In the last two years I have coached hundreds of graduate students on their talks for conferences, thesis defenses and symposiums. While I am always impressed by their innovative, creative and noteworthy research, there are definitely ways to improve their presentations of it. There are three things in particular that I consistently advise graduate students to eliminate from their research talks.
1. Stop Reading Your Title Slide
What I see: During presentations, graduate students walk up and say, “Hello” and then immediately turn to their title slide to read what is on it. Many times they stumble over what they have written up there. Sometimes, they even read their own name.
Instead: Know your title. Your title slide is the audience’s introduction to you. This is the first time they hear your voice, get a sense of you and figure out if this is a talk worth listening to. If you walk up and have to read your own title, you are telling the audience that this is information you don’t know very well. How am I supposed to believe in your innovation if you can’t even remember what your presentation is on? You need to memorize your title. Don’t rush through it — take your time. This is your opportunity to get the audience excited about hearing your talk.
2. Stop Saying, “I'm going to talk about my research.”
What I see: After students say their name and title, they follow up with “And today I’m going to talk about my research.”
Instead: Get rid of that sentence or any variation of it. There is no need to state the obvious. The audience knows you will be talking about your research. It is a research presentation. In the first minute, you need to grab the audience’s attention. When students say this sentence, it takes away from getting to the point of the talk. It is an unnecessary statement and takes time away from convincing the audience that they should listen to your presentation.
3. Stop Transitioning With “So”
What I see: After the presentation has begun and a student clicks to a new slide, they begin explaining the slide by saying “So”. Then, as the presentation continues, each transition begins with “So”. In a five minute presentation, I hear “So” more times than I hear the subject of the talk.
Instead: Find other transitions to utilize. Otherwise, a five minute presentation can seem like a fifteen minute one. Instead of using “So” to propel the talk forward, drop it from the sentence.
“So we conducted three experiments…” becomes “We conducted three experiments…”
“So the next thing I did…” becomes “The next thing I did…”
“So this graph shows that…” becomes “This graph shows that…”
Doing this makes the presentation stronger and more direct. That way the audience can follow the logic, feel the momentum of the talk and stay engaged with you and the content.
Making these small changes will dramatically improve the introduction, the transitions and overall effect the presentation has on the audience.