The Art Of Presenting: Delivering Successful Presentations In The Social Sciences And Humanities [1st Edition] 1107139074, 9781107139077, 131650431X, 9781316504314, 1316488349, 9781316488348

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The Art Of Presenting: Delivering Successful Presentations In The Social Sciences And Humanities [1st Edition]
 1107139074, 9781107139077, 131650431X, 9781316504314, 1316488349, 9781316488348

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Delivering professional presentations of scientific work is an important part of an academic’s life. Oral presentations are important not only because you present your scientific work, but also because you present yourself to potential hiring committees, grant committees, and collaborators. This book uses insights from the field of psychology, as well as from the theatre, to teach you how to make a lasting impression. It addresses core topics such as how to design presentation slides, how to practice, and how to deliver your presentation to a range of audiences. Useful exercises are provided to help you cope with presentation anxiety, make the most out of conferences, and adapt your presentation to various formats, audiences, and cultures. It is not easy to present with impact, but this book contains the guidance you need to master the art of presenting.   is Assistant Professor in Social and Organisational Psychology at Leiden University, with almost thirty years of experience in giving academic presentations. She has taught many presentation courses for PhD students, in which she uses her psychological knowledge and her experience as an improvisation actress.    is Assistant Professor in Social and Organisational Psychology at Leiden University. She is highly experienced in delivering international presentations for scientific and nonscientific audiences, where she uses her scientific knowledge of psychological principles to improve the design and delivery of oral presentations.

THE ART OF PRESENTING Delivering Successful Presentations in the Social Sciences and Humanities

FIEKE HARINCK Leiden University, the Netherlands

ESTHER VAN LEEUWEN Leiden University, the Netherlands

University Printing House, Cambridge  , United Kingdom One Liberty Plaza, th Floor, New York,  , USA  Williamstown Road, Port Melbourne,  , Australia –, rd Floor, Plot , Splendor Forum, Jasola District Centre, New Delhi – , India  Anson Road, #–/, Singapore  Cambridge University Press is part of the University of Cambridge. It furthers the University’s mission by disseminating knowledge in the pursuit of education, learning, and research at the highest international levels of excellence. Information on this title: : ./ © Fieke Harinck and Esther van Leeuwen  This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press. First published  Printed in the United Kingdom by TJ International Ltd, Padstow Cornwall A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data : Harinck, Fieke, – author. | Leeuwen, Elisabeth Adriana Catharina van, – author. : The art of presenting : delivering successful presentations in the social sciences and humanities / Fieke Harinck, Esther van Leeuwen. :  Edition. | New York : Cambridge University Press, . | Includes bibliographical references and index. :   (print) |   (ebook) |   (hardback) |   (paperback) |   (epub) : : Public speaking. | Communication in science. :   .H  (print) |   (ebook) |  ./– LC record available at LC ebook record available at  ---- Hardback  ---- Paperback Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.


page x

Acknowledgements Introduction

Is This the Right Book for You? Structure and Themes Conclusion

  

     

The Core Message

The Core Message: What Does It Look Like? The Core-Message-First Approach Conclusion

The Pieces of the Puzzle

  


Presentation Format: The Tree The Introduction : The Core Message (and Why This Is Interesting) : An Example or Anecdote : Important Concepts : The Core Message : Presentation Outline : Theoretical or Practical Framework : The Core Message Method Results Discussion and Conclusion

It’s All about Design: Slide Design Choosing a Presentation Tool Slide Layout Slide Format Slide Background

           

    



Contents Font Structure Columns and Headers/Footers Inclusive Slide Design Slide content Designating Slides Filling Your Slides Conclusion

Practice, Practice, Practice Practice – Why? Practice Is a Reality Check Practice Gives You a Sense of the Actual Length of Your Presentation Practice Makes Your Presentation Appear More Natural Practice Improves Your Performance Practice – How? Phase : Private Phase : Private General Rehearsal Phase : Public General Rehearsal Seeking Feedback Supporting Materials A Full Transcript Notes No Notes A Bit of Everything Practice – When?

     

The Moment of Truth: Stand Up and Deliver Final Checks The Technical Facilities The Layout of the Room Choose Your Spot Delivering Starting Your Slides Delivering Your Presentation Expect the Unexpected What (Not) to Wear

Discussion Time Questions Are Compliments in Disguise The Audience Is Not a Pool of Sharks, but a Box of Teddy Bears Tips for Responding to Questions Repeat the Question to the Entire Audience

      

                

          

    

Contents Involve the Audience, Not Just the Questioner Stay Friendly See a Question as an Opportunity Wrapping Up Your Answer Starting a Discussion Questions during the Presentation What If You Do Not Know the Answer? Different Types of Questions Questions for Clarification Alternative Interpretations Practical Applications Links to Other Work Dealing with Nasty Questions Paraphrasing Postpone or Park Minimal Response Ask the Questioner for Suggestions

Verbal and Non-verbal Behaviour Breathing Voice Volume Intonation Pace Posture and Movement Walking Around Hand and Arm Gestures Eye Contact

How to Deal with Stress What Is Stress? Coping with Stress Scheduling Team Up Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is Be Nice to Yourself Techniques for Managing Stressful Emotions Physical Exercise : Reduce Stress through Belly-Breathing Physical Exercise : Belly-Breathing on the Ground Physical Exercise : Slap Yourself! Physical Exercise : Being Pushed Cognitive Exercise : Zoom Out Cognitive Exercise : Think about Someone Who Unconditionally Supports You Cognitive Exercise : Attacking Irrational Thoughts

vii                 

         

              


Contents Cognitive Technique : The Fifteen-Minutes-of-Worry Technique Cognitive Technique : Look on the Bright Side Coping with a Total Blackout

     

Various Presentation Formats Blitz Presentations Elevator Pitch FameLab Pecha Kucha Extended Presentations Brown Bags Colloquia Keynote Addresses TED Talks Grant Applications Take Them Seriously Grant Application Committees Are Diverse Make It Easy to Say Yes Show Your Enthusiasm Poster Presentations The Underdog of Presentations Posters Are Conversation Starters What to Put on a Poster Poster Pitch

 Cultural Differences Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Collectivism versus Individualism Power Distance Achievement versus Nurturing Orientation Uncertainty Avoidance Time Orientation and Indulgence versus Restraint Inductive versus Deductive Reasoning The Use of Humour

  

                    

        

 Addressing Different Audiences


Small versus Large Audiences Create Structure Practice Keep Your Audience Focused Limit Questions Use a Microphone Speak Slowly and Articulate Well

      



National versus International Audiences Slow Down and Pause Use Functional Gestures List Your Key Points on Your Slides Use Common Language Curb Your Accent Be Visible Scientific versus Lay Audiences Generate Interest Keep It Simple Show Your Expertise

          

    


 How to Be a Good Audience Member


Do: Show Up on Time Do: Be Quiet Do: Nod or Show a Friendly Face Do: Ask Questions during Discussion Time Don’t: Use Discussion Time to Promote Your Own Work Don’t: Thrash the Presenter Do: Thank Presenters for Their Contribution (But Do Not Go Overboard) Do: Be Conscious of Cultural Differences Don’t: Doze Off Do: Give Constructive Feedback to the Presenter Don’t: Hide Behind Your Laptop, Tablet, or Phone Conclusion

 Making the Most of Conferences Selecting Presentations Socialising with Peers Meeting Seniors Meals and Other Social Events Alcohol Gossip Conclusion

References Index

           

       

 


We are very grateful for all the help that we received in various ways: people who shared their presentation tips and tricks, people who provided invaluable feedback on the various chapters, and people who gave permission to use their presentations as examples. So, thank you very much Bianca Beersma, Margot Brouwer, Lottie Bullens, Omar Burhan, Petra van Dam, Wilco van Dijk, Lotte van Dillen, Niels van Doesum, Jop Groeneweg, Esther Kluwer, Erik de Kwaadsteniet, Gert-Jan Lelieveld, Alfred van der Meulen, Welmer Molenmaker, Emma ter Mors, Marret Noordewier, Job Oostveen, Hester Ruigendijk, Saïd Shafa, and Chris Verhoeven.



To all the aspiring, practising, procrastinating, fearful, curious, experienced, novice, hopeless, and hopeful presenters in the social sciences, humanities, and related fields: welcome to this book on how to deliver an oral presentation of your scientific work. Delivering professional presentations of scientific research and ideas is an important and invaluable part of an academic’s life. As academics, we need to share our work with our academic peers, and oftentimes also with those outside academia. We do this both in written form (such as papers, books, chapters, and theses) and in the form of oral presentations. In a society in which information is exchanged at an ever increasing speed, oral communication is steadily winning terrain over the slower written forms of communication, which often take months or even years to disseminate. But oral presentations are not only becoming more commonplace because they are fast and easy ways to share information, they are also becoming a vital tool for self-presentation. With the growing competition in academia, the difference between obtaining a desired position or grant and ending second can lie in the personal impression you make on those that make the decision. Oral presentations have become an intricate part of job and grant applications, and serve not only to present your scientific work, but also to present yourself. As such, oral presentations have become an academic’s calling card. Despite the importance of delivering high-quality presentations, the acquisition and training of presentation skills have occupied a subordinate role in most academic teaching programmes. Such programmes tend to focus on writing skills, teaching students in great detail the rules of style guides such as those of the American Psychological Association or the Modern Language Association, followed by ample practice to further develop those important writing skills. When it comes to delivering oral presentations, however, those same programmes are remarkably lacking when it comes to educating students in how to design and deliver high-quality oral presentation. To be clear, many programmes do require 


students to deliver several oral presentations, but they do little to nothing in regards to teaching students what to do, and what not to do. The implicit assumption seems to be that anybody can present, given sufficient practice. We disagree. We believe that everybody can learn to present well, but (just as with writing) there is some basic knowledge that needs to be acquired in order to get off on the right track. We have seen too many seasoned presenters with poor presentation skills to subscribe to the adage that presentation skills are merely a matter of practice. Of course, we have also seen experienced, self-taught presenters with excellent presentation skills – but the point here is that experience in and of itself is not the same as skill. A skill is something that is developed through practice and experience, but it does require some basic knowledge at the start. If you wish to learn to play the guitar, you first need to learn where to position your hand and how to play the notes, and then you can become better through practice and experience. Delivering an oral presentation works the same way. The aim of this book is to put beginning presenters on the right track towards developing themselves into highly skilled presenters, as well as to help the more experienced presenters to critically reflect on their own presentation habits. With this book, we aspire to help future generations of academics in the social sciences, humanities, and related fields to better prepare themselves for the various presentation opportunities that lie ahead. We hope that this book will help both beginning and experienced academics to design and to deliver oral presentations that tickle, challenge, and impress their audience. There is little worse than delivering an oral presentation that is so unremarkable and bland that neither the presentation nor the presenter leave any kind of lasting impression. With the information provided in this book, such presentations belong to the past. This book teaches you not only how to create a compelling message, but also how to deliver it with gusto. We show how best to structure your presentation, how to design clear and appealing slides, and how to use your voice and body movement to capture the audience. We also provide important information on how to deal with the cultural diversity of the international scientific world, offer tips on how to accommodate different types of audiences, and discuss different types of oral presentations, from poster presentations to grant application interviews. And specifically for academics in the early stages of their career, we show how to deal with presentation anxiety, how to be a good audience member, and how to make the most of attending conferences.


Is This the Right Book for You? This book is particularly useful for academics in the earlier stages of their career, who are relatively new to the art of presenting. This group broadly ranges from bachelor’s and master’s students to PhD students, postdocs, and early-career scientists working in academia or at research institutions outside academia. However, everyone who wishes to learn more about how to deliver a good oral presentation may find this book of interest, including more senior scientists who feel that they could use an ‘update’ in their presentation skills. Because each academic domain has its own norms and customs when it comes to scientific presentations, the current book focuses specifically on the international domain of social sciences, humanities, and related fields. Social sciences and humanities encompass disciplines such as psychology, law, sociology, geography, communication sciences, economics, and linguistics. That does not mean that this book is not useful for presenters from different fields. Much of the information provided in this book is applicable to all types of presentations, from other scientific domains and even from outside academia. Whether you are a scientist presenting your latest research on genomes or a marketeer pitching a new idea for an advertising campaign, you can benefit much from knowing how to deliver a compelling core message, how to design supporting visual material such as slides, how to handle a discussion, or how to deal with presentation anxiety.

Structure and Themes The book is split up into four main parts. Part I focuses on how to prepare a good oral presentation. Readers will learn how to create a compelling core message, how to structure their presentation, how to create slides or other supporting material, and how to practice their presentation. The focus of Part II is on the actual delivery of the presentation. Readers will learn how to control their presentation environment, how to handle a discussion, how to make the best of their non-verbal behaviour, and how to handle presentation anxiety. In Part III, we discuss how you can adapt your presentation to different presentation formats, different audiences, and different cultures. And finally, in Part IV, we provide valuable information on how to reap the benefits from being an audience member, and we provide tips for attending conferences.


Throughout the book, a few core themes emerge that reflect our philosophy about what a good scientific presentation entails. These themes include: ()



A good presentation has a clear core message. The core message is the main conclusion of the presentation, in non-scientific language. This core message is the heart of an oral presentation, and the rest of the presentation is built around this core message. In fact, the core message of this book is that a good core message is the absolute essence of an oral presentation. A good presentation is about taking control. We all like to see presenters who take the stage and have clearly thought about how to deliver the information to the audience. In this book we help presenters to take control of their presentation and the presentation environment, and we provide valuable information that helps presenters stay in the driver’s seat during discussions. A good presentation revolves around the audience, not the presenter. It is not the presenter who decides whether a presentation is informative – this is up to the audience. Good presentations are those that are well adapted to the audience’s prior knowledge, goals, interests, and cultural background.

Conclusion As seasoned academics, we strongly believe in the importance of oral presentation skills. The ability to deliver a high-quality oral presentation is an asset for the rest of one’s life, whether this is inside or outside of academia. With this book, we offer guidance in how to present with impact. It is not easy to deliver an oral presentation that people will like, understand, and remember. However, with the information offered in this book, and with sufficient practice, you will learn how to master the art of presenting.

 

Preparing Your Presentation

Delivering an oral presentation is all about the preparation. If your preparation is in order, your chances of delivering a high-quality presentation increase ten-fold. The chapters in this part of the book will teach you how to prepare your presentation. In Chapter , you will learn about the main building block of every presentation: the core message. In the following chapters, we show how you can structure the different elements of your work (e.g., theory, method, results, discussion), how you can support your oral presentation with visual aids such as slides, and how you can practice effectively. You may feel that none of this is new to you – after all, you are probably already somewhat experienced in writing scientific papers, and isn’t preparing an oral presentation essentially the same as writing a scientific paper? The answer is no. Good oral presentations nowadays are fundamentally different from written papers, and should be designed separately and from scratch. A paper can be read, re-read, and re-re-read if needed. Readers can go back to previous text, skip over details that they are not interested in, check methodological details, or go straight to the main conclusions. They go through your information-dense written story at their own pace and according to their own interests. None of this is possible during an oral presentation. If your audience misses crucial pieces of information because you went too fast, or didn’t explain matters clearly enough, you will lose their attention. This makes it, among other things, of vital importance that you repeat crucial information several times during your presentation – much more than you would in a written paper. We will give you suggestions and tips in this part on how to incorporate this repetition into your presentation without sounding, well, repetitive. Another dimension on which oral presentations and written papers clearly differ is their informational density. Oral presentations can contain less information than written papers, making it even more important that you focus on the important elements, and leave aside less important 

Preparing Your Presentation

information. A paper may contain several messages, an oral presentation should be limited to one. Detailed information about scientific theories, prior work, or the measures and analyses of your own work are all very suitable for written texts that people can slowly digest like a rich meal of several courses. A presentation is more like fast food – it has to go down smooth and fast, so you have to present the information in tiny bits that are easy to understand (and swallow). You do not want to give your audience mental heartburn. The chapters in this part will help you to determine your core message, choose a suitable presentation format, and generally build your presentation so that your audience will be able to understand and be convinced by your message. And if you practice your well-designed presentation following the tips provided in this part, you are practically guaranteed to deliver a high-quality and captivating oral presentation.

