Monday, November 14, 2011

The basic elements of a presentation with slides

I've written this post for students who will give a research presentation for the first time, pointing out how slides can help you through your talk. In fact, I was recently reflecting on how my style of presenting has changed over the past two years, and what I wish I had known back then. I've reached the point where I can go to the front and present without my stomach trying to escape or my breath turning strange, but I don't fully enjoy it yet and I still have a lot of room for improvement.

1. An overview slide
The audience will appreciate if you tell them first what they can expect from your presentation. If you give an outline of how your presentation will look like, it is easier for the listener to place the different slides and parts of the story within the framework that you present in the beginning.

2. Spend time on your introduction
Don't think you should rush to the core and show the world the wonderful science you are spending your time on. A good introduction is necessary to make sure your audience can actually understand the bigger problem, and then -hopefully- follow your approach to the problem.
Also, on conferences in FarFarAway, I like taking the opportunity to briefly sum up the other research related to my topic done in our research group, and introduce the different partners which work on the general research project of which my PhD is a part.

3. Using formulas
I heard this at TEDxDelft:
“With every formula you show, you lose half of your audience; on my first slide there are two” — Leo Kouwenhoven
Don't fill up your slides with formulas, no one will remember them and maybe people won't be able to read or analyze them when you go over them too fast.
If you need to use a formula (or more), take your audience by the hand and walk them through the equation. I like using animations to highlight parts of formulas and explain step by step why a certain parameter is in the formula. Otherwise, if you only want to point out one parameter, you can use a phrase like: "What I want you to notice in this formula is the relation between XX and XXX." (Credit goes to Dr. Rosenstein, who taught me to explain visual data by grabbing the attention of the audience with the "what I want you to notice here" phrase).

4. How to explain graphs
I hate it when someone says: "and this graph shows the results" and then continues to the next slide. From a course by Dr. Rosenstein I took at Georgia Tech, I remembered the following for the rest of my presenting days:
- explain which variable is on the x-axis, and which units it has,
- explain which variable is on the y-axis, and which units it has,
- explain the data points,
- explain the legend,
- state the conclusion, what we can learn from that graph.

5. The end
Here's a great post on how to end a presentation. It is very similar to how I finish a presentation, including the ending phrase from Dr. Rosenstein's course.

Here's a recent example of one of my presentations.


  1. the last link to how to end a presentation does not work. it would be great if you could show us how this might be done.

    1. The blog moved - so I fixed the link. Hope that helps :)