple of papers if they build upon each other). In these talks the audience can understand the problem, the methodology to solve the problem and the solution. It’s nice to actually learn something from a talk

Which brings me to my third point: don’t assume everyone in the audience is an expert in the field. One minute of introduction at the beginning helps clarify everything. It sets up the big picture and stops the audience from asking, “why do we care” at every slide. If you’re feeling generous, you can even remind the audience why your data is important several times along the way. Your work is important, help everyone else understand why.

I think if more talks followed these simple suggestions, I would enjoy every one.

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