 

The Core Message

If there is one core message to this book, it is that oral presentations should always have a core message. A core message is essentially the conclusion of your work in every-day, non-scientific language. It is the most essential piece of information that you want your audience to remember when they walk out of the room after your presentation. In this chapter, we will show you what a good core message should look like. Everything else that you will present in addition to this core message should support the understanding and acceptance of your core message by the audience. A core message is the conclusion of your work in one (perhaps two) simple, easy-to-understand sentence(s) (Wagenaar, ). It should cover the main conclusion that you draw from the work you present – be it an overview of scientific theories, existing research, a grant proposal, or your own research. Before designing your presentation, ask yourself this: ‘What is the one thing you would like your audience to remember from your presentation?’ Remember, it can only be one thing. You may wish your audience to remember every single word you uttered, but that is not realistic. So you need to make some tough decisions between various messages, and select that one critical message that captures the essence of what you wish to convey. Thinking of a core message helps you, as a presenter, to determine what is most important in your presentation. Everything else you will present will be in support of your core message. Given that most oral presentations are relatively short, often between ten and twenty minutes, you simply cannot present all of the details of your work in such a limited time slot. You need to make decisions about what you can or should tell, and what not. The core message is as much a guideline for you, as it is for your audience. With the core message firmly planted in the back of your mind, you can ‘dress up’ your presentation with the most important information that your audience needs in order to understand and accept your core message, and omit the parts that they do not necessarily need to know. 

Preparing Your Presentation

The Core Message: What Does It Look Like? A core message contains the most important conclusion of your work in non-scientific terms. It covers the topic of your work and refers to your most important finding(s). Imagine that a reporter interviews the members of your audience after your presentation and asks them to describe your presentation in a single quote. If your presentation was about the influence of colonial history on popular music in South East Asia, you would probably be more satisfied with a quote such as ‘The decolonisation of this region has had an impact on contemporary local music’ than with a quote like ‘An Indonesian man made music instruments out of empty plastic bottles.’ The first quote is a conclusion of your work, the latter quote is not a conclusion but a fact or piece of information that stuck out – that was somehow more memorable than your key conclusion. To summarise your work in just one or two sentences is not an easy feat. It requires a bird’s-eye view on your work to decide what is the most important conclusion. One problem may occur when you feel that there is more than one conclusion that can be drawn. Do you then opt for multiple core messages, or do you pick the most important one? We recommend that you pick the most important conclusion, and stick to a single core message. The more messages you have, the more their impact is diluted. Which message you select can depend on several factors, including the type of presentation (Is it formal or informal? How much time do you have?) and the audience. For example, if you present your work on how corporate mergers affect personnel satisfaction, your core message may differ depending on the audience’s familiarity with the topic. A presentation before organisational psychologists may include a core message such as ‘It is important that employees have a sense of continuity of their pre-merger corporate identity after the merger’, whereas a presentation before an audience of managers and HR professionals may lead you to select a different message, such as ‘Mergers lower employee satisfaction.’ As you may have guessed, you have to take some time to select a good core message. First decide what you think is most important in your work. Again, think about what you want people to remember after your presentation. Once you have decided what the most important conclusion is, try to write it down in plain and simple language. This step is often the hardest part in crafting a core message. Most academics are reluctant to use non-scientific language because they fear a loss of precision or scientific detail. If you fear the same, you

The Core Message

could try out your core message by describing it to several people and test whether they understand it, and ask for feedback. Keep in mind that a good core message does not mean that the audience does not have any questions – if it did, you could indeed reduce your presentation to a singlesentence core message. The core message can (and perhaps should) raise questions such as ‘How do you know?’ or ‘What do you base this conclusion on?’ One of the authors of this book once presented her research about the effects of breaks in negotiations to a scientific audience (Harinck & de Dreu, ). She had compared the effects of negotiations that included breaks to those of negotiations without breaks, and also looked at whether people had a cooperative or a competitive mindset during the negotiation. In addition, her research had looked into different types of negotiations. The main finding was that people with a cooperative mindset were better negotiators than people with a competitive mindset, but only when the negotiation included breaks and not when there were no breaks in the negotiation. She decided on the following core message: ‘Breaks can be good for negotiations when you have a cooperative mindset, and breaks can be bad for negotiations when you have a competitive mindset.’ Note that this message does not cover all of the details of the study – specifically, the different types of negotiations that she looked at are not included in the core message. That doesn’t matter – what matters is that the core message covers what you believe the main conclusion of your work to be. A core message is not by definition the topic of your research or a short summary of what you did. To use the previous example, a core message such as ‘The effect of breaks and cooperative mindsets on negotiation outcomes’ is not a message at all – it only indicates the topic of the work. It may be a decent title for a presentation or a paper, but it is not a good core message because it does not give your audience any directions about the outcome of the work. A core message such as ‘An experimental investigation of the effects of breaks on negotiation outcomes among a sample of  university students’ also lacks the conclusion that a core message should have – it is simply a brief summary of the procedure of your work. Remember, scientific work is ultimately about the generation and dissemination of knowledge. Everything we do to advance that knowledge, that is, our work method, is merely a tool. The core message should capture the key knowledge you wish to contribute to the world, not the tools that you used to generate it. A checklist for creating a good core message is provided in Box ..


Preparing Your Presentation Box . Core message checklist

A core message should: • • • • •

reflect the main conclusion of your work be brief – preferably a single sentence be a single message, not multiple messages be formulated in simple, accessible terms be adjusted to the type of audience.

The Core-Message-First Approach Once you know your core message, the next step is to decide at what moment you should deliver that message. It may seem logical to deliver your core message at the end of your presentation. After all, the presentation itself contains all of the building blocks that lead up to your main conclusion – and it is this conclusion that is your core message. And yet, it is far better to present your core message at the beginning of your presentation. Since the audience has usually very little idea of what the content of your presentation will be, a core message delivered at the beginning of your presentation helps to build and set the right expectations. Clear expectations about the content of your presentation can be very useful to an audience because it allows them to properly interpret the value and purpose of the various parts of the presentation. Delivering the core message in the beginning of the presentation may feel like a spoiler: why listen to the presentation if you already know what the conclusion is? Do not worry that the audience will lose interest in your presentation after you have given them the core message. Usually, a core message raises questions. For example, a core message like ‘Teenagers are much better equipped at planning their homework activities than is commonly assumed’ will only raise more interest for the remainder of your presentation. You audience will want to know more about how you discovered this, or how well equipped these teenagers really are at planning. Your presentation will provide the answers and fulfil the curiosity raised by your core message. So most of the time, a core message raises rather than reduces curiosity. A core-message-first approach has two advantages that make it superior to a core-message-last approach. First, starting your presentation with a core message helps the audience to keep up with your presentation. If they already know what the end conclusion of your presentation is, it is easier for them to follow your line of reasoning, or to understand why you are

The Core Message


giving them specific pieces of information. If you do not give your core message at the beginning of your presentation, your audience will try to figure one out by themselves – but this may not be in line with what you think the presentation is about, and this can give rise to confusion. What is more, cognitive resources will be spent on figuring out what your presentation is about rather than on following your presentation and comprehending what you are saying. Second, the core-message-first approach provides you with a time advantage: starting with your core message increases the likelihood that your audience walks away with the message that you want them to walk away with, even when you are running out of time. Although you should not underestimate the importance of proper timekeeping, there may always be reasons why you find yourself short of time at the end of your presentation in spite of all your efforts to the contrary. Perhaps you are just generally predisposed to run out of time in everything you do (yes, some people are simply better at timekeeping than others), or perhaps you encountered some unexpected interruptions, ranging from faulty equipment to clarifications questions. Whatever the reason, we’ve all been there (or will be there at some point in the future): the ‘one-minute left’ sign flashes, and you are barely halfway through your presentation. You will have to cut parts of your presentation, speed up, and all of this goes at the expense of the core message that you had planned to deliver at the end. You can save yourself a considerable amount of stress by starting, rather than ending, your presentation with your core message.

Conclusion An oral presentation stands or falls with a good core message. But a good core message is not just invaluable to your audience – it also helps you, as a presenter, to structure your presentation and to ensure that you delivered your messages even under time constraints. Throughout the book, you will find several other instances of how your core message can help you (e.g., in Chapter  about presentation anxiety) and your audience (e.g., in Chapter ). By the way, did you notice what we did in the beginning of this chapter? We presented our core message, and then started explaining what it was, and why we think that it is useful. The fact that you continued reading until here is testament to our point that giving away your core message in the beginning does not reduce the interest for the remainder of the presentation.

 

The Pieces of the Puzzle

In the previous chapter we introduced the core message. Now it is time to see how you can use this core message to build and structure the major sections of your presentation. Depending on the type of presentation (e.g., a research presentation, a theoretical presentation, or a grant proposal), the building blocks of your presentation may differ somewhat. However, the core building blocks of introduction, method, results, discussion, and conclusion can be found in the vast majority of scientific presentations, regardless of whether you are presenting a laboratory experiment, a clinical trial, or a literature study. In this chapter, we will discuss each of these building blocks at some length, and show you how you can use your core message to decide what to tell and what not to tell your audience. We will also show you some ways to make shortcuts in your presentation in case you are under time pressure.

Presentation Format: The Tree A good oral presentation is built around a core message (see Chapter ). Any other information that is added will serve to help the audience understand and remember this core message. There are various metaphors to visualise the essence of the core message (including an onion and a daisy). In this book, we offer you . . . the tree. In the tree metaphor (see Figure .), the core message is the stem of the tree, and all the other elements are branches and leaves (and flowers and fruit, if you wish to go creative). You can strip a tree of its branches, leaves, flowers, and fruit, until only the stem is left, and still be able to call it a tree. But if you take one of the branches, you wouldn’t call that a tree (and neither would you use the term ‘tree’ for the leaves, fruit, flowers, etc.). The stem of the tree represents your core message – the very essence of your talk. The branches and leaves are the elements that you add to your presentation to explain, illustrate, or elaborate. These extra elements could represent anything, from additional studies and analyses to anecdotes and illustrations. 


Core message

The Pieces of the Puzzle

Figure .

A tree as a metaphor for a core message

Depending on the time you have for your oral presentation and the complexity of your message, you can add branches and leaves to elaborate on your core message. If your time is limited, then you can still deliver a convincing and comprehensive presentation in the form of a stem with just one or two branches, consisting of your core message and just a few elements of extra information.

The Introduction The introduction of an oral presentation does not refer to the introduction of yourself (see Box . for tips on how and when to introduce yourself and your collaborators), but to the section in which you present your core message and describe the theoretical building blocks of your work – much like the introduction section of a scientific paper. In most cases, the introduction of a presentation takes between  and  per cent of your total presentation time (not including the discussion following your presentation). For example, when you have a fifteen-minute time slot, with five minutes for discussion, then your oral presentation should be no more than ten minutes, and your introduction no more than two to four minutes. That’s very short! Most presenters struggle to stay within this


Preparing Your Presentation Box . Introducing yourself

The timing of introducing yourself to your audience is a matter of personal taste and cultural manners. Some like to say something about themselves and their collaborators at the beginning of their presentation, some at the end, and some prefer not to convey this information at all. Sometimes you are already briefly introduced by the organiser of the meeting or a session chair. Moreover, your name and that of your collaborator(s) are probably also listed on your title slide (see Chapter ), assuming that you are using slides. Whereas the basic information is out there, you may still want to introduce your collaborators, if there aren’t too many. There’s no need to provide a full CV of yourself and your collaborators – simply mentioning their names is enough. You could do this briefly at the beginning (e.g., ‘In this talk, I will present data from two studies that I conducted together with X and Y, in which we showed that . . .’). It is also not uncommon for people to include information about their collaborators, themselves, and/or their research group at the end of their presentation. Whether you prefer this is a matter of taste. Certainly, if your work involved multiple collaborators, listing them all at the beginning could distract from your point – your core message. On the other hand, listing everyone at the end (sometimes accompanied by pictures of all these people) may feel like you no longer ‘end with a bang’ because you have taken a side turn that is unrelated to your core message. Whether you do so at the beginning of your presentation or at the end, orally or in a written form on your slides, most would agree that it is common courtesy to acknowledge your collaborators when delivering a presentation. Introducing yourself may seem redundant to most, not to mention awkward. After all, the audience is there to listen to you, so presumably they know who you are, right? Wrong. Your audience may be there for many reasons, and hopefully most of those have to do with their interest in the topic of your presentation, but that does not mean that they also know who you are. And yet, it is somewhat strange to listen to someone talk for ten or twenty minutes and not know who they are. For this reason alone, it is important that you introduce yourself, preferably at the beginning of your presentation. You can do this casually, for example, ‘Good morning. My name is X, and today I am going to tell something about the topic of helping.’ One certain benefit of mentioning your own name in international contexts is that you inform the audience of the correct pronunciation of your name. Science is an international discipline, and we often struggle to pronounce names that are unfamiliar to us. The second author of this book has certainly heard every possible pronunciation of her name. Oddly enough, we rarely ask people straight out how to pronounce their name, opting to avoid the use of their name completely in case we pronounce it incorrectly. But how can you establish yourself as a serious scientist if people don’t even know how to

The Pieces of the Puzzle


pronounce your name (or spell it)? By casually mentioning your own name at the beginning of your presentation (making sure you pronounce it clearly), you can help your audience with something most of them probably never would have dared to ask you directly.

time frame, and their struggle is completely understandable. There are many elements presenters wish to include in their introduction: their core message, the central question their work aims to address, the importance or relevance of this topic, an explanation of the most important concepts, and an overview of previous relevant work. On top of that, presenters need to make sure that their audience is interested and actively engaged throughout the presentation. In order to include all of the necessary information in your introduction while simultaneously keeping your audience on their toes, we propose a specific structure consisting of several sections. These sections include the core message, an anecdote or example, an explanation of the most important concepts, the core message (again), an outline of the presentation, your theoretical or practical framework, and your core message (yet again). We recommend that you repeat the core message several times throughout your presentation. Whereas repetition in a written paper may feel repetitive, repetition is actually a good thing in an oral presentation. Repeating a message is a way of emphasising its importance. Moreover, the audience of a live talk cannot pause or rewind your presentation, so one moment of distraction can have serious consequences if it means that they miss your core message or other essential information. And there are many distractions. People may not yet be familiar with the concepts of your talk, they may be adapting to your voice or accent, they may be distracted by their phone, they may recognise a familiar face in the audience that they haven’t seen in a while, and so on. Even when the audience consists of motivated and intelligent people who are interested in your topic, you need to include a certain measure of redundancy and repetition in your oral presentation for them to increase the likelihood that they remember, understand, and accept your message. : The Core Message (and Why This Is Interesting) Perhaps the most important element of an oral presentation is the start of your introduction. You could compare the start of your presentation with the first paragraph of a scientific manuscript. A well-written first paragraph


Preparing Your Presentation

introduces the reader to the topic of the paper and outlines what the reader can expect from the paper. It also convinces the reader that the paper is worth reading. The start of a presentation has the same two goals: it should get the audience interested in your presentation and it should explain what they can expect from your presentation. Generating interest in your presentation is very important, but unfortunately it is often overlooked. You need to convince your audience that it pays to listen to your presentation. People find it easier to pay attention when they have a genuine interest in the topic, so you should give them a reason to find your work interesting – for personal reasons, work-related reasons, societal reasons, or any other reason you can think of. Box . provides an example of a presentation that one of the authors delivered some time ago. Note that she starts with a brief anecdote, by referring to Hurricane Katrina that destroyed vast areas of New Orleans in . An anecdote like this serves to capture the audience’s interest and simultaneously illustrates the importance of the presentation. After this, she is coming straight to the point by informing the audience that she is going to present the results from two studies. When the audience knows what to expect, it is easier to process information. The core message is included at the end: ‘when it comes to the exchange of help between groups, the psychological side of helping is sometimes more important than the instrumental side of helping’. Do not worry that the audience will not comprehend it right away – in fact, they probably won’t. That is not a

Box . An example of the beginning of an introduction Did you know that Cuba was one for the first countries that offered help to the US after Hurricane Katrina? They offered to send some , medics, field hospitals, and  tons of medical supplies to ease this humanitarian disaster. The US turned this offer down. Why would they do that, when help was so badly needed? Sometimes groups in need reject help because they do not want to be indebted to certain other groups. Today, I will present the results from two studies in which we investigated this phenomenon. These studies showed an important psychological effect of helping: groups that offer help are seen as powerful and high status, whereas groups that receive help are seen as powerless, low status, and dependent. I will argue that, when it comes to the exchange of help between groups, the psychological side of helping is sometimes more important than the instrumental side of helping.

