Saturday, 5 March 2011

10 things a research presentation must have?

When given an opportunity to make a presentation of your work, it is imperative that you make the best use of given few 10's of minutes by not only covering the key contents of your work but also considering the interest of audience. After all, this is not only you who is spending time, there is also the audience who has come to listen you and deserve to take away few good points from your presentation. Tuning the presentation according to the audience is often necessary. This can also drive you to reconsider the ways of expressing the technical contents (in-depth or surfacial) but this should not influence the delivery of key findings or ideas behind the work.

For a research (or a technical) presentation, I feel that the following key elements must be included in an orderly manner:

1. 'Descriptive' title

Generally, the title should be self-explanatory and should provide a clear idea of: (i) what has been done, and (ii) why (or for what reason) this has been done. A simple example of this could be 'dispersion modelling of air pollution for determining their health and environmental impacts'. There could be instances when the title above is just one part of your whole activity and you want to serve the big picture of your work to the audience. In this case, more broad and open title can be formed in the similar manner. However, it is then worth mentioning during your introduction that the title represents your whole work but this talk will focus on one (or more) part of this problem. After the title, this first slide should also include the name of the authors involved in this work and their affliations, with a clear indication by underlining or putting an artistic sign on the name of presenting author.

2. 'Clear' outline

Second slide after the title should provide a clear outline of your presentation. The contents could well be bullet points similar to the headings 3 to 7 covered below. This is an important slide to give a quick tour of your slides to the audience and make them prepare in advance to the contents you are going to serve them.

3. 'Impressive' introduction
The introduction should be prepared in such a way that this clearly shows the research gaps, needs, importance, novelty and application of your work. In a nutshell, you should make best efforts to include (and address) the following questions: (i) what is the motivation for this research, (ii) what has been done till date, (iii) what are research gaps, and (iv) what are objectives, and novelty, of your research. Including such information in few sentences is a challenging task and require preparation. The last question in particular is often difficult to form but stating this clearly will help both you and the audience to clearly understand (and link) your research questions with the contents of the presentation.

4. 'Detailed' methodology

Under this part of the presentation, try to summarise the methodology adopted to acheive the research objectives. This is sometimes difficult to avoid complex equations, if the work is mathematical, but whatever you include deserves to be explained. Putting a number of equations and do not talk about them due to time constraints or for other reason is not advisable and does not impress the audience much. Sometimes, you can prepare extra slides and put them in the end as back up slides and can recall them if someone asks you the details in question-answer sessions.

5. 'Concrete' results

This is one of the main sections of a presentation. The key results should be presented with the help of graphs, tables and text. Including small video clips, if available, can sometime helps the audiance to digest complex contents in a easy manner. If you have too many results to present but think that the allocated time is not sufficient enough to explain them, you can include the most important results here and few extra slides as a back up, as explained in above section.

6. 'Concise' summary and conclusion

One or two slides should be included for this section. Firstly, all the work presented should be summarised very briefly and then the key conclusions should be included as few bullet points.

7. 'Visionary' future work

No matter how much work you have done, or time spend, on a particular topic, there will still be questions left to address. Identifying those questions requires thinking, updated knowledge of the literature on that topic, and a clear research vision. If you are in the middle of your research and making a presentation, you can state these as your next research step. One the other hand, if you have concluded your research, these questions can be left for others to address. Including such questions in your presentation in a separate slide is essential for convincing the audiance that you are up to date with the current literature on the topic, understand the ups and downs of the work and have a clear future insight.

8. 'Generous' acknowledgements

This slide should include the name of all those people, organisation or a funding body who have helped your research. These could also include the name of your colleagues, fellow researchers or the lab staff. Including such information does not hurt you but will be appreciated by others and you will have edge to go back to them and ask for the help again!

9. 'Creadatble' references
If you have referred someones work, the authors of those articles/reports deserve credit and these should be included, and cited within the presentation wherever applicable, in your reference list. One slide for this purpose could be included. You can also include few key references to suggest the audiance for further reading on your work.

10. 'Strict' time management
Time management is a key and is equally important as are the contents. If the presentation is too long and you had to rush in the end, you will loose the edge you earned during your presentation. One of the best ways to complete the presentation within the allocated time is to practice this many times and selecting the most important bits from each slide to describe.

Concluding remarks

A general thumb rule for preparing the number of slides to fit in allocated time is about one slide per minute. This is good to be relaxed and bring humour during your talk but not at the expense of making fun (or talking loose) about your own methodology adopted or instrumentation applied.

Happy reading!
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