I was in a seminar today with a very good presenter. It is always pleasant to listen to good presenters. Many presentations I attend are not particularly good, however. Both going to presentations and giving presentations is inherent to my business. I will soon have to prepare for my presentation at the biannual Bergen PhD Seminar in Economics, for example. While I was in the U.S. someone adviced me to check out this list of tips on how to avoid disaster in presentations. The tips are aimed at grad-/PhD students in economics, but most of them apply to most academic presentations. Let me add a couple of tips myself:
- Skip the outline/content slide; it’s boring, doesn’t bring the talk forward, and almost always the order of things is obvious, irrelevant, and does not carry a message. (Have you ever heard someone ask a question about the outline slide?)
- Don’t show stuff you don’t intend to talk about, for example, don’t show a table with 500 numbers in it when you only intend to bring attention to a few of them. Pull out the necessary information for your talk. If you want to, you can put the table on a slide at the end of your presentation. Then you can flip to it (press ‘End’ for gods sake, don’t page through all your slides) if someone asks a question that requires more information/different numbers. This idea applies more generally to stuff that don’t necessary have to be on your slides; I once put all my equations in the back of a presentation and used only words and pictures instead, and everybody still understood my model (well, those who didn’t understood did not ask anyway). I think equations and symbols are overused in presentations by economists.
- Don’t make too many jokes, but a few are okay if they work.
- Stand up. I have made a few presentations sitting down because the presenters before me did, but it’s much better to stand up. Noone will wonder if you try to hide behind your computer or doubt who is in charge.
- Know your presentation. A trick is to write out what you want to say on each slide, then read it out loud to yourself a couple of times while flipping through your slides. Then you can make adjustments underway, and you will probably be able to give the talk without the manuscript or notes. It is an idea to have the manuscript or some notes available at the presentation anyway, in case you panic, make disaster, forget what to say or whatever. The procedure takes time, of course, but is definatly worth it for important presentations, and as a student every presentation is important.