The Pieces of the Puzzle


problem. The first time you state your core message, it can merely serve as a teaser, triggering interest, getting used to the terminology, and a desire to learn more. It communicates that your presentation in fact has an important message – and that it will pay to listen. The second and third time the audience hears your core message, it will sound more familiar, and this increases the likelihood that they will remember it. Moreover, by then you will have provided more information about the topic which will help them process and comprehend your message. : An Example or Anecdote An example or anecdote that reflects the essence of your topic will help your audience understand your message. Note that this example or anecdote can be included either before or after your core message (Section ). The description of help offered by Cuba after Hurricane Katrina in Box . is an illustration of a brief anecdote – showing how the anecdote precedes the core message. But the author could also have chosen to omit this anecdote, start with her core message and a brief referral to the two studies she will present, and then continue with an example in the form of the following question: ‘Imagine two groups, A and B. A recently offered help to B in the form of food and shelter. Now let’s see a show of hands: who among you thinks group A is more powerful and economically prosperous than B? And who thinks the reverse, that B is more powerful and prosperous than A?’ Odds are that most people would say that group A is the more prosperous and powerful group, based on that one piece of information stating that they offered help to group B. This example helps the audience to experience first-hand what a simple piece of information about a help offer does for their perception of entire groups. As a bonus, directing a question to the audience helps you to connect to your audience and it increases their involvement. Even those who are checking their phones or doing other things are being called to attention when they are asked a direct question. When trying to find inspiration for your example or anecdote, think broadly and out of the box. It could be something you experienced in your personal life, it could be about a widely known social or political situation, it could be something that you can use as a metaphor for your own work – it could even be something you made up for the sole purpose of your presentation. One of the authors of this book once delivered a presentation in which a certain conversation with ‘a friend called Bill’ was repeatedly used as an example to illustrate a specific point. In reality, there was no


Preparing Your Presentation

friend called Bill, and this conversation had never occurred. Bill represented a prototype – an average image of people with whom she had had this conversation, in one form or another. Using ‘Bill’ instead of ‘various people’ helped to strengthen and simplify the message. It might be easier to find an anecdote or example when you are presenting empirical research of concrete behavioural or perceptual phenomena than work that is more abstract or theoretical. However, the more abstract a topic is, the harder it is for the audience to relate to it, which makes it even more important that you help them by providing an example or anecdote! One of the authors of this book once attended a mathematical presentation on infinite-dimensional systems. The topic was over her head (she has a background in the social sciences), but she clearly remembers the presenter explaining how his work would help to stabilise and adjust satellite antennas in space by using the frame of an umbrella (without fabric). If a mathematician can come up with an example like that, scientists from the social sciences or humanities – for whom we write this book – who study humans and their behaviour should certainly be able to come up with a fitting anecdote or example themselves! : Important Concepts Before diving into your theoretical background, it is important that you explain some important concepts that might not be immediately clear to all. For the example in Box ., it would help to explain what is meant by the terms ‘psychological side of helping’, and ‘instrumental side of helping’. Do not assume that everybody understands your concepts as you do – it is better to explain too much than not enough. : The Core Message At this point, you may want to repeat your core message. It might feel awkward to repeat your core message in such a short time span, but remember that your audience is hearing your presentation for the first time, and often there are people in the audience that do not know you or your work. Oral presentations need redundancy and repetition in order to be understood by the audience. : Presentation Outline You already briefly indicated the content and structure of your presentation at the start of your introduction, but at this stage you may want to

The Pieces of the Puzzle


provide some more information, particularly if the structure of your presentation deviates from what your audience would expect by default. People are better able to understand presenters if they know where the presentation is heading. If this is unclear, they spend valuable cognitive resources trying to figure this out, and they may pay attention to the wrong elements. For example, if you did not inform your audience beforehand that you would be taking them through the results of six studies, they may devote all their attention to the first study, focusing on all the minor details, because they expect this to be the key finding that the presentation centres around. Continuing to the next study, and the next, will confuse them, and by study four they will start to despair about how much more information they are expected to absorb. Knowing in advance what to expect can help a person to focus their attention to the most important elements. Most oral presentations have a structure that can be classified into the separate parts of introduction, method, results, and conclusion/discussion. Because it is such a common structure, informing your audience that you will be taking them through the introduction, method, results, and conclusion of your work is non-informative (although it may be useful when addressing audiences that are not used to your format or not familiar with scientific presentations, see Chapters  and ). What is important, however, is that you give your audience a heads-up of things that they should expect, and that they wouldn’t automatically expect. For example, you could inform your audience of the type of research you conducted (archival data, experimental laboratory studies, surveys, interview studies, etc.) or the different elements of your presentation (e.g., will you be covering different themes?). However, if your presentation is relatively straightforward and you managed to convey the most important information at the beginning of your talk, this is a step that you could omit if you are pressed for time. : Theoretical or Practical Framework As with the writing of a scientific paper, an oral presentation generally takes the shape of an hourglass. That is, it starts wide, with more general phenomena and broader theories or basic prior work, and then zooms in on more specific topics or questions. The specific description of your own work (typically captured in the method and results sections) are the narrow parts of the hourglass, and the conclusion followed by the discussion reflects the broadening base of the hourglass. The introduction, then,


Preparing Your Presentation

can be thought of as the hourglass’s top, and should transition from wide to narrow. Exactly how wide you should start depends on a number of factors. In some cultures, it is expected that you start with a broad theoretical foundation (see Chapter ), whereas in other cultures, that is considered irrelevant and it is preferred that you get straight to the point. Likewise, in some cultures, it is customary to provide a wide and detailed description of your field of study (particularly if your work is more applied in nature), whereas in other cultures, a brief description of the field is considered sufficient. In general, we advise you to be more focused in the introduction of your oral presentation compared to the introduction to a written paper. You simply do not have sufficient time, and your audience does not have the required cognitive processing capacity, to present and process all of the details that you would normally (prefer to) include in a written introduction. Your decision on how much background information to include – in other words, how ‘wide’ to start your introduction – is also informed by time constraints and the complexity of your message. Depending on how much time you have, you can discuss only the bare necessities or be more elaborate about the details. When your work is very complex, you may need to decide to simplify it by focusing on only a part of it. Ask yourself the following question: what is essential for the audience to know in order to understand my core message? Let this question guide your decisions about what to tell and what not to tell. And keep in mind that an oral presentation is not about showing the audience that you know your classics or your field – it is about conveying your core message. The introduction should end with the specific question (for exploratory research) or hypotheses (for confirmatory research) that your work addressed. Your research question or hypotheses should follow logically from the information provided earlier. That is, you should be able to state your hypotheses or research question without further need for elaboration, and they should be clear to your audience. If this is not the case, then you know that the foundations provided in the previous section need more elaboration. Perhaps you missed an important step in your reasoning? If your work involves specific hypotheses, you may want to visualise them on a slide, for example, in the form of a graph or table. If feasible, you could present your hypotheses in the same way as you present the relevant results that test these hypotheses later on. That way, the audience can compare the presentation of your findings with the picture of your expected findings that is still in their heads, and see to what extent your findings support your hypotheses.

The Pieces of the Puzzle


: The Core Message Once again, repeat your core message. Now that all the building blocks of the theoretical or practical background of your presentation have been provided, the core message will make more sense to your audience.

Method Most presentations involve a method section – a part where you explain in sufficient detail what you did to generate the findings and conclusions that you will present later on. The various elements of such a method section depend much on the type of work that you did, so we will not elaborate on that here. Most scientists find this part of a presentation relatively easy, since it simply requires them to provide a factual account of the various steps that they took in their work. In general, the method section of an oral presentation resembles the method section of a written paper, with one important caveat: whereas the method section of a written paper should contain sufficient information for a reader to be able to replicate your work, the method section of an oral presentation should focus only on the most essential elements that are required to understand the outcomes of your work. This is where many presenters err, providing too much detail. In research presentations, we see presenters talk at length about, for example, the reliability of the scales in their survey, or the exact phrasing of the informed consent letter that research participants were asked to sign. Yes, this information could be important (data analyses with unreliable scales, for example, produce unreliable results), but there are other ways to tackle this. For oral presentations, the audience can assume that, unless the presenter says otherwise, ‘all is well’. By this we mean that the audience can assume that you followed all the (ethical) guidelines that apply to your discipline, that the scales in your questionnaire were reliable, your sampling method sound, and so on, unless you say otherwise. This last section is important, as the audience trusts you to mention anything that may jeopardise the interpretation of your work or the conclusions you draw. So, if one or more of your scales were not reliable, if something disrupted your work, you should mention that. If not, then don’t waste your breath. The only aim of the method section of an oral presentation is to help your audience to understand the findings that you will present next. Always keep this aim in mind, and with every bit of information, ask yourself if it serves this purpose (and only this purpose). On the one hand,


Preparing Your Presentation

this means that you can omit much information that you would normally include in a written paper, but on the other hand, it may mean that you should pay a bit more attention to other elements that you would normally describe very concisely in a paper, such as vital details of a procedure. Don’t forget that the readership of a paper can re-read elements of a method section until they grasp all the minor details – the audience of an oral presentation cannot rewind your talk. If they fail to understand how your work came about and other vital elements of your materials or procedure, they will probably also fail to understand your findings and conclusions. So make sure you explain these elements in sufficient detail, referring to your research question or hypotheses where necessary to help your audience connect the dots.

Results The results are a natural highlight in your presentation. This is what we have all been waiting for. It is like giving the audience a taste of a new recipe for a dessert pie – you explained how you bought the ingredients, how you carefully put them together and let the resulting mixture rise in the oven, and now it’s time to reveal what it all amounted to. Does it taste as good as you expected or hoped? Or did the pie deflate in the oven? If so, is there anything taste-worthy left? Because this feels like the ‘pièce de résistance’ of your talk, presenters sometimes make the mistake of including too much information: they attempt to present too many results, in too much detail. Sometimes, this is motivated by the desire to show just how great their work is. However, it can be seen as a sign of insecurity (or uncurtailed enthusiasm) if you are unable to decide which results are primary and which are secondary to your core message. Moreover, presenters often overestimate their audience’s ability to keep up with and comprehend their findings. As a presenter, you probably think that your introduction and method provided more than sufficient information for people to understand your findings in the blink of an eye – especially if you made the effort to visualise them in the form of a figure or graph. But the presentation of results is usually the most demanding part of an oral presentation for the audience. This is where they are forced to combine the various pieces of information that they received earlier and which they absorbed rather passively, and use them in an active manner to interpret your findings. This takes time and effort. Your job as a presenter is to acknowledge this and to walk your audience slowly through your findings, making clear how

The Pieces of the Puzzle


each element links to earlier parts of your presentation (e.g., your hypotheses). You should curb your enthusiasm and present only your key findings, so as not to overload your audience with information. If you like, you can prepare a few extra slides with additional results to keep at hand in case the discussion following your presentation requires extra information, but do not make it part of the presentation itself. Focus on your core findings only.

Discussion and Conclusion The method and results sections of your oral presentation represented the narrow part of the hourglass – now it is time to broaden it up again. Not surprisingly, we recommend that you start the discussion section by repeating your core message. Given that the core message is often reflected by your key finding(s), repeating your core message is simultaneously a brief summary of your results. You may then wish to elaborate by briefly summarising your key findings in somewhat more detail – something we particularly recommend in the case of complicated or elaborate findings. As with the other sections, the conclusion and discussion sections, too, roughly include the same information that you would convey in a written paper. And here, too, you should make a careful selection among those elements and focus on what is most important. Generally speaking, presenters tend to focus more on the conclusions and less on the theoretical and practical implications of their work compared to writers. That is fine, although your audience may wish to hear more about the relevance of your work – either for further theoretical development or for applied purposes. Another element you should address, however briefly, is that of the potential limitations of your work. For example, can we freely generalise your conclusions to other work, people, or settings? Scientific audiences love being critical – it is a trait by which we were selected since we entered the world of science and that has been cultivated ever since – so a critical reflection of your own work is expected of you. Having said that, junior scientists sometimes have a tendency to be somewhat overly critical. It can be a real let-down to hear someone thrash their own work as if it has little to no merit. Our advice: be critical about what you’re being critical about. Ask yourself some questions first, such as: does a certain limitation undermine or qualify your core message? If so, it may be important enough to address. Is it a serious limitation? Minor limitations could easily be skipped. Is the limitation of interest to your audience? Some limitations may be more


Preparing Your Presentation

interesting to practitioners than to scientists, or vice versa. Depending on the nature of your audience, you can decide which limitations warrant mentioning, and which do not. We recommend that you do not end your presentation with a discussion of limitations, but that you opt for a more positive note to wrap up your talk. A positive note could include suggestions for theoretical development, or useful advice for practitioners. What matters here is that a discussion of limitations, although important, also tends to set a negative tone. Depending on your list of limitations and their severity, you may even leave the audience with the feeling that your work was not informative. That is not a good way to end. So shift your discussion to more positive topics before wrapping up. Make a strong final statement. Your final line can be your core message for the last time, or any other statement that nicely illustrates or supports your core message. Most important here is that your presentation has a clear ending, and does not slowly fade away. It is similar to writing a paper: ‘End with a bang, not a whisper’ (Bem, , p. ). And last but not least: end by saying ‘thank you’ and receive your applause. ‘Thank you’ in this case is short for thanking the audience for their attention (some presenters spell this out, which is also fine). Do not, ever, say something like ‘that’s it’. You’re not Porky Pig, famous for his ‘That’s all folks’ words at the end of a cartoon. Don’t be like Porky, be like a professional presenter. Say ‘thank you’. These words of thanks at the end of a presentation serve an important function, as they inform the audience in a manner to which they have become accustomed that your presentation is over. It provides a natural cue for them to thank you for your presentation via applauding, which is customary after an oral presentation in most cultures. Presenters that don’t use this cue often find that their audience is struggling with the transition from presentation to questions, with some members in the audience already trying to ask their questions while others tentatively start clapping. The result is often a lukewarm applause, if any, and you deserve better than that. So say thank you, and take your bow (figuratively speaking).

