In this blog, I plan to write about the few things I have learned over the years doing research, in hopes of making things easier for the next generation (ain’t being useful the dream of every human on this planet?).

I decided the first (series of) post(s) will be dedicated to Delivering Presentations, as some things presented here may be useful for people from any field.

Just like writing a good paper requires time, effort and feedback from your peers, so do good presentations. However, there are fundamental differences between the goals of papers and presentations, the level of detail each one should cover, the structure of each and the pace at which the content is delivered.

I decided to break this series into three parts (because I have yet to think about new content to add to this blog and that buys me some time 🙂).

In Part 1 - Before you Prepare your Talk (this one) I provide an overview of what makes for good presentations and what one should pay special attention when planning a talk. In Part 2: Structuring your Talk I will discuss strategies to structuring the slides and in Part 3: Delivering your Talk

Before you Prepare your Talk

Before we start with anything, actually, it is important to ask the following question: What are Presentations for?. Answering this is mandatory if one wishes to answer the second, more important question What makes for a good presentation?.

What are Presentations for?

Reader, let’s make the following exercise. You are attending a very important conference on your field, where many presenters are exposing new ideas that advance the state-of-the art. You read the conference program, find the presentation for a particular work which interests you, and you decide to attend. What is your expectation from the 15 minute talk?

My bet is that you expect to learn something from the talk. You may learn about a new problem or a new approach to solving an old problem. You may find new ways to motivate your own work and feel more motivated in the end. Or you may even learn about new strategies to presenting your work. What you certainly do not expect is that after 15 minutes sitting, listening to the presenter reading his slides full of text out loud you end up knowing no more than when you first read the talk’s announcement.

Challenges in Preparing a Presentation

Many people often miss this point, and I have personally made this mistake many times during my time as a Ph.D. student.

You are told that when writing a paper, you should carefully explain your ideas as you only get one chance to convince the reader. Well, a presentation is no different than this, except that:

  1. while an interested reader can take whatever long he/she wants to understand your ideas in a paper, a person in the audience has only limited time to listen to your take-away-message;
  2. you do get a chance to clarify things up (if a time for questions is provided by the end of the talk).

So in a sense, a presentation takes the you only get one shot to explain your idea to the next level (as you only have limited time to show them your work), but also provides you with some flexibility (as you can often answer specific questions that arise by the end of the talk). Leveraging this is key to making a good presentations.

What makes for a Good Presentation?

A good presentation is one that motivates, informs and stirs curiosity in the audience. That means you should strive for three goals:

  1. Convince the audience that you are working on something very interesting, not only for you (that part they know already) but for them as well. Make the problem you are working on stand out.
  2. Make the audience understand the general approach that you take, and how that is different from the trivial approach or approaches previously taken. Make the overview of the solution you are working on stand out, while leaving the complex details aside (people will come to you if they want more details, but they want come to you if they can’t grasp the overview of the work).
  3. Explain to the audience the implications of your findings and how they motivate future works. Make it clear you are just at the tip of the iceberg, with lots of ice below yet to be explored (show them you just opened a new road ahead).

In the next post, I will give ideas on how to structure your slides, how to present a complex topic in a squeezed form, and some do’s and don’ts of preparing slides that engage the audience rather than making them fall asleep.

Before you Prepare your Presentation

For now, I try to do my part in stirring curiosity and saying the following questions must be answered before planning the slides and the presentation:

  • How much time do you have (5 minutes, 10 minutes, 40 minutes, …)?
  • Who is the audience (laymen, experts in your broad field, experts in your small field, mixed, …)?
  • How is the place (small room, large room, …)?

To know how this will impact your presentation, stay tuned for the next posts! The series continues with Part 2: Structuring your presentation slides.