Presenting a research proposal is part of most Masters and Doctoral programmes and is also a considerably important skill for professional life. Developing an ability to clearly articulate complex ideas and to meaningfully engage with an audience, ensure your ideas are heard, and ensure that the feedback you receive is more constructive that simple requests for clarification.
Let’s consider the main objectives of the presentation:
- To convince your peers, supervisors, and perhaps members of relevant quality assurance committees (e.g., proposals, ethics), that you have a viable and worth-while project
- To receive constructive feedback that can shape the project
- Potentially, identify collaborative opportunities
To achieve any of these outcomes you must first be successful in conveying your research idea, which is something that must be practiced and rehearsed.
The suggestions presented here have been collated after many years of teaching and observing student presentations, as well as reflective learning from my own experiences in delivering pitches and presentations.
- Ensure that you will be able to deliver your presentation on the day. Have a plan B, and maybe a plan C. Use a flash drive, keep your files on Dropbox, or email yourself the presentation the day before.
- If you need to run media in your presentation, then be sure you have stored the associated media files in the same folder as the .pptx file, and remember that you will need to copy the whole folder onto a flash drive to run it.
- Learn how to put powerpoint into full screen mode before you go to present, and learn how to use the keyboard or mouse to navigate back and forwards (i.e. you can simply use arrow keys, or space and back space).
- Plan your talk. The amount of planning necessary for a talk depends on the environment, how familiar you are with the content and how comfortable you are talking in public. The downside to word-for-word talking is that most people go into reading-mode and sound unnatural. Furthermore, getting just one word wrong can throw the rhythm for the whole talk off. Instead, I recommend simply developing a good idea about the flow of key arguments, and know what the next slide is about and how to make that transition. This approach will give you the freedom to use whatever words come to you at the time (which will sound much more genuine) and will allow for any little interruptions or diversions that may occur. Of course, you should practice your talk with a stopwatch handy to familiarise yourself with the directions you will take. The best parts to remember are the transitions between slides or sections.
Designing the presentation
- Plan to talk and use the slides as a supplement only. Remember, your audience won’t read the words on the slides and listen to you at the same time. One way or another, the audience must be allowed to absorb all information provided, and since it’s a presentation (and not an email), they will want to hear you present. This means keeping the slides clean and brief.
- Keep the word-count to an essential minimum on the slides. Avoid sentences.
- Use the slides to provide structure to your presentation and help the audience follow you with heading and key points.
- Try use slides for images, graphs, diagrams, and tables only
- Keep the number of slides low. Any more than one slide per minute of presentation and you may be overdoing it. A good tip would be to have a slide with a consort diagram and then talk your way the various stages of your design, rather than having one slide per stage.
Don’t use a font size less that 20pt.
Have no more than two images/illustrations per slide
- Use high contrast colours only. Black text on a white background is best and will work well in rooms and projectors that are less than ideal.
- Use a good font. Times New Roman and Arial are fonts that are very easy to read and are professional.
- Keep your sentences short. Remember it is you that will be doing the talking, so you do not need full sentences written on slides.
- Use either bold, underline or italics, not a combination of these. DONT USE FULL CAPS. Limit exclamation marks, never more that one!!!
- Use bullets for points, numbers for a list (especially if ordinal,) and letter for options.
Delivering the Presentation
- Stand and face your audience, but be sure that you are not obstructing anyone’s view.
- Engage the audience and read off their expressions. Looking at the screen is acceptable as a reminder of where you are in your presentation, and also to provide guidance when explaining illustrations and graphs. Otherwise, you should be focusing on connecting with the audience, and not the screen.
- Talk slowly. Slower than what you feel is normal. Being nervous, or excited, can make you talk faster than usual. It will also make any periods of silence seem long and awkward. I recommend confronting this early, by ensuring a controlled period of silence early in the presentation.
- Abolish “umm” and “ahh” from your vocab, and insert deliberate quiet spaces in your talk (I find stopping for frequent sips of water a great way to slow things down). If you are calm then your audience will be calm, and they will be more likely to absorb the wisdom embedded in your presentation. A good tip is to take a planned pause after the first or second slide, just to help you slow down and relax.
Wrapping it up
- Answering Questions: This is an important skill to get right!
- Ensure they have finished asking the question before you start to answer, even if it means leaving an long and awkward silence after they have finished (it will only feel awkward to you!)
- If you don’t fully understand the question then ask for it to be repeated, or repeat the question back and have it confirmed that you have understood it correctly.
- Own up if you don’t know the answer. Say “That’s a great question…”. You can say that you will look into it, and thank the person for brining it to your attention.
- If a string of questions seems to drag on and digress, don’t be afraid to say that you would be happy to discuss this matter afterwards, then you can open the floor to questions of a different matter.
- Know what you want out of your presentation before you start. If there is something that you are unsure about with your methodology, then this is a great opportunity to pick the minds of those more experienced for an immediate response. Use it to your advantage!
- Distribute any handouts after the presentation, not before.