 

It’s All about Design: Slide Design

Have you ever attended a presentation where you were overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information on the slides? Or witness a presentation where you were more intrigued by the creative transition between slides than by the content of the presentation? Then you are probably not alone in your experience. Oral presentations that are accompanied by slides require a delicate balance between the information that is provided orally, and the visual information on the slides. Many presenters struggle with this balance. In this chapter, we will give you tips about how to design your slides so that they support, rather than undermine, your talk. But before we get into slide design and slide content, we first need to consider whether to use slides in the first place, and if so, which tool or computer programme to use.

Choosing a Presentation Tool Visual aids in the form of projected slides can support an oral presentation by reinforcing your message and structuring complicated information. They can increase the involvement of the audience by appealing to more than one sense at the same time. Slides complement an oral presentation, and when used properly, they are a definite asset. There are a few situations, however, when the use of slides is not recommended. Certain brief pitch presentations are delivered in a context without facilities for the use of slides, such as FameLab presentations. We refer the reader to Chapter  for an overview of various presentation formats to see when the use of slides is recommended. If you are using slides, the first decision to make is: what presentation programme or tool should I use? In the ‘old days’, presenters only used blackboards, whiteboards, or flip overs. When technology made its introduction in the presentation world, transparencies (thin sheets of transparent material that were placed on an overhead projector) became 


Preparing Your Presentation

the height of sophistication. But as technology evolves, so do the tools we customarily use to support our oral presentations. At the time of writing this book, presenters typically use computer programmes such as PowerPoint, Keynote, or Prezi, and project their slides via a wall- or ceiling-mounted projector onto a white screen or via a television screen. No doubt, this too will change over time. Instead of listing the pros and cons of the currently fashionable tools in great detail, we opted to provide you with some more general considerations for selecting your presentation tool, which can be applied to both current and future tools. One such consideration is whether the computer programme or tool allows you to do what you want to do. This seems obvious, but is nonetheless important to mention. A new presentation programme, for example, may rapidly become fashionable and considered the thing to use for a self-respecting presenter, but if that programme does not allow you to present the graphics, videos, or transitions that you want, then you should stay clear of it. Choose the programme that best suits your needs, not the one that is most fashionable at one point in time. Another important consideration involves the general availability of the programme – by which we mean whether the programme is common and familiar at your presentation venue. Using a new or rare programme at a conference venue where the organisers have never heard of the programme, let alone worked with it, increases the risk of technical problems. You may think that you can prevent such problems by bringing your own laptop (with the programme installed) to the venue, but what happens when there is a problem connecting your laptop? In other words: what is your backup option? If your selected programme does not allow for a safe backup option, it is best avoided. This is a clear argument in favour of programmes that are widespread and commonly used in your domain – not because they are superior to other, more rare, programmes, but simply because organisers and technical facilities are better adept at coping with these programmes. A third consideration in selecting a presentation programme concerns the question of whether the programme requires an online connection or can run stand-alone. The Internet has become increasingly reliable and stable over the years, but it still is an added risk to your presentation. If you are using a web-based programme, such as Prezi, and you are suddenly unable to login to your account, or the presentation venue does not allow web-based programmes for security reasons, what do you do? Again: what is your backup option? Although we hesitate to make specific recommendations, at the time of writing this book, the most commonly used and widely accepted

It’s All about Design: Slide Design


presentation programme is PowerPoint. We rarely encounter a presentation venue that isn’t fully prepared to project a set of PowerPoint slides. However, you can never completely prevent problems due to the use of different versions of a programme or different operating systems. You may have prepared your slides in one version of PowerPoint but the presentation venue uses a different version of this programme, or the slides that looked so good on your Mac at home suddenly look very different on the PC at your presentation venue. We therefore always recommend that you prepare for a safe and secure backup option, particularly if you are delivering an important presentation. One such backup option consists of saving your presentation as a PDF file. A PDF file can be presented from a wide range of operating systems, does not rely on an Internet connection, and is considered safe by even the most security-minded organisations. The downside of this is that most PDF viewers are not set up as presentation tools, which means that you may not be able to avoid the appearance of a menu at the top of the screen. An alternative could be to save each individual slide as a highresolution JPEG file, and subsequently paste these as separate slides in a PowerPoint presentation. You may lose some of the functionality of the programme (such as built-in transitions or animations), the resulting file may be quite sizeable, and further changes to your slides are no longer possible, but the trade-off is that you have a set of slides that you can rely on almost blindly.

Slide Layout When it comes to designing slides, we are entering a presenter’s playground. This is where you could unleash your creativity and go wild with artful templates and wild animations. It is therefore with some degree of sadness that we must curtail your enthusiasm: the design of your slides should be the result of a careful decision based on other considerations than the unleashing of your inner artist. Your slides should be designed so that they support your oral presentation and complement it, but not dominate or distract from it. Slides are used for visual support, not for visual supremacy. And since wildly decorated slides and jolly animations tend to distract rather than support a presentation, they are out of bounds. A shortcut list for designing your slides is presented in Box .. The first step in designing your slides involves determining to what extent you actually have the freedom to do so. Some organisations expect you to use a slide template that fully dictates the layout of your slides, from


Preparing Your Presentation Box . A shortcut list for slide design

• • • • • • •

Use : or : slide format. Be critical if and when selecting a presentation template. Use black text on a white background. Use common sans-serif fonts of  points or more. Use bold or cool colours for highlighting text. Avoid unnecessary headers, footers, and structure columns. Keep it simple.

its background, to the colour and font of your text. Whether you like this style or not (or indeed, whether or not this house style meets the criteria offered by this book) may not be sufficient reason not to use it. This also applies to the adoption of certain layout styles that are customary in your particular field of expertise. Sometimes it is wiser to follow the norm than to deviate from it. You will generate greater acceptance if you present yourself as ‘one of us’ than if you present yourself as the odd one out. If you do have complete freedom in how to design your slides, your next decision involves whether you wish to utilise this freedom by designing every element of your slides, or whether you prefer to select a preset template offered by your presentation programme. Presentation programmes such as PowerPoint offer a range of preset templates that vary from plain to highly decorative. A presentation template can greatly facilitate the design of your slides as it takes away many design decisions from you and ensures design consistency throughout your presentation. However, the selection of a template should be done with care. Many slide templates may contain decorative elements that can be completely irrelevant to your presentation. Slide templates also tend to dictate the layout of text and graphics that you use. We are in fact so used to these dictates that we use them automatically, even on slides that we design from scratch. Did you ever wonder why you organise the text on your slides using bullet points? Or why you give every slide a title? Dominant presentation tools have decided that this is how slides should look, and we have become so used to this format that we adopt it without thinking. Our advice is to be critical when selecting a presentation template, or to consider not using a template at all and design your slides from scratch instead. The design of your slides should be guided by the goal of presenting visual material that supports your oral presentation in such a way that your audience will understand, accept, and remember your message. It should neither contain irrelevant elements that distract from

It’s All about Design: Slide Design


your talk, nor should it dictate the structure of your talk. Designing your slides from scratch means that you make a deliberate decision about every element – from the use of bullets and slide titles to the font and colour of the text that you use. Designing from scratch thus allows you to ensure that all of the criteria for proper slide design are met. Slide Format When starting a blank presentation, your presentation tool often decides on a specific slide format for you. For example, at the time of writing this book, PowerPoint uses a ‘widescreen’ slide format (:) as default. Another common format is the :. Up until a few years ago, the default was known as :, and in the time of overhead transparencies, A (or US Letter) in portrait orientation was the standard. It is good to be conscious of the fact that, even though your presentation tool uses a certain type of slide format and orientation as a default, this does not mean that you should adopt this without giving it any thought. The choice of slide format depends for the most part on the format of your presentation screen. It is generally a good idea to maximise the size of your presentation screen so that your text and graphics are clearly visible to your audience, even to those in the most remote corners of the room. Note that some widescreen formats sacrifice height for width, meaning that they are very wide but do not use up the full height of the screen. Width is not always better than height when it comes to slide format. It is important that the slides are visible from every angle. If the room itself is quite narrow, and you are using widescreen slides, you may find yourself limited in terms of walking space, as your movement soon places you in front of the screen and in the light of the projector. A more narrow slide format such as : would give you slightly more room to manoeuvre in such a situation. Slide Background There appears to be an ongoing debate about which is better: a light background with dark text, or a dark background with light text? When choosing the hue of your slide background, there are a few factors that you should consider. First, if you are using a projector rather than a television screen, keep in mind that a projector projects light, not darkness. This means that darker


Preparing Your Presentation

hues, and black in particular, are merely created through a lack of light. These areas take on the ambient light in the room. Black slides projected onto a white screen therefore are not black at all – they have the same colour as they would if the projector was turned off. Darker colours projected on a white screen through a projector often look dull, and not at all the way that they look on your computer screen. These problems with colour and contrast increase with older projectors. You can improve the contrast somewhat by ensuring that the screen area is sufficiently darkened (not the rest of the room though – you don’t want your audience to fall asleep), but in many settings this means that you, as a presenter, will be standing in the dark as well, and that is not recommended. Moreover, you do not always have control over lighting in the room. Finally, a practical issue with dark-background slides is related to the use of graphics that are used for illustration. Let’s face it, many of us use pictures that originate from the Internet. Oftentimes, these pictures have a white background. When placed on a white slide, this background blends in, but on a black slide (or any other colour for that matter) the picture is surrounded by a white box, which can be a real eyesore. All in all, when using a projector, slides with a light (white) background are the safest choice. Font Fonts can be distinguished in serif fonts and sans-serif fonts. Serif fonts (like Times New Roman, MS Serif, or Georgia) are designed for use in documents and to facilitate reading of large amounts of text. However, for slides, we recommend sans-serif fonts (like Arial, Calibri, or Helvetica). These are simple and friendly font types that are easier to read from a distance then serif fonts. There is a wide range of fonts that fall into the sans-serif category, and you may be tempted to find a font type that is rare – just to be creative and different from the masses. Keep in mind, however, that fonts are stored locally on a computer by default (at least at the time of publishing this book). The use of rare font types brings with it the risk that these fonts are not available on another computer. If the computer at your presentation venue does not support your rare font, it will automatically substitute it for something else, and this will inevitably distort the layout of your slides. You can prevent this by embedding the fonts in your presentation file, but this involves an extra step that is often overlooked. It is better to be safe than sorry in these cases, so select a font

It’s All about Design: Slide Design


that you know is widely supported. You can unleash your creativity elsewhere, but not in the selection of fonts. Research has shown that audiences prefer consistency in the layout of slides, including the use of fonts (Blokzijl & Naeff, ). It is best to stick to the same font throughout your slides. For the same reason, you should also be conservative in varying the size of your font. Depending on the size of your presentation venue and the size of the presentation screen, we recommend that you use a font size of  points or more – and not smaller than  points. When it comes to highlighting text, the use of bold text or a colour change is easier to read from a distance than italics or underlined text. When using a colour for highlighting, cooler colours (e.g., blue or green) are preferred over warmer colours (e.g., red or yellow; Mackiewicz, ). Whichever way you choose for highlighting, be consistent in your presentation and do not mix up, nor combine, the use of bold, italics, and underlining. Structure Columns and Headers/Footers A structure column is a column that appears at the side of a slide (or sometimes at the top or bottom) and indicates where the presenter is in the presentation – comparable to a navigation column on a website. Some people love it, some hate it. Complicated or information-dense presentations may benefit from a structure column to help the audience keep track of the presentation. However, a structure column adds another component to each slide which negatively influences the slide’s information density. Structure columns can easily make your slides appear crowded, distract from the real content of each slide, and undermine the overall visual appeal of your slides. Use structure columns if you fear that your audience may struggle to keep track of your talk, but avoid them if they are not absolutely necessary. Presenters often use headers and/or footers on their slides to convey a variety of information. Their organisation’s name or logo is typically included, and sometimes we also see the presentation’s title or the presenter’s name reappear on each slide. Page numbers are another element that is often added as a footer. Are all these elements necessary, and what is their effect on the audience? As with structure columns, headers and footers contribute to the information density of your slides, which is generally not a good thing. You should ask yourself if the information you wish to insert in your header and footer is important enough to repeat on every slide. In our opinion, the benefits of repeating the topic of your


Preparing Your Presentation

presentation, your own name, or of presenting page numbers do not weigh up to the importance of keeping your slides clean and clear of redundant information. Having said that, there may be one reason why you could consider including your name and the title of your presentation in a footer on your slide. It has become increasingly common for members of the audience to photograph one or more presented slides, in lieu of taking detailed notes. Including your name on each slide could be a means of ensuring source credit. Inclusive Slide Design There are ways to design your slides that will facilitate the perception of your slides by people with colour-blindness, dyslexia, or ADHD. In this section, we will briefly highlight how you can design your slides in such a way that they are easily accessible to people who have a form of colourblindness, dyslexia, or an attention disorder. Colour-blindness Colour-blind people cannot see the difference between certain colours, for example, between red and green, blue and brown, or blue and purple. To ensure that your presentation slides are colour-blind friendly, you should avoid a sole reliance on colour differences, or use colours that clearly differ in hue (e.g., dark blue and orange). For example, for highlighting text, a mere change in colour may not be not enough – use bold or other visual cues such as circling a word or a text section. When using graphs, you could maximise contrast by using not just different colours but also differences in shape or textures. Dyslexia People with dyslexia are helped by clean slides that are void of redundant information. You should avoid structure columns, headers, and footers, and minimise the amount of text on your slides. Use keywords rather than full sentences, and avoid blocks of text. Ensure sufficient spacing between lines (at least .). For emphasising text, use bold instead of underlining or italicising. You might think that capitalising may be a good alternative for adding emphasis, but the opposite is true. Capitals can be hard to interpret for dyslectic people. People with dyslexia are also helped by maximising the contrast between the colour of text and the background colour of the slide, so opt for black

It’s All about Design: Slide Design


text on a white background. However, when using a television screen, a pure white background may be too glaring and can radiate too much light. A soft pastel colour could be used instead in that situation. Do not use a patterned background because that can interfere with reading text. Put images next to text, preferably with some white space between the text and the image and do not put text over an image. Make sure you use a sansserif font of at least  points. Attention Disorders People with a form of attention disorder (such as ADD or ADHD) can be helped by keeping your slides clean and simple, with few distractions. Avoid fancy slide transitions, bouncing or twirling words, or animated GIFs. Make sure your presentation is well structured, and that the structure is communicated clearly to your audience. Repeating your core message several times throughout your presentation may also be helpful for people who are easily distracted.

