Finding of the week #322

A Good Presentation

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about a few simple guidelines that can help to prepare and to give a good presentation.

Giving a good presentation is a challenging task. One not only has to convey the relevant information of a certain topic, but also gain the attention of the audience. Providing too many information at once can be problematic. The audience then is still trying to comprehend the first few inputs while the speaker already is addressing further information that base on the previously given facts. As a result, the audience soon is lost and cannot follow the speaker anymore. Giving not enough information or just trying to make the presentation very entertaining might keep the audience’s attention, but will most likely not convey the intended message. In this way, it is important to find the sweet spot between providing the right amount of information at a time and still keeping it interesting to maintain the audience’s attention.

The probably most important thing of a good presentation is to evoke interest in the audience right from the beginning. This can be achieved by presenting a central problem or question at the start of a presentation. This approach then motivates the audience to think about the problem and to try to figure out an answer for themselves. In most cases, the given problem is quite complex and hence the audience is engaged in the talk to figure out how it was solved.

Personally, I then like to tease the audience with a short video that presents the core topic of the talk but avoids to be too specific. For instance, when discussing the effects of playing a serious game, it is beneficial to just show a few gameplay situations. This video gives the audience a better idea about the topic and helps them over the course of the talk to link the presented facts to the video. As a result, it is easier for the audience to follow the talk and to develop an understanding for the topic.

Following this introduction, one should present the underlying motivation for the project and embed the topic in a broader context to facilitate understanding. Subsequently, the presenter can start to discuss the own work and to present the results. The talk should be ended with a conclusion and an outlook for future work to give the audience an idea how the presented concept could be even improved. Finally, it is critical to answer the question presented at the start of the talk. This not only closes the story arch, but also provides a great opportunity to present the audience a take away message. The take away message contains the core findings and concepts of the presented topics. This take away message, as it is the last information given to audience, will stick in their heads and make the talk feel more relevant.

For presenting all those different segments of a talk, one should follow a few simple guidelines.

1) Rather use visual information than text. It is easy to just put a few bullet points in a slide. However, every bit of text that is shown during a presentation might distract the audience from the actual talk. Subconsciously, the will start reading the text and potentially stop listening to the presenter. In contrast, visual information are easier to comprehend and, more importantly, are more interesting to the human eye. As a result, using graphics maintains the attention of the audience and facilitates understanding.

2) Use the slides just as an aid to convey the information. The slides during a presentation are not intended to contain the same information as the talk itself. Instead, they should be used to either highlight key concepts or to provide the audience with examples for the orally given information. This not only makes the talk easier to understand, but it will also make it more entertaining.

3) Use the slides as a canvas and be bold. When throwing a slide at a wall using a beamer, one suddenly has access to a huge canvas. To take advantage of this canvas, it is important to use most of its space. Putting in a small image just in one corner of it makes it look very small and unimportant. Thus, try to consider fullscreen images or at least large images. This again will make your talk feel more substantial and more entertaining.

Of course, there are many more guidelines and important things to consider when preparing a presentation, but when keeping these three simple guidelines in mind, the resulting talk will keep the audience’s attention high. Also, the audience will have no difficulties to follow the talk and to understand the presented information.

Giving a good presentation also is even more important when speaking at a large event with several days of presentations. Over time, the audience gets exhausted and it becomes difficult for them to focus on a talk when it is not well made or visual appealing. Thus, by putting more effort into the preparation of a presentation, one can even keep the audience’s attention high during a talk on the last day of long conference.

In conclusion, this article presented a few guidelines that can help preparing a presentation that will gain and maintain the audience’s attention and facilitate their understanding.