Whether your research project is a modest undergraduate endeavor, a graduate thesis
, or a professional pursuit, chances are if a presentation is involved than PowerPoint will be also. Its no secret that this program has become a standard in the professional world and is a very efficient means of presenting information to small and large groups alike. And along with this popularity comes plenty of advice; both available on and offline on how to effectively use PowerPoint for presentations.
But there are some limits to this advice. Much of the information provided usually covers the basic tenets of presenting (visual and technical concerns) without a lot of material on how to present research material in particular. Which is problematic, as this area definitely needs special consideration. Research is not like a marketing product or training; it requires a different approach which takes into consideration the audience and the research that has been conducted.
When presenting to colleagues, a professor, or a review committee the approach often used to present combines a bit of persuasion (marketing) and education (teaching). The persuasion aspect often comes in as the researcher works to convince the audience that their findings are worth talking about, and the education component is generally all throughout as the presenter enlightens the audience regarding the several aspects of his or her studies (ex. stating the problem, providing background information, key evidences and support etc.).
Presenting your research
So how do you condense all of a week's, month's or even year's worth of research into a 15 minute presentation? Well even without sacrificing the juicy details, this can easily be accomplished by preparing a dedicated outline; one that primarily works to answer the question So What? Which is one of the most important questions to be addressed in your presentation.
*Be mindful that even colleagues or peers in the same field will not be too concerned about the intricacies of your research initially; like any other audience they want a presentation that is informative, interesting, and capable of sustaining their attention.
Where to begin? Designing your blueprint
As with most things, the key to a successful presentation is planning. Before preparing even one slide, make sure you have a solid outline in place.
Sample research presentation outline
- State your problem; research question
- Provide a brief background on the problem based on the audience (try to avoid any extra information; if the audience is familiar with the topic than there is no need for a long introduction)
- Acknowledge previous research that laid the foundation for your studies
- Share a line or two on what led you to this issue (optional)
- Discuss the significance of the problem (why it needed to be addressed and why they should care about it)
- Provide the main research findings in simple terms; explain unclear vocabulary or jargon (avoid any over technical information or mathematical writings unless necessary)
- Note how the findings have contributed to the field
- Sum up the presentation in a few lines and share any future plans to extend the research
In addition to providing an outline for yourself it may also be helpful to provide a small outline for the audience to follow in the top or bottom corners of your slides. If you know that you have a lot of information to cover and are afraid that you may 'lose' some people along the way, this may help to keep them on track and abreast to what is currently being discussed.
Next, Golden rules to design
Another issue that is hard to avoid when mentioning any type of PowerPoint presentation
is design. The visual presentation of material is just as or more important than its verbal presentation. Lack of concern in this area can not only distract audiences but also hinder the overall goal of the presentation.
Major areas to address
There are many issues that can be covered on 'how to design great presentations', but a few of the main points stand out above the rest. These include;
- present one idea per slide
- avoid overcrowding; use bullet points in lieu of a paragraph
- provide consistency with fonts, colors and sizes (try to limit to 2 or 3 colors, 2 fonts, and the same sizes for small, medium, and large)
- use a plain or simple background that provides a sharp contrast to the font colors being used (i.e. a blue font on a white background)
- limit graphics, skip animations, and incorporate aids such as charts, graphs and diagrams
- show emphasis from time to time with bolding and color change (without overdoing it)
Delivering your presentation
Lastly, a major point to consider when working with presentations in general, is that the prepared slides alone should never be the end-all to the presentation; meaning that if there were no slides then there would be no presentation. PowerPoint slides are meant to be an aid, and therefore you should be able to get through the presentation without directly reading from them much at all. Likewise, in the event that something happens and a slide doesn't appear on the screen, you should also be able to easily move on with the presentation with minimal disruption.
Along with this point there are a few other things that should be considered when speaking;
- Examples: Remember to use a sufficient amount of examples and illustrations throughout your presentation to help 'paint' an accurate picture to your audience. *Small anecdotes may also be useful.
- Timing: When presenting you need to not only time your entire presentation but also the length between each slide. Try to stay on each slide for only about a minute or two (considering that you keep one point per slide) and practice your entire presentation to ensure that you do not go over.
- Backup slides: Backup slides are useful to have just in case you get through the material faster than you thought or as additional information to respond to possible questions.
And finally, promote your work with a positive and enthusiastic approach during your speech. If you want your audience to be excited about your work then you need to be as well! A little bit of energy goes a long way and can be easily executed with seeming overzealous or artificial; a few smiles here and there, a light step when walking, and an upbeat tone should suffice.