Slide content Designating Slides Once you made some general decisions about the layout of your slides, it is time to focus on their content. The first step is to decide what topic each slide will cover (please check Box . for how to handle sensitive or confidential information). A slide should focus on one particular topic only – just as a paragraph in a written essay should have a single message. For example, if you would like to address some of the causes and consequences of obesity in your presentation, it is best to spread this out over multiple slides to separate the causes from the consequences, even if you only have one cause and one consequence to discuss and they easily fit on a single slide. Just because there is space left on your slide does not mean that you should add more topics to that slide. A slide should cover one topic, and one topic only. The topics addressed by each slide depend, of course, entirely on the nature of your presentation, but there are two slides that are common to every presentation. These are the title slide and the end slide. Title Slide A title slide is essential to a presentation. It lists your name as a presenter, your affiliation, and the title of your talk. You may think such


Preparing Your Presentation Box . Sensitive or confidential information

Some presentations involve sensitive or confidential information. This could be information about patients, clients, or cases that you do not wish to be distributed widely. Our advice is simple: do not include confidential or sensitive information on your slides, and be careful about the information you provide orally. Information on slides is easily photographed and emailed, or posted on social media in the blink of an eye. Audio recordings are more rare but are becoming increasingly common. The intentions behind taking pictures or audio recordings are usually benign (e.g., they can be a form of taking notes, part of a photo album to remember an attended conference, or a way of updating friends and acquaintances of your current activities) but that does not mean that the material cannot end up in the hands of others with less benign intentions. If presenting confidential or sensitive information is unavoidable, avoid presenting identifying information (e.g., names of clients or companies) as much as possible, and ask your audience at the beginning of the presentation to respect the confidential nature of your presentation, which includes not taking pictures or recording.

information superfluous (after all, the fact that the audience is in the room, ready to listen to you, would surely indicate that they know who you are) but it is nonetheless important. Part of the purpose of delivering an oral presentation is that you are advertising yourself – which may be particularly important for early-career scientists. The title slide also lists the names of your co-authors or other contributors. If you wish to acknowledge a long list of contributors, you could opt to use a separate slide for this, either directly following your title slide or at the end of your presentation. Since your title slide is the audience’s first taste of your presentation, make sure it is designed well and is visually appealing. Figure . depicts an example of a title slide. If your presentation is the first in a session, or the only presentation, you usually have the opportunity to set up your slides well before the start of the presentation. The title slide comes in particularly handy in these situations. It announces you and your presentation to all those entering the room, assuring them that they are in the right spot and simultaneously generating curiosity for the content of the presentation.

The slides depicted in Figures .–. were adopted from Professor Dr Jop Groeneweg’s inaugural address with minimal changes.

It’s All about Design: Slide Design

Figure .


Example of a title slide

End Slide Similarly indispensable to a set of presentation slides is the end slide. An end slide communicates in a clear and natural way to the audience that you have finished your presentation. If you ever attended a play at the theatre, you may have watched a play ending in such a way that the audience wasn’t sure if the performance was finished, or if more was to come. The result is a slightly awkward situation in which people are waiting, looking around to other audience members for cues on how to respond, with some people tentatively starting to applaud while others are remaining quiet. The end of an oral presentation can generate a similarly awkward experience if it isn’t clear that the presentation is finished. Another reason to include an end slide is that, in the absence of one, speakers may also be tempted to signal the end of their presentation in a different way, typically by saying ‘that’s it’. As discussed in Chapter , it is better and more polite to end your presentation by thanking the audience for their attention, and the end slide can be a means of doing this. We recommend that you create an end slide that simply states ‘Thank you’ (and please do not include an exclamation point, no matter how you relieved you expect to be at this stage). Also repeat your name and affiliation on the end slide, just to remind the audience of who you are and how to contact you. A practical tip is to simply copy your title slide, and replace the title of your talk with the words ‘Thank you’. Returning to


Preparing Your Presentation

Figure .

Example of an end slide

the design of your first slide at the end of your talk gives it a nice smooth wrap up. An example of such an end slide is depicted in Figure .. Table of Contents Some presenters start their presentation with an overview of the structure of their presentation, not unlike a table of contents in a book. Whereas it may help your audience to give them a heads up on the various elements of your presentation, we advise you to exercise restraint in this regard. Many presentations follow a common format and the audience is usually familiar with that format. For example, a research presentation typically starts with a theoretical introduction, a presentation of the research hypotheses, a description of the method, a presentation of the results, and some concluding comments, after which there is room for discussion. Explicitly outlining this structure at the beginning of your talk is non-informative, and may make the audience wonder if the rest of your presentation will be equally non-informative (and boring). That does not mean that you cannot reveal anything about the presentation – as discussed in Chapter , we recommend that you present your core message at the beginning of your presentation, possibly accompanied by some very limited information regarding the content of your talk (e.g., the number or type of studies you will discuss). However, you often do not need a separate slide with a table of contents to detail your presentation’s structure. Only extended presentations covering multiple

It’s All about Design: Slide Design


elements (e.g., keynotes or colloquia) may benefit from a more explicit structure outline in the form of a table of contents. Filling Your Slides In general, well-designed slides adhere to the following principles: () they contain a limited amount of text (if any), and () they are visually appealing but not to the extent that they draw attention away from the presenter or the presenter’s message. Many presenters struggle to stick to these principles, simply because these principles make the preparation and delivery of an oral presentation more difficult for the presenter. Moreover, many presenters are not aware of the detrimental consequences of putting too much text or distracting graphics on their slides. As we will explain in the following, there are solid scientific reasons for limiting the amount of text you put on your slides, and for replacing it with images instead. The Use of Text and Images The primary pitfall in slide design is that presenters put too much text on their slides. Scientists have demonstrated that human beings in general are ill-equipped to process verbal and written text at the same time – a phenomenon called the verbal redundancy principle (Mayer, ). The reason for this is that reading and listening tap into the same region of the brain. When we read, many of us ‘hear’ an internal voice covertly pronouncing each word. Reading is much like listening to our own voice. The processes of reading written text and listening to oral text – even when they pertain to the same text – interfere with each other such that comprehension and retention of both types of information suffer (Horvath, ). Indeed, several studies have demonstrated that people remember less information when it is presented simultaneously in the form of spoken text and in the form of written text on slides, compared to when it is presented as spoken or written text only (Kalyuga, Chandler, & Sweller, ; Savoy, Proctor, & Salvendy, ; Wecker, ). This raises the question of why presenters often put so much text on their slides, given that it severely undermines their presentation? One of the reasons for this is that they, often unconsciously, create these slides as much for themselves as for their audience. A presentation is much easier to deliver when all of the information that you wish to convey is outlined on the slides. You do not have to memorise your talk – you can rely on your slides, and add a sentence or two to explain if you feel up to it. Your slides are basically your notes. Another reason that presenters put too much information on their


Preparing Your Presentation

slides is because they (again, often unconsciously) try to draw attention away from themselves. If you keep your audience busy enough with processing a multitude of information presented on your slides, they do not need to look at you (and often will not even hear you) – and that suits the shy or nervous presenters among us just fine (Hertz, van Woerkum, & Kerkhof, ). If the presentation of text on slides interferes with spoken text, does that mean that all of the information that you put on your slides potentially interferes with the successful delivery of your message? Luckily, the answer is no. There are two types of information that do not interfere with the successful delivery of your message: concise slides and images. Concise Slides Concise slides differ from regular slides in the sense that they contain only a skeleton of information – a list of topics or important constructs, but they lack detailed information such as definitions of concepts or examples (Wecker, ). Concise slides are also limited in number, so that parts of the oral presentation that are easy to follow or do not contain crucial information are not accompanied by slides. Research has shown that information retention is improved when presenters use concise slides compared to information-dense slides or no slides at all (Wecker, ). Moreover, audience members were better able to recall the presenter’s orally delivered information when the presentation was accompanied by concise slides compared to information-dense slides. If you find it difficult to design your presentation without the comfort of written text on your slides, you may wish to split up the process of filling your slides into two steps. In the first step, you could simply include text boxes on each slide, listing all of the text that you would normally include. Once you are confident that the structure of your presentation is complete and all of the important elements of its content are covered, you then proceed to step  in which you rigorously replace all of these text boxes with key constructs only. Remember: the text doesn’t simply ‘disappear’ – it will be part of your spoken text but will no longer be presented on the slide. After all, there is no point in presenting long texts on slides if you know that the audience will not be able to adequately process and recall all of this text (and after reading the previous, you can no longer deny this scientifically proven fact). Images Another type of information that does not interfere with the successful delivery of your message is visual information. Visual information in the

It’s All about Design: Slide Design


Box . Tips for selecting images • • • •

Make sure your images do not violate copyright law. Select images that support your message but do not dominate or distract. Avoid images that are culturally sensitive or could be offensive to some people. Use images of sufficient quality and size; avoid images with copyright watermarks.

form of pure images does not vie for the same brain structures as spoken text, but will be processed in parallel (Horvath, ). In fact, when images are carefully selected to support and complement spoken text, the sensory integration of oral and visual information could enhance information comprehension and recall. People remember more information from presentations in which spoken text is combined with image-based slides than from presentations in which spoken text is combined with text-based slides (Hallett & Faria, ; Jamet & Le Bohec, ). However, the added value of using images on your slides stands and falls with their careful selection. Some key tips for selecting images are presented in Box .. Figure . provides a good example of how images can complement and strengthen spoken text. The four targets depicted here represent two types of error in measurement: systematic error (or ‘noise’) and non-systematic error. These measurement errors are explained through an analogy with archery. An archer who consistently hits the target is compared to a measurement instrument that does what it should do: measure the construct with little to no noise. Archers who miss the target in various directions, or archers who miss the target in a specific direction, are analogous to measurements with non-systematic noise, or with systematic noise, respectively. In the first case, the measurement instrument needs to be finetuned, much like the archer needs practice to improve. In the second case, the measurement instrument needs to be adjusted in a specific direction, much like the archer needs to adjust his aim. By using archery as an analogy, and pictures of archery targets on the slides, the presenter can explain a relatively technical topic in a manner that makes it come alive for the audience. Images provide visual support for your oral presentation. They should be relevant for what you are saying, but they should not distract from your message. Well-designed slides often do their work in the background but rarely come to the foreground. For example, when one of the authors of this book presented her research that was conducted in a classroom setting


Preparing Your Presentation

Types of noise

Almost no noise

Figure .

Non-systematic noise Systematic noise

Systematic and non-systematic noise

Example of a slide with images to complement spoken text

in Indonesia, she showed a picture of Indonesian students completing a survey in their classroom, while providing the necessary information about the study’s method orally. The picture did not in and of itself provide such relevant information as to distract from the oral presentation – it was merely an illustration. The picture provided a context in which the oral information (e.g., regarding the type of participants, or the setting in which data was collected) became more meaningful – and when information gains meaning, people are more likely to remember it. Where can you find your images, and what criteria should they meet? The Internet is so full of wonderful digital images that it should not be too much of a problem to find the ones you need. Notice that image search programmes also allow you to specify your search for an image with a certain minimum resolution, or a specific background (e.g., white or transparent). This latter option is particularly useful to ensure that the background of your image matches the colour of your slide. Keep in mind that many images are protected under copyright law. Images with a Creative Commons licence (or a similar license that enables free sharing) are made available by the author to be freely used and shared, and there are websites that make these kinds of photos and pictures available. Do not use images with a copyright watermark on them. Not only do they make it blatantly clear to your audience that you are in violation of copyright law by using these images, but they also tend to be of low quality and the watermark serves as a distraction. Using images with a watermark is unprofessional.

It’s All about Design: Slide Design


Choose your images and pictures carefully with your audience in mind. Some images can be culturally sensitive, and what may be seen as a funny cartoon to one observer is offensive to another. Images can also be sensitive for other reasons, for example, when pertaining to patients or clients. Always check if the images you intend to use are not in violation of confidentiality expectations or could otherwise be considered harmful or offensive to any party. When searching for the right image to support your spoken text, make sure the image is of sufficient graphic quality or size. Images that are too small may look pixelated or grainy when projected. An exception could be made for historical photographs – these are of low graphic quality by nature and their grainy, black and white appearance only serves to emphasise the historical nature of these images. The image you use should be clearly relevant to and supportive of your verbal message. In fact, the image’s relevance should be immediately clear to your audience and not require elaborate thinking or prior knowledge that not everyone possesses. Images that appear irrelevant to the audience (even when you, the presenter, think that they are highly relevant) result in lower information recall as well as greater dislike for your slides (Bartsch & Cobern, ). Images that are relevant but that require too much processing, for example, images with text or cartoons, can disrupt the fluency of your presentation. Figure . provides an example of a slide with limited text (in this case, a quote) and an image in the form of a photograph of the source of the quote (Walter A. Shewhart).

Walter A. Shewhart

Postulate 3: Assignable causes of variation may be found and eliminated

Figure . Example of a slide with text combined with an image


Preparing Your Presentation

There is clear scientific evidence behind limiting the amount of text you use on your slides, and instead using succinct headlines and images to support your oral message. However, there is one exception that we will allow to the rule of replacing text with images: when your command of English (or of the language of your presentation) is poor, or if you suffer from a speech impairment. In those cases, relying predominantly on an oral presentation may be too taxing for your audience. They could benefit from written text on your slides. However, keep in mind that, in those cases, your audience will probably not listen to you anymore, and focus on the slides instead. That is not the type of presentation you should strive for, but it may be a solution in certain cases. Slide Transitions, Animations, and Videos A point could be made that, in today’s multimedia world, we are no longer in awe of neatly designed slides with text and still graphics. Today’s YouTube generation wants motion! Motion is guaranteed to capture attention. But is this the type of attention that you want? Presentation tools typically provide three ways of introducing motion: via slide transitions, text or graphics animations, and through the inclusion of videos. Slide transitions refer to the way a slide transitions to the next slide. Many presentation tools allow you to spruce up the transition in various creative ways, from slides zooming in or out, to slides spiralling, glittering, or entering like a Ferris wheel. We suggest that you play with this in the comfort of your own home, and leave it there. These fancy transitions serve no purpose other than to distract the audience from your message and undermine the professional appearance of your presentation. The same applies to the animation of text on your slides. Presentation tools allow you to animate the text on your slides in similarly fancy ways as the animation of slides, such as letters spiralling in from various corners of your slide. Please don’t – just don’t. The only text animation you may consider conservatively is the order in which sections of text appear on your slide. It may be useful not to present all text or images on a slide at the same time, but to let the appearance of text or images be synchronised with your oral presentation. When selecting this option, we do urge you to exercise restraint in the number of times you let elements appear on a single slide. Do not animate each keyword in a list of ten keywords, but opt for blocks instead. Use a simple ‘appear’ animation rather than options in which text flies/zooms/spirals/fades in from all corners. Keep it professional. Unlike still graphics that can support your oral presentation without dominating it, videos require your audience’s full attention. For this

