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Show and Tell: Creating Memorable Presentations
June 21, 2011 - 9:15pm

Summer is here, and for many academics, this is not just the season for relaxation but also the time for conference presentations. I know many colleagues who tremble at the thought of standing in front of an unknown and critically-minded audience who would potentially tear apart one’s every argument.

I do not fear the presentation moment, on the contrary I always look forward to it as the time when my ideas, concocted in the solitude of my academic life get to breathe fresh air and receive the feedback that will refine them.

A good conference presentation is key to one’s relaxed and productive participation at a conference. Advice on how to present papers is plentiful and perhaps one of my favorites is Presentation Advisors. In the space below I will share some of my personal strategies on of what makes for a good presentation.

1. Get in the mood

Observing great public speakers at work is a terrific source of inspiration. Before preparing my presentation, I watch people who inspire me to speak out and share my thoughts. One of the best sites to find such motivational speakers is Even if the topics are totally outside the realm of my academic interests (anything goes, from dinosaurs to the future of medicine), I feel energized just by listening to these great presenters and feel I get something worth emulating in my own talk.

2. Go visual

Even if your topic does not necessarily include film clips, diagrams of molecules or statistical curves, it still makes sense to include some form of visual support for your presentation. Reading the paper out loud is not enough to capture and maintain the interest of an audience who already has viewed several other panelists. Using visuals will make your words stick in the mind of your public, which is the main point at conferences (besides networking, of course).

Again, there are many tips out there on how to make very good PowerPoint presentations, but here I would like to focus on two aspects: originality and structure.

Originality Avoid the pre-fixed templates that everyone has seen (and used) a hundred million times. One could play around with the color schemes, the types of font and perhaps go beyond the bullet points that are so overused. Moreover, there are an increasing number of net-based resources that help your presentation look good and different; the most discussed being of course Prezi. Using visuals is easy, fun, and it will get you the attention you deserve – give it a try next time!

Structure A well-thought out paper should easily translate into a well-designed presentation. Some rules of thumb are: start with the outline of what you will discuss in the paper, and then use the same headings (including numbers) for the titles of your slides. People will know how far you have come and what to expect next, and will have an easier time following your thoughts. I also include a short summary after each major section of my presentation (normally I would have circa 3 sections); in style with “So far we have looked at the three major theories in the field of European integration. Each of these has pluses and minuses. Now let us turn to…”

3. Relax

I find that I am a far better communicator when I am not stressed. How to relax is a very individual matter. Some people are more at ease when they have practiced the presentation until the very last minute and know it by heart. Others prefer to put the paper away the evening before the big day and think about something else. Personally, I relax only when I am in front of the public, only when I look around in the room and see the faces of people. I imagine them all to be my friends and talk to them as if I tried to convince some of my best colleagues and friends from work not some strangers I never met before. This trick of the imagination usually works fine!

I hope you will find some of my suggestions useful for yourselves. Good luck with those conference presentations!

Anamaria writes from Lund, Sweden. She is one of the founding members of the editorial collective at University of Venus.


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