AMSS 2019: Presentation is Key

It goes without saying the actual work scientists do is important, but how that research is communicated is equally as significant. For what good does scientific research do if not shared with others so we can all move forward in our understanding and adapt to the ever-changing world?

Hopefully by now you have been following along with some of the recent blog posts, and know about the latest Alaska Marine Science Symposium (AMSS). As a first time AMSS attendee, there was a lot to take in, and take away from the conference. I wanted to share some insights regarding the verbal presentations, or more specifically what caused some presentations to stand out for better or for worse. Although some of these insights likely seem obvious, hopefully it will provide some factors to keep in mind when presenting one’s work in an effective and engaging manner.

Practice makes, um, perfect

My idea for this blog came from the first round of presentations. Listening to one of the presenters, I became aware of how many times he/she said the dreaded filler word “um”, over 60 times in fact before I decided to stop counting. The following presenter stepped up and proceeded in the same manner. To most, it is an unconscious habit of speech; however, it can be a distraction to your audience and a seemingly small filler that can add up and take away from your given time. Practicing your presentation to others or filming it yourself can help detect certain distractors in speech or gestures.

 Don’t read your story

When giving a presentation, it is important remember you are the storyteller, not the reader. Therefore, one should be familiar enough with the presentation that you can focus on addressing your audience rather than your slides or notes. Verbal presentations provide a chance to have a captive audience attentive to what you have to say. Constantly turning to your presentation will cause the audience to follow suit rather than directing their attention to you who could be guiding them through the process rather than reading along.

Source: someecards.com

While following the basic presentation principles can help deter distractions, it is up to the presenter’s creativity to truly sell the presentation. At AMSS, we saw a variety of engaging talks incorporating higher-end graphic designs, humorous comparisons, and non-PowerPoint outlets to promote their research. But you do not have to be gifted in media communication to create an effective presentation. One presenter used stick figures to break down his concept, and another used a picture of the audience (likely from the day before) to explain migrating culture. Knowing your audience is crucial to know how best to convey your message, utilizing appropriate explanations, analogies, and relatability of importance.

Mic check–1,2,3–Is this thing on?

Furthermore, be mindful of tone, loudness, and proximity to microphone as slight adjustments can impact how your presentation is received. For example, one presenter kept turning away from the mic to look at their presentation, causing their voice to fade out and then suddenly audible again once turning back. Audiences will pick up on your tone; if you create excitement about your presentation, then the energy can carry over into your audience. It might also be helpful to consider the time of day you are scheduled to present as certain times may provide challenges in keeping your audience’s attention (i.e. early morning, before or directly after lunch).

First talk of the day before coffee can be rough. Source: http://www.presentationzen.com

Clock is ticking

Lastly, and I cannot stress this enough, keep to time. Throughout the three days of verbal presentations, each presenter was allotted 12 minutes before the first buzzer would sound signaling to start wrapping things up before the final buzzer once 15 minutes was reached. Keeping to time shows preparedness and courtesy to your audience and other presenters. For this conference, the allowed time incorporated time for questions as well. Staying within the time frame allowed for more questions or comments which might provide further thought for the research or future studies.

No matter how exciting or critical one’s research may be, presentation is key when it comes to truly reaching audiences and having a lasting impact. Keeping these thoughts in mind could be the deciding factor to inspire minds to carry the work further or spur action to create change.

Here are some great resources for further tips and information on making a good presentation:

Northwestern Biosciences Program

The Craft of Scientific Presentations (has good delivery exercises)

When the scientist presents (Great insights on how to handle questions, or a lack of questions at the end of your talk)

iBiology–using slides effectively

Written by: Jessica McCord, ASLC Science Communication Fellow 2019

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