One of our biggest problems is to talk in public, and even if after college and a few seminars we overcome this, there is still a long way to achieve the main goal: to appeal public and make them learn something of your work.
That’s why we decided to organise a round table about how to do oral presentations and Jordi Bascompte was our month’s guest. He and his group work on networks of ecological interactions and spatial dimension of population –the architecture- and community dynamics; all within the framework of conservation biology.
But Jordi is not only a good researcher, he is also a good speaker and he proved that during our round table. He prepared a document with tips that I’m going to use -and slightly modify- for this post. And here they are!
I. Some simple rules
1. Be brief. As a rule of thumb, use three quarters of the time allocated (e.g., no more than 45 minutes for a presentation of an hour). Brevity is the mark of distinction of great presentations. Indeed, several sociological studies conclude that we can keep our concentration up to between 4 and 10 minutes, and never more than 20 minutes. Never use more time than allowed.
Everybody hate when someone surpass the scheduled time, so never do so, it’s a deadly sin! If it happens that you have to speak longer than 20 minutes, try to plan your speak in blocks, so when concentration is decaying you change of topic and everybody will listen to you again. You can use those topic-change breaks to answer questions.
2. Think of the presentation as a story. It should have a logical flow that works its way smoothly towards a good ending. Never use it as an enumeration of an independent collection of papers.
The audience will find your speech intriguing. As magic for magic is important the economy of moves, for lectures is the economy of text.
3. Less is more. Do not overload your talk with too much information. Actually, the more information you provide, the less will the audience remember. Never conclude with more than three points. Do not overload visuals: be clear, be simple.
Don’t include all you now and you did, we have to make an effort- a selection exercise. It’s useful to keep information because it could be used during debates.
4. Make the take-home message persistent through the talk and at the end. Use a powerful last slide.
This is what people will remember, we draw it for them. Mainly, we retain what is said at the beginning and at the end. Bear in mind that this message is one sentence, not the conclusions.
5. Use analogies. They are the most powerful way to deliver complicated ideas.
Use them prudently, too much would end in a very simple, childish concept.
6. A talk has a different format than a paper. Use a different language, e.g., do not write little sections of a paper, but speak about them while highlighting a good visual. Try to avoid writing too much in slides and never read your talk. Walk the audience through a complex figure or equation. Only then make the point.
This is the other speeches’ deadly sin. As a book is different from a based film, your talk must be different from your paper. Too much text indicates lack of experience, knowledge and self-assurance. If the audience have to read, they won’t listen to you. Also try to coordinate what you say with what you show and explain figures before saying the conclusion.
7. Face the audience. Make eye contact, move around the stage, and avoid hiding behind podiums or desks.
Take into account that body language and acting behaviour will mean more than your words. Technologies, such as wireless presenters, help you to control the space. Another tip is to ask for a lapel microphone to avoid fixed microphones.
II. Sources and further information
Jordi gave as a few resources that could help us to improve.
1. TED talks. A great selection of oral presentations given by outstanding speakers. See as many as you can and keep asking yourself: What makes of this a good oral presentation? Two of his own top choices are Steve Job’s speech during a graduation ceremony at Stanford (“How to live before you die”) and Ken Robinson’s talk on “School kills creativity”.
2. Alvarez Marañón, G. (2000). El Arte de Presentar. Gestión 2000, Editorial Planeta. An excellent guide on crafting outstanding talks, from the planning and design to the delivery.
3. Bourne, P.E. (2007). Ten simple rules for making good oral presentations. PLoS Computational Biology, 3: e77.
4. Tufte, E.R. (1990). Envisioning Information. Graphics Press. A beautifully illustrated book on how to plot information in a visually arresting, easily to understand ways. Statistics meets art.