It’s All about Design: Slide Design


reason, you should only use videos when they are essential to your presentation, for example, because they are part of your research materials or findings. In such cases, videos can be a nice and lively illustration of something that would otherwise remain quite abstract when presented in words only. If a video is licence free, we recommend that you upload your video material in the presentation itself, rather than switching between your presentation tool and an online video. When the video is included in the presentation itself, it is presented in a smooth manner without the unnecessary distraction of exiting your presentation tool, turning to another tool, searching for your video, and so on. If your video includes audio, please check the audio settings of your presentation venue in advance to avoid unexpected difficulties in this arena (see Chapter ). Graphs and Tables Research presentations may include research findings in the form of quantitative data. With our previous suggestion to favour graphics over text in mind, the presentation of quantitative research findings is best done in the form of graphs, rather than tables or text. The exact type of graph (e.g., bar chart, line graph) depends on the type of data that is presented. For example, continuous variables are typically presented in line graphs, as the line suggests a continuous effect, whereas non-continuous variables are better presented in bar charts. Imagine that you studied the effect of fatigue on reading time among a group of –-year-old children. You assessed the time it took to read a one-page story. Half of the children took this test in the morning, when they were fresh, and the other half of the children took the test at the end of a school day, when they were notably more tired. To present your results, a bar chart is the best option, because there are two distinct experimental groups. Now imagine that you addressed the same research question with a slightly different design. You examined the effect of fatigue by administering the reading task at noon to all of the children, and ask the teacher to assess, on a ten-point scale, how tired each child was prior to the reading task. If that had been your method, you should present your findings in a line graph, as fatigue (your predictor variable) is a continuous variable. When presenting several graphs in your presentation, we recommend that you use the same type of graph throughout the presentation (to the extent that the graphs cover the same type of data of course). Do not mix different types of graphs just for the fun of it. You should also be consistent in the layout of your graphs throughout your presentation. If you use a bar chart with yellow and blue bars to denote two different groups in your


Preparing Your Presentation

research, use the same type of chart and the same colours to denote the same groups in your presentation. Do not switch to different colours, and do not switch the colours between your two groups, as this can create confusion. The best way to ensure consistency in your graphs is to create a graph for one slide to present a particular finding, and then copy it for reuse in the presentation of other findings. You then only need to alter the data points in the graph, and a few other minor elements such as the title on the Y-axis. Depending on the complexity of your data, your graphs will be created by an external specialised tool, or can be created manually within the presentation tool itself. Presentation tools typically provide several options for including graphs. As always, we urge you to exercise restraint in the design of your graphs. Shading, for example, is entirely unnecessary and should be avoided. Moreover, several types of graphs can be presented as three dimensional. The addition of (the suggestion of ) a third dimension does not add anything to your presentation. It does not make the graph any clearer, and it does not strengthen your presentation message. In fact, D graphs score significantly lower than D graphs when it comes to clarity and comprehension (Mackiewicz, ). You should thus opt for the simpler D graph over the unnecessarily elaborate D version. When designing graphs, make sure that you include clear graph titles, as well as titles on the axes if applicable. Include a legend where necessary. Avoid the use of abbreviations of variables or conditions in your graphs, as these require additional cognitive capacity from your audience in their attempt to interpret them. Just because you denoted the abbreviation ‘TG’ as short for ‘treatment group’ once or twice on your previous slides does not mean that your audience has sufficiently processed and stored this information to the point where it automatically and immediately knows what ‘TG’ stands for. Also ensure that any text that you use in your graphs has the same font as the text you use on your slides. Text in graphs may have a slightly smaller font size than regular text on slides because the room for text in graphs is limited, but it should still be clearly readable by your audience – even members at the back of the room. Try to stay above the threshold of  points. An example of a slide with a graph is depicted in Figure .. Combining Different Elements Scientific evidence has shown that the most supportive slides contain a combination of succinct headlines and images. This brings us to the final question to be addressed in this chapter: what is the best way to combine the different elements of text, graphics, and graphs on your slides?

It’s All about Design: Slide Design


Oil and gas: -95% fatal accidents

Fatal Accident Rate

20 15 10 5 0 1986 1988 1990 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014 2016


Figure .

Example of a slide with a graph

Keeping in mind that you should limit the amount of text on your slides, a general recommendation is to combine your (limited) text with a meaningful and supportive image on each slide. If you use a landscape slide format (such as : or wider), slides lend themselves very well to present your material in invisible columns. For example, you could present your text in a text box that occupies approximately two-thirds of the usable space (leave some blank margins at the edges), accompanied by a picture to the left or right of this text box to fill up the remaining one-third (see, for example, Figure .). If your slides are in a language for which the written text runs from left to right (such as English), it is preferable to place your text on the left of the slide and images to the right. For slides in languages that run from right to left (such as Arabic or Hebrew), the opposite may feel more natural. Do not let the text on widescreen slides run the entire width of a slide – this results in long lines of text that are difficult to read. It may be tempting to present graphs in a similar way – next to a text box, filling approximately one-third of the screen. However, this easily results in small graphs that are difficult to read. Moreover, graphs often contain important information that you will want to highlight. Important information is best presented without other distracting information on a single screen, so that all attention is focused on that single piece of important information. When combining various elements on your slide, be they text boxes, graphs, or images, pay attention to the alignment and the relative size of these elements. For example, if your slides contain three images, ensure


Preparing Your Presentation

that these are of equal size if possible (if not, at least make sure that they are matched in height), that they are evenly distributed (i.e., that the space between the images is the same), and that they are evenly aligned. Many presentation tools provide useful options to that end. For example, in addition to the familiar resizing of an image, you could crop an image to change its height or width separately, without distorting the image. Regarding alignment, you can centre images, graphs, and text boxes relative to each other, and also relative to the slide. When the various elements on your slide are carefully aligned and matched in size, your slide will have greater visual appeal and appear more professional.

Conclusion The most important advice for designing slides is to take control. Do not let the design of your slides be dictated by your presentation tool, but make deliberate decisions about the appearance of your slides. Avoid too much text, and use images to support your message. For a final note, please be aware that the suggestion to combine text with graphics on a slide should not be seen as a general rule, to be applied to all slides. Sometimes a single word, a single line of text, or a single picture can be much more powerful when it is the only piece of information on the screen. If nothing else, let this be an important take-home message of the current chapter: when it comes to slide design, less is definitely more.

 

Practice, Practice, Practice

Dear (future) presenters, we have arrived at the most important aspect of preparing a presentation: practice. Practising – trying out your presentation – is the most effective way to improve your presentation, to make sure it is understandable and well-timed, and to increase your confidence in what you are doing. In the numerous presentation courses we have taught, we usually see our participants grow significantly in their ability to present. We like to think that this is due primarily to our teaching skills, the materials we use, and our tips and tricks. However, a more likely explanation for the students’ growth is all of the practising that they do during the course. Our mission is to make you stronger than your presentation slides. We want to teach you a format of presenting that makes the audience focus on you and your story. Your slides or side materials are there to support you and your core message, not to take the lead role. In order to achieve this goal, you need to practise. Through practice, you no longer need to rely on your slides or other supportive materials to tell your story. This is important not just as a backup in the case of technical failures – for example, when the technical facilities fail and you find yourself presenting without the support of slides. Being able to tell your story without needing to rely on slides means that you will have a far better connection with your audience. You can maintain eye contact during your presentation and the audience’s attention will be on you, not your slides. But the only way to achieve this is through practice. The key message of this chapter is therefore that you should practice, practice, practice. If practice is so important and so instrumental in improving a presentation, why don’t presenters do it automatically? Why do we need to stress how important this is? One reason for this is that practising a presentation isn’t high on a presenter’s list of preferred activities. Practising a presentation can be uncomfortable because it reminds you of the (stress of the) actual presentation that is ahead of you. As with all sources of stress, people have two ways of coping: problem-focused coping and emotion-focused coping (Lazarus & 


Preparing Your Presentation

Folkman, ; see Chapter ). Emotion-focused coping only deals with the stressful feelings you have, not with the source of stress. Examples of emotionfocused coping are procrastination and avoidance. By postponing your work to the very last minute, you often do not have sufficient time to practise your presentation, and this may be just what your unconscious mind intended. But even if you did not procrastinate with respect to preparing the materials of your presentation, you can still find that you are avoiding practising. Avoidance and procrastination can help you deal with the stress and anxiety you could feel when thinking of the presentation ahead of you, because you simply avoid thinking about that moment. However, that moment will come, and once you are up on stage, your lack of practising will definitely catch up on you. You are far better off with the other form of coping with stress: problemfocused coping. Problem-focused coping tackles the source of the stress. In the case of presentations, the source can vary, but much has to do with the fear that you will forget what you wanted to say or that you will stumble over your words (more about stress in Chapter ). Obviously, practice is a way of lowering the odds that that will happen.

Practice – Why? We acknowledge that every individual is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. However, for the vast majority of presenters – including many of those who do not think that they need it – practising their presentation is a good thing to do. So in case you are not convinced that this sound piece of advice applies to you, in this section, we will list the most important arguments to answer the question: why is it important to practise your presentation? Practice Is a Reality Check Only by actually trying out your presentation will you find out which parts of the presentation work well, and which parts do not. You may think that you have a logical order in your slides and your story, but only by forcing yourself to tell your story exactly as you plan will you find out if this assumption is correct. Only by trying out can you find out whether the logic of your rhetoric works in real life and whether your story is coherent. Practice Gives You a Sense of the Actual Length of Your Presentation It is difficult to know just how long your presentation will be unless you practice it. You should always time your presentation so that the maximum

Practice, Practice, Practice


length of your presentation while practising in private is around – per cent of the presentation time that you will have for the actual presentation, in front of an audience. The reason for this is that people often speak faster during (private) rehearsal than in front of an audience. Moreover, an audience may cause interruptions (e.g., brief questions for clarifications) that impinge on your presentation time. If your presentation is too long, be merciless in cutting until you are around the – per cent mark. It is better to deliver a strong but concise presentation with time to spare, than a lengthy presentation under increasing time pressure. Practice Makes Your Presentation Appear More Natural A rehearsed presentation often appears more natural than an unrehearsed one. Yes, it really does. Students in our courses regularly say that they prefer not to practise their presentation because they want to keep their presentation appearing ‘natural’ as opposed to ‘rehearsed’. Ironically, ‘natural’ (i.e., unrehearsed or poorly rehearsed) presentations tend to appear far less natural and fluent than rehearsed presentations. Presenters who do not practise their presentation need to think of what to say and how to say it on the spot. Whereas that may indeed be no problem at all in the comfort of your own bedroom, a private situation like that should not be confused with a public presentation setting. The presence of an audience and the knowledge that it will be watching you and everything you say is an important source of stress (see Chapter ). Under such conditions, unpractised or unskilled activities are often performed more poorly (a phenomenon called social inhibition; Zajonc, ). Whereas your unpractised presentation went smoothly in front of your bedroom mirror, you may suddenly find yourself stumbling over words and getting side-tracked in your sentences when presenting in front of an audience. Those who practised their presentation, however, will suffer far less from the stress of presenting in front of an audience. Because they can rely on memory, their presentation will be more fluent. Practice Improves Your Performance This sounds too obvious to mention, but practice can improve your performance, and in unexpected ways. A rehearsed presentation does not occupy as many cognitive resources (‘brainpower’) as an unrehearsed presentation. As a consequence, part of your brain is free to pay attention to other factors that affect your presentation performance. For example, good presenters are


Preparing Your Presentation

able to maintain eye contact with their audience and respond to non-verbal signals from the audience (see Chapter ). But presenters who did not rehearse their presentation and subsequently need to consider what they want to say and how to say it on the spot will often find themselves distracted by eye contact with their audience – and as a consequence, they tend to avoid eye contact in order to concentrate on formulating sentences. Presenters also have a habit of exhibiting unconscious, repetitive behaviours (e.g., pacing, rocking back and forth; see Chapter ), but these can be very distracting to the audience. Good presenters are aware of that, and monitor their non-verbal behaviour and adjust when necessary. However, such monitoring requires cognitive resources that presenters who did not rehearse their presentation often do not have available. Hence, presenters who did not rehearse their presentation are more likely to engage in this type of distracting, non-verbal behaviour.

Practice – How? There are different ways to practise – from informally in front of your computer, to more formally in front of a mock audience. Whichever method you choose, it is important that you speak out loud, rather than just in your head. Speaking in your head too closely resembles thinking, and we do not think the same way that we speak. Thoughts have a tendency to go all over the place, and they are not formulated as precisely as spoken language. We recommend that you practise important presentations in several phases. First, you can start without an audience and in a comfortable setting. In a subsequent phase, you repeat your presentation in private but record it, and finally, you rehearse your presentation with an audience in a setting that closely resembles the setting of your actual presentation – almost like a dress rehearsal. However, we do recognise that time constraints could prevent you from going through all three phases. If you only have time for a single practice session, we recommend that you go straight to phase . Phase : Private In the first practice phase you can deliver your presentation out loud in a private, comfortable setting, using the screen of your computer or printouts for your slides. You could do this while sitting at your desk, in front of your computer, so that you can make notes simultaneously. You may find

Practice, Practice, Practice


that you often stop in the middle of your presentation because you noticed something that needs improvement – and that is fine. Make these improvements as you go along. Repeat this phase several times until you find that you have delivered your presentation without interruptions – that is a good indication that you cleared the major hurdles and are ready for the next step. Phase : Private General Rehearsal In the second phase, you move towards practising the final product. At this stage, the supporting materials (e.g., slides) should be complete and the presentation should have the appropriate length. You should stand up instead of sitting down, so as to mimic your presentation setting (note that we strongly recommend that you stand during your final presentation – see Chapter ). However, all of this can still be done in a private setting, without an audience. It may be useful to record your presentation for feedback purposes, if you feel comfortable doing so. No need to make this too elaborate – any recording device (e.g., a mobile phone placed on a bookshelf ) will do the trick. This recording is strictly for yourself, it need not (and probably should not) go viral, and can be deleted after viewing. In contrast to the first phase, you should now strive to deliver your presentation without interruptions. If you notice something not going well during your presentation, you shouldn’t stop to make notes (or implement a change directly), but continue. You can always make these changes later. It may feel very awkward to rehearse a presentation out loud – in an empty room, addressing a wall – and that is perfectly normal. You get used to it, and the feeling improves as you continue rehearsing. It will probably also feel awkward to see and hear yourself back in your recording. However, this recording is a very valuable piece of feedback, so please do not let this stop you from recording and subsequently watching yourself. Many behaviours during a presentation occur unconsciously – from the frequent use of ‘ehm’ to pacing the room. Watching a recording of yourself delivering a presentation is the only (private) way of becoming aware of your own potentially problematic behaviours. Keep in mind that you are likely to be more critical of yourself than an audience would be. Try not to be too harsh when watching your recording. See it as an opportunity to learn and improve, not as way of exposing all of your ‘flaws’. In this phase, you could practise your presentation several times, and view your recording after each presentation. If you notice problem behaviours, create reminders of the things that you want


Preparing Your Presentation

to pay attention to. For example, you could take several Post-it notes and write a reminder on each, such as ‘speak slowly’, ‘do not look down’, ‘no ehm!’ Put these reminders at eye level during your next rehearsal. You will see that it helps to improve your presentation substantially. Phase : Public General Rehearsal When you have gained some confidence in your presentation, it is time to try it out on a friendly audience. Especially for the more important presentations, we strongly recommend that you do this, even though we recognize that it can be time consuming and may involve quite a bit of organising. Whereas mum and dad, or hubby and the kids, may sound like a good idea for an audience, it is better to use an audience that more closely resembles the audience that you expect for your actual presentation. So see if you can recruit fellow students or colleagues for this role. In this phase, it pays off to mimic the final presentation setting as much as possible. Although this is sometimes too much trouble for an average presentation, we strongly recommend that you make the extra effort for important presentations (e.g., grant proposal interviews; see Chapter ). Use the technical facilities that you plan to use in your actual presentation (such as a projector or a microphone). If possible, it would be great if you could practise in the same room as where you are going to deliver your final presentation, so that you can become acquainted with the specific equipment there and other elements that may be important (e.g., does the light from the window strike your presentation screen? Where is the best spot to stand when you deliver your presentation?). It is also a smart idea to dress in the outfit that you intend to wear during your final presentation. This may provide you with important clues about how appropriate that outfit is (e.g., does your outfit provide room to attach a portable microphone or headset? Do the soles of your shoes make squeaky noises on the linoleum floor when you walk?). Deliver your presentation without interruptions, and make sure there is ample time to discuss feedback and suggestions for improvement. Some work settings may also provide good opportunities for practice, for example, in the form of a brown-bag lunch or a lab group meeting. When using such opportunities, it is important to indicate in advance that the purpose of your presentation is to obtain feedback. You may also want to be more specific about what type of feedback you are interested in. For example, do you only seek feedback on the content of your presentation, or is feedback on your presentation style also welcome? It is not customary

Practice, Practice, Practice


to provide feedback on a presenter’s presentation style in regular presentation settings, but as this is very valuable information you may wish to specifically ask for it.

