Presenting with Impact

Research and innovation

Meenakshi Sarkar is a second year Postgraduate Researcher. She has 20 years of experience in Learning and Development with reputed companies such as P&G, Bausch & Lomb, HMV, NewYorkLife Insurance and MetLife Insurance. Meenakshi is a certified life coach and ran her own training firm before she came to the UK to pursue her academic career.

Profile photograph of Meenakshi Sarkar

Presentations at conferences and seminars are a great way of letting audiences within and outside of your discipline know about your research and its potential impact.  

Following a few simple guidelines and tips you should be able to leave your audience wanting to know more about your research, appreciating the impact you intend to leave in your area of knowledge creation and how it might make a difference to society at large.

1. Know your audience

Academic writing is different from academic presentations. Academic writing is mostly meant for an academic audience or at least for people who are interested in your area of research. It has its own conventions in terms of referencing, citations, the disciplines you draw your literature and ideas from and the way you chose to explain your theoretical/empirical findings in your paper. Many academics who are experts in their own area of research expect the rest of the world to be experts too (well, if not experts at least knowledgeable!).

Presentations on the other hand can be for a wider audience, some of who might not be experts or knowledgeable in your area of study. You might be speaking to a non-academic audience too. So, if you can keep the audience in mind before preparing your presentation, it will always help to make the presentation more relevant and interesting for them.

Avoid jargon! Explain complex concepts simply. Use everyday examples.

2. Cover fewer points but cover them well

One major dilemma academics face while presenting is what to keep and what to leave out? Most conferences give a time limit for presenters between 10 to 20 minutes unless you are the keynote speaker where you might get about 40 to 60 minutes. Whatever be the allocation, bear in mind you cannot read out your entire thesis in such a time! So, what are the key messages you want to deliver if you have just three minutes (like in a three minute thesis competition), or just five (like in a themed discussion involving a panel), or fifteen minutes (such as in a standard conference presentation)?

One of the biggest mistakes academics make in conferences is putting too much information on their slides. Do not put everything that you are going to say on the slides; use bullet points and relevant references. Focus only on the most important aspects like: why is this research important? How does this make a difference? Who will benefit from this? What is your methodology? What are your findings?     

Cover fewer things but cover them well in a structured argument. 

3Practise, practise, practise!

When you have limited time like 15 minutes, there is no time for thinking as you speak or making changes on stage. So prepare your presentation, rehearse your timing. Practise lots in front of a mirror. Record yourself on your phone and keep listening to the script as many times as possible until you know it by heart. Practise the pauses, the smiles, the voice intonations. There is nothing more boring than listening to a monotonous monologue in a seminar or conference. Record yourself in video mode on your camera to see how you yourself would rate your performance.    

Practise makes perfect.

4. Making impactful presentations

When you are presenting before an audience remember you are a visual medium and they are not only listening to you, but also seeing you. Therefore:

  • Use your body to the fullest
  • Smile to ease the tension
  • Don’t hide behind the podium or read your slides
  • Look into the audience; scan the room as you speak
  • Use your voice to gain attention
  • Use pauses meaningfully
  • Move around a bit if you can but do not obstruct the projection.

It can also help if you:

  • Start with a bang and end with a bang
  • Use humour, but be careful of the suitability of your jokes to the audience. The safest joke is the one you crack about yourself!
  • Use stories if you have the time - they are a great way to start or end a presentation
  • Use simple data to make your point where ever possible
  • Use relevant pictures on your slides.

All the best!

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and may not reflect the views of Leeds University Business School or the University of Leeds.