Seven thoughts on mastering your research presentation

I’ve been reading Garr ReynoldsPrezentation Zen blog for years and I am always impressed with how he learns from the things around him about various aspects of presentations. He is an American living in Japan, and as such draws a lot of his inspiration from Japanese culture.  Today he posted Presentation (and life) lessons from the dojo. I think we all have something to learn from judo practice. He makes the following statement

True humility is a sign of strength, over confidence or arrogance is a sign of weakness

And then presents seven rules from the martial arts that one should consider. I want to apply these rules to research presentations:

1. Do not make light of the opponent. While in research we do not necessarily think about other researchers as opponents, it is important not too lose sight of them. Remember that in research we stand on the shoulders of giants. Properly recognize their contributions, be critical, but don’t be dismissive.

2. Do not lose self-confidence. You did the research, you got the paper accepted. You clearly can, believe in yourself! If you got to the stage where you are presenting papers at conferences you clearly did something right. Keep on doing that!

3. Maintain a good posture. Don’t hide behind the podium, don’t hide behind your slides. Be open to criticism. Learn to take criticism positively – addressing the criticisms in your research will make the research netter; addressing the criticism of your presentation will help you becoming a better presenter… Now what is bad about that?

4. Develop speed. Get to your point quickly. Get to the punchline, make your point.  Knock them out with your findings. Get to discussing the consequences of the findings, make it relevant to the audience: how will it change their research?

5. Project power in all directions. Throughout your presentation make sure all angles are covered. Show that you base this on sound theoretical knowledge, that you used an appropriate methodology, that you validated your results, that you thought about the implications, that you recognize the limitations and shortcomings, that you see a road ahead…  And no, you don’t need a heading for each to make sure an aspect is addressed – it comes from your approach.

6. Develop self-control. You want to share every minute of everything that you ever did in this research. Hold yourself in, ask yourself what the audience would like to here, what you can possibly tell them in the allotted time.  And don’t forget that you should leave some time for questions!

7. Never stop training. Nobody becomes good at something by thinking a lot about it. No! you must do the presentation. You must think about your practice, and what you should learn from it.  After every presentation be reflective: think about what you can learn from your presentation and work it into your training plan.

What’s is the lesson in this? There is no secret weapon, no magic formula. If you strive to become a better presenter (and I hope you do, I certainly do) then there really are only three things you should do: practice, practice, practice.

Go, practice your next presentation, and do so reflectively so that learning can take place!


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