Seeking Feedback There are various ways and levels at which you can seek feedback. It pays to think about this beforehand, because if you do not, you may feel disappointed with the feedback you receive. Without further instructions, your audience may simply wish to be supportive and put your mind at ease. However, feedback in the form of ‘perfect – you’ll knock ‘m dead!’ may be nice to hear, but does little to help you improve your presentation. When seeking feedback from your practice audience, you could ask them to pinpoint some strengths as well as some weaknesses (or rather: points for improvement) of your presentation. Do this for both the verbal and the non-verbal aspects of your presentation. Moreover, ask your friendly audience to be as concrete as they can. For example, the comment ‘you seemed nervous’ does not inform you of what you did that made you appear nervous – and neither does it help you to reduce this appearance. After all, trying ‘not being nervous’ during a presentation is rather hard. Moreover, ‘being nervous’ can show itself in many different verbal and non-verbal behaviours, such as speaking too fast, red blots on your neck, fidgeting, or wobbling from one foot to the other (and there are many more, see Chapter ). It is even possible that you displayed behaviour that led your audience to assume that you were nervous, when in fact you were not! This is why it is so important that the feedback you receive is as concrete as possible. The comment ‘you were fidgeting with your hair, which made you appear nervous’, is much more concrete and useful. It informs you what the behaviour is that may be corrected (hair fidgeting) and what the consequence of that behaviour was (hair fidgeting made you appear nervous). You can then decide if this is acceptable to you (do you mind that you appear nervous?), and you know what to do in case you wish to change it (stop fidgeting or put your hair up). Please do not forget to ask for feedback about what was good about your presentation, as this is as valuable as feedback about the elements that need improvement. People, especially academics with their critical mindset, are often very good at spotting the flaws in somebody’s work, while paying far less attention to the merits. Presenters, too, are often more aware of their shortcomings than of their strong points. By specifically asking your friendly audience to indicate what they liked about your presentation, they


Preparing Your Presentation

may mention good points that you did not know about. You may also find out that certain aspects that you thought you should work on were not points of concern in reality. Finally, it is nice to hear what you are good at. Receiving positive feedback may help to increase your confidence in what you are doing. One of the most striking results of receiving feedback occurs when you experience that how you felt on the inside during your presentation did not translate to your outward appearance. We both thoroughly enjoy those moments in our presentation courses when presenters who felt very nervous while delivering their presentation receive feedback from their peer audience that they ‘looked so calm and confident’. Less enjoyable perhaps, but equally informative, are situations where the reverse occurred – a relatively relaxed presenter who is confronted with feedback that they appeared nervous. For the control freaks among us (one of the authors included), the notion that inner feelings need not translate to outward appearances is fantastic news, as it means that we can control how our audience sees us. Seeking feedback, especially concrete feedback, informs us which particular behaviours create the appearance of calmness (or nervousness). We can subsequently use that knowledge to reinforce (or change) the appearance that we wish to create.

Supporting Materials When preparing their presentation, some presenters create a full transcript of the text of their presentation, with every single sentence written out. Others make do with a list of bullet points that they want to address, whereas still others prefer to not make notes at all. The use of these supporting materials is highly personal, so we will not recommend any specific style here. Instead, we will discuss some of the pros and cons of using a full transcript, notes, or no supporting material at all. A Full Transcript The full transcript is probably the most controversial type of preparation – some presenters swear by it, whereas others consider it an absolute no-no. One author of this book is vehemently opposed to the use of full transcripts, whereas the other author is a big fan and uses it frequently. Among the pros of using a full transcript is that you can exercise maximum control over your presentation. You can decide in advance not just what you want to say, but also how you want to say it. This may be especially handy for

Practice, Practice, Practice


extremely short presentations (such as a two-minute pitch talk) where there is little room for error. It may also be worth considering if you are presenting in a different language and you are unsure about your proficiency in that language. Preparing a full transcript of your presentation allows you to search for those difficult words in advance, check your grammar, and even have your presentation proofread by a native speaker if necessary. And last but not least, knowing that you have a full transcript available as a backup may significantly lower the stress you feel during your presentation. If you lose your train of thought or even experience a total blackout, you can always resort to your written text. Useful as it may be to some, the full transcript has also received some criticism. The language of an oral presentation is not the same as that of a scientific paper. If you write your transcript as you write a scientific paper (or worse: if you copy parts of a paper straight to your transcript), you’re on the wrong track. Spoken text generally requires more repetition, the use of easier language, and shorter sentences than written scientific text. We both have witnessed presentations (by students as well as accomplished scholars) that were essentially readings of a (shortened) scientific paper. Nothing could be more boring than that! You might as well hand them your paper and leave the room. A transcript of your presentation should be prepared in spoken language. One way to achieve that is to go through your slides and talk – simply start your presentation. When you are happy with the sentence(s) you spoke, write them down in those same words. You can further adjust your transcript during the practice phase (particularly phase ). Another potential problem with the use of a full transcript is that you run the risk of simply reading your presentation out loud. Even if you have a lovely conversational text on paper and you practised so much that it is also firmly rooted in your brain, the fact that the text is there, on paper, compels some presenters to look at it and read it out even when they do not really need to. These presenters tend to lose contact with their audience because their eyes are focused on their transcript, not on the people in front of them. Moreover, some presenters get utterly confounded when they try to stay away from their transcript but are irresistibly drawn to it time and again. This typically generates confused and stressed presenters who lose track of their text and are frantically searching for the right lines. Clearly, the use of a full transcript is not for everyone – you should find out if it works for you, and if not, abandon it. Note that the use of a full transcript does not mean that you will be delivering your presentation with multiple sheets of paper in your hand, and certainly not that you will just be reading your transcript out loud,


Preparing Your Presentation

word for word, to your audience! Often, the benefit of a full transcript is in the preparation of it, not so much in its actual use during your presentation. If you practise your presentation several times using your transcript, the sentences will transfer to your head and the actual transcript ends up as a backup – a safety net during your presentation, but one that you probably do not need. If you are using a full transcript, keep in mind that it need not consist of printed paper, but can also exist digitally in the form of, for example, digital presenter notes that accompany your slides (see Chapter  for the use of presenter notes). However, do check beforehand if the computer and settings that you will use during the presentation supports the use of presenter notes. If not, a hard copy might be necessary. We do not recommend the use of a separate tablet of smartphone for this purpose, simply because (at least at the time of writing this book) these media are not synchronised with your slides. Consequently, you will be scrolling through the notes on your digital handheld device while also managing the transition of your slides on the computer or laptop. This is distracting, not only for you but also for your audience. Notes If the full transcript is not for you, then you may like to use abbreviated notes instead. These could be in the form of a bullet-point list of the most important points that you want to make. The bullet points can help you to keep track of the topics that you wish to address, and the order in which you plan to discuss these topics. The advantage of a bullet-point list, rather than sentences of text, is that you can read them easily – especially if you use a large font – and you can check your bullet points with just a brief glance at your notes that does not interrupt your presentation. The use of bullet points, rather than full sentences, can keep your presentation ‘fresh’ and not overly memorised. The bullet points can help to keep the structure of the presentation in mind but without filling in the details, thus forcing you to formulate your text every time you deliver your presentation – whether it is during practice or ‘for real’. After some practice, you will find that you use certain phrases again and again, and that is fine. No Notes The third option involves not bringing anything with you except for the (audio-)visual material, usually in the form of slides. If you feel confident

Practice, Practice, Practice


enough to do so, please feel free. It is great being in the audience and listening to presenters who are able to focus fully on their audience, who know what they want to tell, and who use slides only as a illustrative visual background to the story. This approach is probably easier for relatively short presentations, and for presentations on topics that you are very familiar with. We do not recommend this ‘just-me-and-my-slides’ approach for rookies. Presenting can be stressful (Chapter ), and the use of notes (or a full transcript) can significantly increase your self-confidence, and thereby your performance. If, however, you feel confident enough to do your presentation without notes or outlines, try it out on your trial audience, and if it works out – well, go for it! A Bit of Everything The distinction between full transcript, notes, and no notes may appear more rigid than it is. In reality, you could easily use a blend of all three methods. For example, you could write out the beginning of your presentation (the start is always a bit difficult, when you suddenly feel all the attention focused on you) or even most of the introduction. You could then switch to short notes or no notes at all as you describe what you did (your method) and what you found (your results). These sections are usually more concrete, and the information is more readily available in your head. However, towards the end of your presentation, you may again find yourself resorting to a full transcript mode in order to deliver those allimportant conclusions correctly and convincingly.

Practice – When? When should you become serious about practising your presentation? That is hard to say, and differs between presenters and other factors, such as the importance of the presentation or its length. However, the general advice here is: don’t wait too long. If you start practising one day before your presentation, that’s probably too late. The trick is to give yourself ample time to make adjustments to your presentation if necessary. As practice is the ultimate test of your presentation, it may raise unexpected issues that still need to be addressed and that may require substantial changes – and you do not want to do that in a last-minute rush. Make sure that you practise your presentation several times, across the different phases of preparation. Once you have finished preparing your


Preparing Your Presentation

materials, practice sessions help you to become more familiar with the details of your presentation. Importantly, several shorter practice sessions work better than one long practice session. Shorter practices are less of a hurdle, and the frequent repetition will help you to remember it better, compared to less frequent and longer practice sessions. If there is an important presentation coming up, a short practice session at the beginning of each working day for five subsequent days will be more effective than just one or two longer sessions. Moreover, short presentation sessions interfere less with other pressing tasks of the day, so they are easier to incorporate into your busy schedule. It may be helpful to have a final practice run on the day of your presentation, or the day before. We both remember good times with some of our favourite colleagues when practising our presentations in front of each other during conferences. Rehearsing our presentations in a hotel room, with laptops balancing on side tables, notes pages sliding off hotel beds, and the occasional laughing fit was a good bonding experience – not to mention that it helped us to deliver a better presentation.

 

Delivering Your Presentation

Preparing an oral presentation is the easy part. As long as you start on time, follow the tips provided in this book, and make sure that you practise you have the basics covered. But after that comes the moment of truth: delivering your presentation. Delivering an oral presentation is like putting up a one-man/-woman show. This is your stage – your time to shine! As with any show, it is important that you take control over the setting: control the lights, control the audio, control the stage. Chapter  contains valuable tips to that end. But control is not limited to the physical environment – it is equally important that you exert control over your audience (to some degree). What do you do if a member of the audience constantly interrupts your presentation with detailed questions? What do you do if the discussion following your presentation turns nasty? With the advice provided in Chapter , you can make sure that you stay in the driver’s seat of your presentation from beginning to end. When preparing a presentation, we tend to focus exclusively on what we plan to say, but not on how we are going to say it. And yet, the way in which a message is delivered is as important as the content of the message. Just imagine the core message ‘Increases in money supply and decreases in money demand are inflationary even if they do not move interest rates’ being delivered by James Earl Jones or by Roseanne Barr. Notice the difference? A good use of the tone and pitch of your voice, combined with carefully controlled gestures and body movement, can keep your audience glued to their chairs. A monotonous voice and poor movement skills can make your presentation appear as bland as a potato pudding. Chapter  teaches you how to use your voice and non-verbal behaviour to support and strengthen your message. Once you know how to control your stage, your audience, and your verbal and non-verbal behaviour, the only thing left to control is your level of stress. Did you know that presenting before an audience is considered universally stressful? In fact, the stress associated with public speaking is so 


Delivering Your Presentation

strong and predictable that researchers have been using it as a means of inducing stress among participants in order to investigate the neurological processes associated with stress (e.g., Knight & Rickard, ; Merz & Wolf, ). A medium level of presentation anxiety is normal and even functional, but high levels of presentation anxiety can be crippling. In Chapter , we provide concrete tips and a number of exercises that you can use to manage your presentation anxiety.

 

The Moment of Truth: Stand Up and Deliver

You prepared your presentation. You decided on your core message, what to say and what not to say, the structure of your talk, the design of your slides. It is time to stand up and deliver. Delivering a successful presentation is about taking control: you are in charge. As a presenter, the scene is yours, and the audience is there for you. You are not a puppet on a string, you are the puppeteer. Once you realise this, your confidence will grow, and it will show in your presentation.

Final Checks Getting in control starts with practising your presentation. In the previous chapter, we suggested that you practise your presentation in a setting that closely resembles the one in which you will deliver it, so that you can become familiar with the setting as well as the presentation itself. However, oftentimes it is not possible to practice your presentation in the final setting, for example, when you are preparing for a presentation to be delivered at a conference abroad. In those situations, the next best option is to see if you can simply explore your presentation setting beforehand. At conferences, there is usually time to enter the presentation rooms before or after sessions or during breaks. Find your designated venue, and check it out well before your scheduled presentation, preferably at least one day in advance. Three important elements to pay attention to are the technical facilities available to you at the presentation venue, the layout of the room, and choosing where to stand when delivering your presentation. For a quick checklist, see Box .. The Technical Facilities Does the room have a standard computer that you should use, and if so, what type is it (e.g., Mac or PC)? Is there an option to connect your 


Delivering Your Presentation Box . Checklist before delivering your presentation

() () () () () ()

Can you connect your laptop? Do your audio and video files work in this setting? What is the optimal audio volume? Do you need a microphone? What type? How do you turn it on and control the volume? Is a pointer provided? How can you adjust the light and temperature of the room? Pick your spot: from what spot can you see your notes, your slides on the computer screen, have freedom of movement, stay out of the light of the projector, and be clearly visible to the members of the audience?

laptop? Some presenters prefer to use their own laptop, but not all venues provide the right facilities for this, and not all conference organisers will allow this either (switching laptops between presentations can be disruptive to a tight schedule, and some organisations do not allow the connection of external devices for security reasons). If you can use your own laptop, you may want to check a number of things beforehand. For example, Mac laptops need an additional connector cable that is usually not provided by the organisers. If your presentation requires audio, or an Internet connection, please check to see if these are available and operational. Pretest videos to ensure that they work as intended, and to find out what audio level you should use. You should also check to see if the presentation venue requires the use of a microphone. In small rooms you can often get by without one, but in larger rooms it can be a must. If a microphone is required, check what the options are in this regard. Is there a table microphone, a handheld microphone, or a wearable microphone? If at all possible, we recommend that you opt for the wearable microphone, as this allows for more freedom in movement and keeps your hands free. But keep in mind that wearing a headset or a lapel microphone may have consequences for the clothing you wear – a point we will discuss later on in this chapter. Finally, if you are using slides in your presentation, you should check if a pointer (sometimes known as ‘clicker’) is provided – a device that allows you to remotely control the transition of your slides. If no such device is provided, it is worth bringing your own, or to find out if you can borrow one from someone else. Box . provides some useful tips on the use of a pointer.

