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How to... give a research presentation

Options:     Print Version - How to... give a research presentation, part 2 Print view

Planning the presentation

Once you have done your research, you will know all about your audience and its needs, and the actions you need to stimulate, and how long you are expected to speak for. The next stage is planning the actual presentation.

These days, particularly in a commercial setting, it is expected that the presentation will be accompanied by slides created using Microsoft PowerPoint. Because of this, we deal with more general points of planning on this page, and the more specific aspects of preparing the slides to go with your presentation in the page in Technical matters – using Microsoft PowerPoint.

Introduction

This is the first chance you have to grab your audience's attention – take it! It is usual to have a cover slide with the title of the presentation and your name: while this is up on the screen, take the opportunity to introduce yourself briefly. Having done that, make some arresting statement which sums up your presentation in a way that will make them prick up their ears and convince them that you understand their needs.

For example, you are seeking funding on ways of streamlining the production line for the creation of space rockets. This could be stated as:

"Would you like to improve the production management of your space rocket construction?"

Or, you may be interested comparing how people manage projects with and without software. This could be stated as:

"Would you like to understand the factors that improve project management?"

Obviously, you will have to show how your research will in fact reveal these factors.

Of course, there are other circumstances when it might be better not to make explicit reference to your audience's needs, for example, when you are attending a job interview you could start like this:

"I want to talk to you about my research in the area of X, where I have key interests in a, b, and c."

The next part of your presentation should be a brief summary of what you are going to cover: this will give the audience a roadmap.

The body of the presentation

First, you need to decide what material you need to cover. There are various ways of doing this, not necessarily mutually exclusive:

  • Write out a list of the main points, and then establish a structure.
  • Prepare a spider diagram of associated words to do with the theme, then use different colours to link related themes.
  • Identify a number of key concepts, and write a paragraph for each.
  • Write down a list of questions you think your audience might want answers to.

You also need to establish how you are going to structure the presentation. Here are some possible approaches:

  • Having a list of topics which are examined sequentially, possibly grouped according to major themes, with sub-topics.
  • Research sequence: this is where the research is described chronologically, from the research question through the chosen methodology to the data and its analysis to the findings. Your research could include the testing of a hypothesis, or a general principle which you have established.
  • Problem-based: outline a problem, and discuss possible solutions.
  • Describe a project: the questions it is attempting to answer, why it is important to answer them, the stages, time scale, budget, reporting structure etc.

The occasion of the presentation will also help determine its structure. For a job interview, you may wish to use a topic based approach providing a few general statements about your research (the detail will be in your publications/work in progress, a list of which will have been supplied with your application).

A presentation requesting funding requires a different approach in that you are probably talking about future research. You could adopt a problem based approach, but you will also need to describe the stages of the project with built in milestones so that your potential sponsors can feel that they are monitoring progress, and obtaining tangible benefits along the way.

Some further points to remember are:

  • Tailor your style to your audience. Using technical terms and jargon is OK if you are talking to your peer group, but not for a 'lay' audience.
  • Avoid going into too much detail. People will not remember. The object of a presentation is to give a broad brush view

Summary

Briefly recapitulate the main points, referring to your objective. In the case of a presentation for sponsorship, make a specific request for action – "We need £x amount over y time period."

Using graphics

It is important to make a visual impact with your audience – we will discuss other ways of doing this, such as through design, when we come to the section on Technical matters: using Microsoft PowerPoint. Here we are talking specifically about the use of graphics. These can clarify concepts, help make your presentation appealing, add variety and interest, and retain audience attention. However, make sure that your graphics:

  • Really do convey the message better than words could.
  • Are large enough to be seen when projected onto a large screen.
  • Are not hand drawn but created by a graphics package or PowerPoint.
  • Use text sparingly – too much text on graphics can be confusing.
  • Use enough data to make your point, but not too much, as in the following example, which will just be a blur to most people watching:

  • Image: example of too much data on a graph

Use a graphic type suitable for making a point:

  • Tables are suitable for presenting groups of detailed facts and their relationship to one another, as in the following example:

  • Image: table presenting detailed facts
  • Bar graphs are a useful way of comparing numerical data, e.g. sales figures of different types of products.
  • Line graphs show trends or how one variable can change as a result of the other's actions.
  • Flowcharts demonstrate a process.
  • Organization charts depict hierarchical relationships
  • Pie charts show the relationship of different elements of the whole.
  • Formulae can be done using , a LaTeX add-in for PowerPoint.

Practise, practise, practise!

Once you have written your presentation, and assembled your overheads, you need to practise to ensure:

  • That you can speak fluently without having to refer too much to notes.
  • That your presentation is the right length (remember, a presentation takes longer "live").
  • That you can handle your overheads confidently.

Supporting documents

Remember, your presentation is really just a snapshot of the entire information you are trying to convey.

  • If you are a job applicant, you will have a CV with a list of your publications.
  • If you are applying for a grant or sponsorship, you will have already submitted a proposal.
  • If you are doing a conference presentation, it is an idea to do a paper even though the conference proceedings may not call for one. You can hand it out to people who are interested, and adapt it afterwards for a journal article.


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