Professor Lesser’s TIPS FOR PRESENTATIONS
the specific presentation technology that best serves the topic,
venue, and audience. Don’t
automatically use technology just because you can -- a truly engaging and
insightful speaker can be quite compelling with no technology at all, and
some speakers are quite boring even with plenty of visual aids. Keep to a minimum the flashier animated
“bells and whistles” of PowerPoint unless they directly connect to the
content or goal of the talk rather than distract from it. If you choose to use a particular
presentation technology such as PowerPoint, be sure you become familiar
with its basic functions (e.g., there are plenty of tutorials on the Net,
such as http://www.microsoft.com/education/ppttutorial.mspx). Be sure to allow enough time to figure
out ways to prepare slides with specialized mathematical notation, etc.
if you are “just using the blackboard/markerboard,”
there are things to keep in mind such as:
plan what things need to be kept in view for all/most of the talk
so that you can write and erase on the rest of the board accordingly. Be
sure you consider whether people at the very back of the room can read
what you put on the lower part of the board. Use of color markers/chalk can add
clarity, but make sure it does not exclude people in the room who may have
presentation slides ready in advance (although it can be effective
to have a small portion of them completed or highlighted during the
presentation as part of an interactive style) and test them out to be sure
they will work with the equipment, screen, and room configuration
available. If you need to arrange for additional equipment to be set up,
make sure you allow plenty of time for this.
text-heavy slides, have generous margins, do not exceed about 10 lines and
leave plenty of space between them. Make sure words are dark enough and
large enough (e.g., using a bold font with type size at least 18 point,
or even larger for bigger rooms). A xeroxed page
from a textbook or article almost never meets these conditions (and it’s
all the more annoying to hear the speaker say, “I know you can’t read
this, but….”). Stand in the furthest
corner or side of the room and make sure you can read your own slides from
that distance. Consider if a
picture or diagram could take the place of most of the words – it will be
friendlier to your audience! Make
sure there is appropriate color contrast – it’s hard to read dark-colored
words against a dark background or light-colored words against a light
whether certain visual aids need to remain in view the entire time
during your talk, even as you show additional charts. If so, figure out a
way to do this (e.g., a second overhead projector, a movable blackboard,
putting a poster on an easel or against a wall). Consider whether
passing out a "handout" (at the beginning, middle or end of the
presentation) may be helpful or just distracting. If you do give a handout, be sure to
bring a sufficient quantity for the room capacity.
first and last slide should include your professional
affiliation and basic contact information (e.g., email address).
- Data displays should be
appropriately and meaningfully titled, sized, scaled and labelled. They
should be readily interpreted. It is usually easier to recognize patterns
from a graph than from a tabulated list of numbers.
less is more. The fewer
details you go into, the better chance the audience has of remembering
your details. On a per-slide level,
use essential phrases more than full sentences and don’t try to make too
many points on one slide. Also, if
your talk is allotted n minutes and you are planning to show a lot
more than n slides, you are probably not being realistic about how
much your audience will be able to absorb. An hour-long colloquium talk is different than a conference talk
when you have only 15-30 minutes and slides need to be pared down
accordingly. Find out IN ADVANCE
exactly how much time you will have and whether that INCLUDES time for
people assume they have, say, 30 minutes only to find that that includes 5
minutes for discussion and 5 minutes for passing time to get to the talks
in the next time slot.
displaying or giving the audience a written handout that has an
outline of the talk. Or you might
want to give them a copy of at least your essential slides (up to 6 to a
page) that could help them take notes efficiently.
some additional slides that you are prepared either to show or not
show depending on audience interest and remaining time. Even if you know you probably won’t get to
them during the prepared part of the talk, you may find yourself using
them to answer questions during the subsequent discussion time
allotted. Also, have some blank
slides ready to use when responding to questions that require drawing or
writing things out.
clear on how you will efficiently access and launch your slides so
you are not using the first 2 minutes of your allotted presentation time
just getting the slides ready to be shown. Brainstorm
"backup plans" in case software or hardware crashes, the
Internet is down, a projector light bulb burns out, a marker runs out of
ink, etc. For example, you may have
your PowerPoint slides on your laptop, on a flash drive, and also
accessible via a web browser.
the presentation is not a formal talk, but a poster, consider ways in
which you can make the poster self-contained, interactive, and
supplemented by handouts on the table.
Have a sheet of paper for people to give their email address for
any fuller paper you may have.
There are tips online for writing up posters, such as: http://web.grinnell.edu/individuals/kuipers/stat2labs/write%20paper.html
- Find out how you will be introduced. Sometimes you will be expected to
introduce yourself and sometimes there will be a presider who will
introduce you (and they may appreciate your providing them in advance with
a 50-word bio about you so they don’t have to think too hard about it, and
so that you make sure they say the most important details with accuracy).
the beginning, mention what kinds of questions, if any, you want to
allow or encourage during the prepared part of the presentation. (Some
people prefer to take only brief, clarifying questions in midstream, while
others are open to any type of question at any time. By your being upfront about it,
participants will feel empowered to really ask the questions you are
inviting and are less likely to ask questions that you prefer to defer.)
