I am not an expert on presentation skills. I don’t think many medical people are. Medical people often aren’t practiced at slide presentations. It’s not something we do every week, but we do have to do it every few months. Most of us never get to be highly skilled or highly practiced, and we rarely repeat a presentation. Furthermore, criticism is often directed at the facts we present, rather than the method of presentation.
I attended and presented at our hospital research awards last night. I saw 13 great presentations on the varied projects undertaken here over the last 12 months. Here is my collation of what those presentations taught me.
- Assume your audience is not interested or doesn’t care about your topic Â
- Address your audience
- Look to the audience, not at the screen
- Less explanation is more
- Answer the question
- If you need thinking time, tell the questioner they asked a good question
This is harsh, but realistic. You need to tailor your presentation for someone who is falling asleep and is not interested. So it has to be simple, visually accessible and clearly explained. Clarity will not frustrate those who are interested. But it is folly to make your presentation too complicated for those who don’t care.
People will pay more attention to relevance. So if you are addressing a group of surgeons, explain how your project is clinically applicable. If you are addressing basic scientists, tie your topic back to mainstream growth factors, or pathological practices that they might work with.
It is very tempting to read off your slides, but it is awful to watch. Read from your notes, or the computer screen if you can get it facing the right way.
Excessive explanation can get boring, and make it seem more complicated. Inadequate explanation can be cleared up in question time.
If a question is unexpected, your answer is probably going to be rubbish and hard to understand. The first thing out of your mouth should be the answer - “yes”, “no”, “we don’t know” or “That is a limitation of the study.” Then the botched explanation you go into will make more sense.
If you do this for every question, you look like an idiot, but it can be effective once or twice.
- If you use a Mac, make sure your theme uses Windows safe fonts
- Don’t use a standard, recognizable powerpoint theme
- Simple themes are best.
Three out of fourteen presentations were prepared on a Mac, and they all had their fonts converted to Courier. Luckily, we noticed with enough time to fix it. (I was one of these).
We all use Powerpoint. We all know all the themes. It looks cheap and tacky. Avoid.
A plain white background is classic. A plain black background looks great in a dark room, and adds emphasis to your data, as it appears with no border.
Diagrams and Images
- Avoid complicated diagrams
- Think about adding more images
- Reproduce complicated images from journals or online to describe pathways or associations
- Use flow charts or concept maps where possible
- Don’t reproduce tables from external sources
- Use captions and annotations on images
- Use full size images for impact
No one is going to work hard to understand what the diagram means. They don’t care that much. Simplify as much as possible
Any slide with only writing can be difficult to focus on. Given that, why not give them a picture to look at? Either use a picture from your project (a photo of equipment, or a photo of a histology slide or gross specimen) or find a relevant image on a free stock photo site. Don’t use clip art.
If you can get a digital copy of the image, it will look better than what you create yourself
Complicated concepts are difficult to understand, even if written in point form. A flow chart or concept map helps the audience to understand complex relationships or processes.
They are unreadable when projected as the font loses clarity. Rewrite the table instead.
Captions prevent you from manually orientating the audience to the image. Write a caption next to anything you are likely to point at with the laser pointer.
One of the presenters used full size images of immunology stains to point out detail. It was very effective as there was no clutter, only the image.
Using graphs and charts
- All graphs should look the same
- Use the minimum amount of “ink” in charts
- Avoid 3d and shading effects on graphs
- All graphs should have error bars and comparisons should have significance values
- Each experimental group should have a consistent colour or format in all graphs
Although you may use scatter plots, histograms or box plots for different reasons, try to minimize the different types of graphs. And ensure they are all the same colour and layout. Headings and legends should be consistently labelled.
Anything unnecessary to the message should be removed.
They can be bad maths, and see point 2.
This is one of the few ways colour can be used to enhance the clarity of line graphs or histograms. For example, your normals should always be pink, your shams green, treatment 1 orange etc, regardless of which two you are comparing. This means people only have to read the legend once, and makes charts more visually accessible.
- If presenting research or a journal club article, your last slide should be “Implications of this data”
- Don’t write full sentences on slides.
- Avoid words of more than one syllable wherever possible
- Keep data on each slide to a minimum
- Avoid lengthy explanations of background and basic theory
- Don’t include anything that you are uncomfortable with on a slide
- Your conclusion slide must be able to be read from the back of the room
If it is not your last slide, it will be your first question. (This was one of my mistakes too).
The role of slides is to keep your audience focussed on what you are saying. They should be readable in one glance.
See above. All the words you would use in a scientific article can not be read in a glance, so are of no use to your audience. You may say them, but avoid writing them
If a slide has three graphs, then it is usually better to use three slides to display them, and spend the same total time on each.
Too much time on background means less time for results and discussion. (Yes, I did this one too). The audience needs to understand your study, not design it.
When you get nervous, the first thing you will do is apologize for it.
This may be the only slide your audience reads. If they haven’t been paying attention, they will use it to ask questions. No full sentences. Lists and point form works well. Consider a table if the results can be displayed in groups.
Presentation skills is a big thing in business. People present every day, and become very skilled at it. So there is lots of information out there for us part-timers who wish to improve our performance.
Do you have any clunkers you have recently learnt? Share your presentation advice or links in the comments.
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