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How to... give a research presentation

Options:     Print Version - How to... give a research presentation, part 3 Print view

Technical matters: using Microsoft PowerPoint

One of the more challenging aspects of doing a presentation can be using the technology. In the commercial sector, this means using PowerPoint, a Microsoft product which allows you to build a slide show.

If you are not familiar with PowerPoint, you will find it on most Microsoft Office packages, and it is not a difficult piece of software to learn. Microsoft do a number of : "Create your first presentation" is a good introduction.

Avoid falling into hardware traps

Image: tick Do:

  • Check that the venue has the right equipment for you: you will need a computer and a projector.
  • Decide whether you are going to bring your presentation on a USB memory stick, or on a laptop, and check with your hosts beforehand that they can accommodate you.
  • If bringing a USB memory stick, scan it for viruses, and have a back-up.
  • Email your host a copy of the presentation beforehand, asking him or her to test it on the computer you will be using.
  • Check that you are using the 'right' version of PowerPoint, i.e. one that is compatible with the "receiving" computer's software.
  • Arrive early and check out the equipment, and have a practice run-through of your presentation from a technical point of view, ensuring that you can run through the slides seamlessly.
  • Run your presentation out on acetates, or have a set of 35mm presentation slides, just in case their equipment fails. This will make you look as though you are the sort of person who thinks of everything!
  • If you require sound, check that the computer has a sound card.
  • Check the size of the room beforehand, and if it is large, request a microphone.

Image: cross Don't:

  • Bring USB memory sticks that are not standard format, or without first checking that the hardware can accommodate them.
  • Let lack of confidence in the technology mar your presentation!

Avoid Death by PowerPoint!

PowerPoint is a powerful tool, but like all powerful tools if not well used it can be deadly!

Image: tick Do:

  • Prepare a draft of what you are going to say, then consider how best it would appear into slide form. You will probably want to divide up the presentation into a number of sections according to the number of slides you consider appropriate.
  • Allow a maximum of two to three minutes per slide – so for a 15 minute presentation, you should have no more than five to seven slides.
  • Bullet points should be just that – a summary of the point you will make when talking, "headings" which convey the flavour of your point without gving all the detail, as in the following example (click here to see how I would talk to these bullet points):

  • Image: powerpoint example
  • Draft notes for your speech separately from your bullet point slides. Either print out a second copy of your slides which you can use for notes, or use the "Handouts" facility – available by clicking just under the slide:

  • Image: powerpoint example

Image: cross Don't:

  • Allow the software to run away with you! Don't use PowerPoint to write your talk – it is NOT word processing software.
  • Present by reading out what's on your slide.
  • Have too much on a slide – too much material will get lost.

Use your slides to capture the audience's attention!

Image: tick Do:

  • Use minimum 24pt – anything else will be hard on your audience's eyes!
  • Use serif rather than sans serif fonts:

  • Image: font example
  • Use graphics, pictures and tabular material where appropriate. (See Planning the presentation: using graphics INS LINK for more information.)
  • Use a consistent design – choose a colour scheme and then apply it to all slides. Appropriate use of bright colours can do much to enliven a presentation, as in the following example:

    Image: contrasting perspectives
  • Ensure that you use strongly contrasting colours for text and background (as in the left-hand slide). Failure to do this could result in lack of clarity, as in the right-hand slide below:

    Image: initial steps
  • Keep it simple –"PowerPoint is fun the first time you use it and get to know its many features, but your audience...won't be impressed that you know how to use the 'dissolve' feature accompanied by a 'whoosh' sound." (Abby Day Peters, Winning Research Funding, p. 140.)

Image: cross Don't:

  • Use technology for its own sake, but ALWAYS to help you and your audience.
  • Use graphics and pictures where not appropriate, just to show you can use the technology.
  • Use any of the fancier features, such as animation, media clips etc. unless you are really sure that you can make them work, and work effectively.

Give your audience something to remember

Image: tick Do:

  • Provide handouts (use the Print menu, and set the 'Print what' drop-down menu to "handouts"). These should contain your contact details.
  • Check how many people will attend the presentation, and provide that number of handouts, and a few more (about 10 per cent).