In any case, be sure to allow appropriate amount of time at the end for
questions. (If there is not a
specific expectation already in place, I would say to budget about 15% of
the total time to be available for questions and discussion.)
the beginning, state whether there are any handouts, whether they
will be passed out at the beginning or the end of the talk (“beginning” is
nice to allow people to make notes as you go; “end” is nice to keep
people’s attention on you and not looking ahead), and whether they include
all the slides or just key ideas and references, so that the audience will
know what kinds of notes, if any, they may want to be taking.
- Practice the talk (with
any visuals) in advance for a friend and for your mirror. It's not enough
to just write the talk; you need to practice saying it as well. Be sure
you are making good eye contact, not "reading" (from your notes
or your slides) to the audience, avoiding monotone delivery, maintaining a
reasonable speed, and staying within the time limit. Click http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/powerpoint/HA012300801033.aspx?pid=CH062556201033 for very useful information on “rehearsing” the
talk in PowerPoint. (After the trial runs, you may need to do some editing
or revising for clarity or time purposes.) The more you practice, the more
you know you are “ready” and the less you are likely to be
"nervous" when you do speak. The
audience is more interested in your topic than in how nervous you are, and
you will not be serving your audience well if you let your nervousness
"get in the way". Also,
it’s amazing how this works, but you will often come up with lots of ideas
for improving your talk merely by going through the act of saying it out
loud and visualizing the audience, and noticing which parts of the talk
you’re practicing feel like parts you want to “rush through” or “spend
more time unpacking.”
keep an eye on the time, use a timer (here’s an online stopwatch: http://www.shodor.org/interactivate/activities/Stopwatch/)
or have someone designated to hold up cards or fingers to tell you when
there’s “5 minutes left”, and then “1 minute left.” Be sure to allow yourself a cushion
because when you give the talk “for real”, you will often find yourself
adding sentences of welcome and explanation and connection you did not
rehearse, and this could cause you to exceed the time limit. One
pitfall at conferences is that the presenter talks too long about early
stuff like literature and problem statement and ends up with very little
time to describe results let alone discuss conclusions. So be sure that
the majority of the actual presentation is about the results and
is usually more effective and engaging to talk from an outline than
a word-for-word speech from a full-length paper. PowerPoint slides themselves can serve as
an outline to ad lib from – don’t just read the slides, but give some
added value commentary.
aware what key terms or background the audience may not have that
they will need to follow your talk, and give them this at the beginning.
you’re sharing an excerpt of something (e.g., a single activity from a
week-long lesson plan unit), be sure to “set the stage” by telling
us who the target audience is and what activities preceded and will follow
the excerpt you are sharing.
sure you can pronounce terms and names used (e.g., http://nsm1.nsm.iup.edu/gsstoudt/pronounce.html
using equipment (e.g., overhead projector), make sure it is working
properly, that you are used to using it, and that your use of it does not
distract from your presentation (e.g., don't keep turning away from the
audience to look at the screen; if
your shoulder is lighted by the projector, then it's blocking the
screen! when writing on a transparency, hold the marker far enough
away from the tip that your hand does not block what you are writing)
how you will advance to the next slide. Will you be running over to a computer
table each time, or use a hand-held clicker from where you are, or have a
friend hit a button?
how you will “point” to things on your slides, when necessary. Will you physically point with your hand
(or a stick), use a laser pointer, lasso it with a computer mouse, etc.
in case, have handy a cup/bottle of water and even a cough drop. Coughs can come unexpectedly and cut
into your time and concentration.
general, a talk has 3 parts:
“tell them what you’re going to tell them,” “telling them”, and
then “telling them what you told them.” It can be
helpful to refer to an advance organizer a couple of times during a longer
talk to remind the audience of how the talk is progressing. These signposts will be especially
considerate and helpful to those in the audience who are more visual
learners than auditory learners.
a relaxed posture with feet and hands. Try not to chew gum, fidget
or lean on furniture.
- Don't overly apologize!
It's normal to be a little nervous (some speakers find it helpful to
briefly acknowledge this in a matter-of-fact or even humorous way, and
then move on), just rechannel that as enthusiasm
and remember that the audience is human, knows what it's like to "be
up there" and wants to learn from you and see you do well.
engage the listener actively, consider optimum places to insert
interactive moments that are not in straight lecture mode. This could include posing concise
pair-and-share questions where audience members turn to their immediate
neighbors to discuss a question you pose (possibly doing some reporting
out to the whole room if time permits).
Or you could facilitate discussion or brainstorming as one huge
group on a particular topic or focused question. You could record and synthesize results
on an easel board or PowerPoint slide or use a “poll” from a show of hands
or some type of “clicker” system (classroom response system; personal
- Humor or playfulness can
be effective in the right style and dose, but can also be overused or even
abused. Avoid anything that could
be perceived as sexist, racist, obscure, etc. Some tips may be found in http://www.amstat.org/publications/jse/v16n3/lesser.html.
yourself time at the end to "summarize" and answer an
audience question or two (and try to anticipate what those might be and
prepare for them). Elaborate sufficiently and clearly when asked to
"explain." If you don’t
have a very good answer, it sounds more professional to say something like
“Thank you for raising this issue.
I will look into this later.”
or “That’s a good question. Do you have
any thoughts about this?” rather than just saying “I have no clue”. If it’s a big room, be sure to repeat or
paraphrase the question when you answer it because not everyone in the
room may have been able to hear the question.
at the information in these helpful resources: http://www.maa.org/students/presentation.pdf,