So guess who got landed with doing half of the research group seminar this week? That’s right me! Thanks supervisor.
It wasn’t actually too bad, especially after my conference attending in September gave me plenty of opportunity to watch talks and think about what made the good ones good.
Here’s what I came up with.
Check your audience
Are you talking to high school students or professors? What sort of talk do they expect you to give? Are they interested adults with no background, or kids with no interest?
Who you’re giving your talk to will help you do point number two.
Taylor your content
If the people you are giving your talk to are school kids, then they are going to need a lot of background, simply explained. The professors will want more meat, they already know the simple stuff. If your audience are professors, but from a wide number of disciplines and you want to talk on something very specific, then you’ll need background, but in a different way to a school presentation.
If you’ve been asked to make children enthusiastic about science, a dry lecture style talk is not going to do it. If you’re talking at a conference, a lively interactive session is going to raise eyebrows!
Don’t write too many words
No one reads the words. When you’ve got to PhD level, the overwhelming majority of times you’ve sat in a room and listened to someone talk has been during a lecture. Unless you’ve been asked to give a lecture, you do not need to fill your slides with words (you probably don’t need to do that even in a lecture). The best talks I’ve seen have a very expressive speaker, and the important figures on the screen. You want your audience to focus on what you are saying, not on reading the slides.
Don’t have yellow!
Or, don’t make your slides cluttered and ugly. Yellow on white is useless! Ugly pictures that have been shrunk too small are a no-no. Keep it simple. If you are rubbish at powerpoint then your university will probably have slides you can use, which should be in the ‘house style’ and will look very professional. Also remember to keep any writing big enough to read.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
Everyone needs at east one practice of their talk. There is nothing worse than watching someone who clearly hasn’t practiced stumble through their talk and then not have finished at the end of their time. Make sure you know what you should say for each slide. Knowing you’ve got it sorted should help you keep calm when giving your talk.
Engage the audience.
Once you’ve made your presentation, perfected the slides and practiced your speaking, how do you make sure the audience listen? There are two things you should do, look at the audience and sound excited about the talk. The talks I’ve sat through, where the speaker sounds bored by their subject, do not leave a lasting impression (other than they were boring). If you can sound interested in your subject, keep your voice varied and audible and look in the direction of your audience, you should be fine.