The Moment of Truth: Stand Up and Deliver


Box . The use of a pointer Some presenters love it, some hate it: the pointer. The pointer is a gadget that allows you to transition between slides, activate animations, and to pinpoint specific elements on the screen using a small laser dot. When should you use a pointer, and how should you use it? A pointer, when properly used, has many advantages. First, it allows you to transition between slides and activate animations without reaching for a keyboard or mouse. Reaching for a keyboard or mouse involves movement (which serves no purpose for the presentation itself, and as such is only a distraction), a change in posture (slightly bending over, thus briefly creating a slouched, low-status posture), and losing eye contact with the audience. Using a pointer means that you can maintain your posture and eye contact, and minimise distractions. It also frees you to walk around the room (but do so sparsely and with purpose). For some people, a pointer in their hands stops them from fidgeting, which can be a nice bonus. We therefore generally recommend using a pointer for slide transitioning and activating animations. Be careful however, when using a laser pointer to pinpoint elements on the screen. This is a seemingly handy feature but it comes with a number of pitfalls. First, it invites presenters to turn their back to the audience. It is difficult not to do so, and can only be avoided if you carefully pick a spot to the side of the screen and the side of the audience. Still, you will be facing the audience sideways (not recommended), and you cannot avoid turning your head to the screen occasionally. A second pitfall of the laser pointer is that it produces a tiny, tiny dot on a big, big screen. Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to keep that dot perfectly stationary? More often than not, the use of a laser pointer results in a small red dot crossing parts of the presentation screen in erratic movement, more or less circumventing the area of interest on the screen. Increased hand trembling as a result of general presentation anxiety certainly does not help in this regard. The desire to emphasise elements of a presentation or to pinpoint to a specific finding is certainly understandable. However, we suggest that you use your presentation tool instead of the laser pointer. When creating your presentation slides, you typically know which elements you wish to highlight. Most programmes have animations that allow you to present these elements one at a time, and in an order of your choosing. You can also programme the appearance of highlighted boxes or arrows to focus attention on a specific element on your slide. Having programmed these in advance, you no longer need to look and point at your slides during your presentation to emphasise a specific part.

The Layout of the Room The layout of the room is important to check out because it can have a vast impact on your presentation. Check if windows can be opened and closed.


Delivering Your Presentation

Is it warm and stuffy inside? Open a window to ensure your audience stays fresh. Is it noisy outside? Close the windows. Does the light from the windows strike the presentation screen? See if you can close a curtain. Can you control the lighting in the room? Find out what level of light works best. Generally speaking, you will want sufficient light for the audience, good light where you stand, but low light on the presentation screen. The bottom line here is that you should take ownership of the room and make all adjustments you deem necessary to optimise the conditions for your presentation. Choose Your Spot Another element to decide on beforehand is what ‘your spot’ will be. Your spot is the base camp where you will stand during your presentation, and where you return to if you walk around – and this need not be the same place where other presenters stood before you! If you need to rely on notes or a transcript, you may wish to pick a spot that is close to the computer or desk where your notes are kept. If you are using slides, you should be able to see the slides on the screen of the computer that is used for the digital presentation from your spot. We recommend that you pick a spot that allows you to walk around, so that you can move during your presentation. Movement, if functional, can enhance the audience’s attention. However, make sure that you do not need to walk through the light of the projector. We do not need to see the text from your slides decorate your forehead, thank you very much. Your chosen spot should be well lit, so avoid dark areas. If you wish to keep the audience’s eyes on you, they should be able to see you properly. Some settings have a lectern. This seems like a predetermined spot for you to stand and deliver your presentation, and it is indeed a handy place to store your notes within reach, but out of sight of the audience. However, a lectern covers most of your body and reduces the contact you have with the audience. It can make your presentation appear static and distant. We therefore do not recommend that you deliver your presentation from behind a lectern, unless you are a very tall person with a commanding presence. At some conferences, it may be customary to deliver a presentation from a sitting position – usually seated behind a table. Sitting can be effective in smaller settings, or with just a few people in the audience. In those situations, a standing presenter might be too overwhelming or too dominant. In general, however, we are not in favour of this type of presenting.

The Moment of Truth: Stand Up and Deliver


The seated position puts you at a clear disadvantage for several reasons. First, it impairs body movement, making your presentation more static. Second, a seated position is not ideal for controlling your breathing. As we will explain in Chapter , controlling your breathing is very important in presentations, and this is best done standing up (or lying down flat on your back – but we don’t recommend that either, for obvious reasons). And third, the seated position makes you look smaller, which lowers your perceived status or dominance. Whereas you do not need to appear overly confident, as a presenter, you do wish for your audience to take you seriously and to pay you the attention that you are due.

Delivering Starting Your Slides It is your time to shine now. The moment of truth. Up you go, to the front of the room to deliver your speech. Oh no, wait. First you need to upload your presentation slides to the local computer. As they are stored somewhere in the cloud, you will need to login, browse through all the files in that location in search of your slides . . . all the while, the audience is treated to a very entertaining glance of your personal life via the life-size projection of the computer on the projection screen. No! No, no, no, no, no. It continues to surprise us how even the most professional presentations sometimes start in such an unprofessional manner. The appearance you make as a presenter does not start the moment that you open your mouth – it starts much earlier. As soon as you walk onto the stage, the audience will see you as ‘the presenter’ and start forming an impression of you. The more professional you appear, the more serious they will take your message. If you are using a local computer for the presentation of audio or visual material, you should make sure that your files have already been transferred to that computer and are ready for use. This is important not only for appearing professional, but also because you are wasting valuable presentation time if you need to locate and install your slides during your time slot. Moreover, you are not giving yourself any room for error when leaving the transfer of your slides to the very last moment. What if your data carrier or cloud does not contain the latest version? If you are using the available computer in the room, check how you can transfer your audiovisual material to the computer. Some conference organisers request that you send your presentation slides to them beforehand, so that they can install them on the computer for you. Others expect


Delivering Your Presentation

you to take care of this yourself, but generally recommend that you do so during a break before your presentation. Presenters who use their own laptop may feel that they are in the safe zone, since they do not need to transfer any files. However, the use of a personal laptop brings with it its own share of risks. For example, many of us have a personalised desktop picture on our laptop. Whereas this may increase your work enjoyment, do you really want to treat all your professional colleagues to pictures of your children, pets, or yourself in a bathing suit on a sunny Hawaiian beach? Probably not. More risky is the fact that various automatic notifications can interrupt your presentation – from automatic software updates (annoying) to incoming private text messages or calls (embarrassing). But perhaps the greatest risk of all are the personalised advertisements that are displayed in your Internet browser as a result of your browsing history. Very few presenters would appreciate the prominent appearance of various ads for fertility treatment or the prevention of baldness when opening their browser as part of their presentation. We recommend that you turn off Wi-Fi on your laptop if you do not need an Internet connection for your presentation. This will prevent automatic software updates and incoming messages. If you do need an Internet connection, see if you can suppress unwanted advertisements, for example, through the use of an ad blocker. Delivering Your Presentation For most presentations, there is an organiser or session chair present. This may be the person who invited you to give a presentation, or the session chair at a conference. The role of this organiser is to oversee the presentation, manage time, and guide the discussion. The organiser will tell you when it is your turn to deliver your presentation. Sometimes, the organiser will introduce you to the audience as well, providing some background information about your work and your accomplishments. It can be useful to ask whether the organiser will introduce you, or if you will need to do this yourself, to avoid overlap. If the organiser introduces you, smile and accept the credits. While you are delivering your presentation, a good organiser will inform you of how you are doing regarding the timing of your talk, typically by holding up a sign that indicates how much time you have left (e.g., five minutes), and a sign that warns you that you have run out of time completely. You should take these signs seriously, but do not let them distract you from your presentation. Acknowledge the signs with a brief

The Moment of Truth: Stand Up and Deliver


nod so that the organiser knows that you understood the message. The ‘five minutes’ sign can sometimes come as a shock. We have both seen (as well as personally experienced) presentations that weren’t even halfway through when the ‘five minutes’ sign flashed, indicating that the time to wrap up was approaching. If this happens to you, take a deep breath and try to keep calm. There is no point in panicking – you should keep a clear head and make some rational decisions on how to proceed. What you should not do after an (unexpected and unwelcome) ‘five minutes’ sign, is rush through the remainder of your presentation. Speaking twice as fast, flashing slides without properly explaining their content, or giving the audience insufficient time to read and comprehend them are sure ways of losing your audience’s attention. At the same time, you should take the organiser’s message about the time remaining seriously. Presentations that run late often go at the expense of your valuable discussion time, or worse, another speaker’s presentation time. They can annoy the audience and are a clear sign that you are not sufficiently in control of your own presentation. Instead, if you feel that you do not have enough time to finish your presentation as you had planned, take a moment to consider which elements of your presentation you can skip. Focus on your core message and only talk about the key findings or conclusions, and omit the less relevant ones. Once you have successfully delivered your core message, everything else is a bonus and can be omitted if necessary. After delivering your presentation, there is usually time for questions from the audience. A good session chair will guide this discussion. Chapter  deals extensively with how to respond to questions from the audience. Expect the Unexpected No matter how much you practice, and no matter how much you familiarise yourself with the presentation setting, there can always be something that you did not see coming. The fire alarm could go off, there could be an electricity failure, someone next door may decide that this is the perfect time to drill a few holes in the wall . . . anything could happen. One of the authors’ ‘did-not-see-that-one-coming’ moment was when she used a local computer for a presentation that turned out to be set to the Chinese language. She may master several languages, but Chinese isn’t one of them. Operating a computer that was entirely set to Chinese turned out to be no easy feat. In those moments, forget technology, and go back to your core message and your notes pages, and start telling your story. Be stronger than your support materials. The audience will be amazed.


Delivering Your Presentation

What (Not) to Wear Does it matter how you dress for a presentation? For the content of the presentation, the answer is ‘no’. For your ability to get your message across and to increase the likelihood that you are taken seriously, the answer is ‘yes’. Like it or not, the audience will see you before they hear you, and as soon as they see you, they will form an impression of you. It will help you to get your message across if this first visual impression is a good one. Through your outfit, you can convey the impression that you take your job as a presenter seriously, and that, as a consequence, the audience should take you and your work seriously. And yes, clothes can do that. How can you make a good impression just based on your looks? First, the obvious basics: make sure your clothes are fresh, clean (see Box .), and without loose ends or holes. Even ‘fashionable holes’ are not recommended, particularly if your audience is of a somewhat mixed age. You and your peers may find ripped jeans perfectly acceptable, but someone of a different generation may not feel the same way. It is simple: if your clothes look dodgy (in the eyes of your audience), the audience will expect your presentation to be dodgy. If you look smart, people expect your presentation to be smart. This applies to your overall appearance, including your hair and shoes. If you look like you have made an effort, people take you seriously and are more willing to make an effort themselves by listening to you. As such, a good appearance is a sign of respect to your audience. An important question to address is: how formal should your outfit be? This is difficult to answer as it depends much on what is common in your specific field and the type of presentation, but in general we would say that it is much better to err on the side of being overdressed, than to err on the side of being underdressed. The worst thing that can happen if you’re overdressed is that people might think that you’re taking yourself a bit too Box . Eating and drinking Did you know that most actors never eat when wearing their costume? They do this to avoid food stains on their stage clothes. For the same reason, you may want to keep your presentation outfit clean for your presentation. So if you go to a multiple-day conference, save yourself some stress and do not wear your presentation outfit before your presentation. White shirts especially have the tendency to attract stains, and red wine and chocolate desserts love white shirts too . . .

The Moment of Truth: Stand Up and Deliver


seriously – and how bad is that? The worst thing that can happen if you’re underdressed is that your audience thinks that you’re not taking them seriously enough, and that is much worse. Try to get an idea of how formal or informal people in your own field of expertise dress for a presentation, if necessary by asking your colleagues. You could follow that norm in order to ‘blend in’, with the understanding that it is better to dress on the somewhat more formal side of the norm. The advantage of blending in is that you are more likely to be seen as ‘one of us’, which will increase the audience’s willingness to listen to you. It may be good to know that academic conferences are generally more informal than business conferences. If the presentation is part of a job or grant interview, you will definitely want to select more formal wear. Also, if you are delivering a keynote address, more formal attire is expected than if you’re delivering a brief presentation in a parallel session at a conference. Irrespective of the formality of your outfit, it is important that you feel comfortable in it. Itchy or ill-fitting clothes can make you feel uncomfortable, and that will show in your presentation. Interestingly, presenters with higher status have more degrees of freedom in what to wear than relative novices to the field. They do not need a formal outfit to be taken seriously – they are already taken seriously based on their reputation. But as a newcomer, you do not have this leeway. Do not make the mistake of blindly mirroring these high-status presenters in either presentation style or outfit, as the audience’s expectations of you are entirely different from their expectations of them. They can get away with things that you probably cannot. When selecting an outfit for your presentation, make sure that your clothes are appropriate for the expected temperature in the presentation room. Most conference centres have air conditioning or central heating, so the temperature in the presentation room will not necessarily resemble the outside temperature. But be aware that the act of presenting tends to raise your heart beat, increase your blood flow, and generally increases your body temperature. Being overheated is generally not a comfortable feeling. Moreover, being warm during your presentation can cause you to sweat, and turn your complexion red. Whereas both are just natural responses, most people prefer to appear cool rather than overheated and sweaty. To regulate your body temperature, you could wear loose-fitting clothes made of natural fibres. Black or white clothes, or clothes with a pattern, do not tend to show sweat stains as much as light-blue or grey clothes. Jackets may function as an instant cover-up for sweaty areas, but will also make you warmer, so do not take them off in public afterwards.


Delivering Your Presentation

Presenting men can wear a suit, or trousers (sometimes jeans), shirt, tie, and a jacket. Ties can be used to upgrade yourself instantly to a more formal level if needed. They take almost no space in your suitcase so it may be handy to take one with you (just in case). Jeans are sometimes acceptable as well, especially when combined with a neat shirt, tie, and jacket, and as long as the jeans themselves are dark and decent-looking (i.e., not the worn-looking baggy kind). Make sure your pockets are empty when delivering your presentation. Bulky pockets filled with a mobile phone, keys, and wallet degrade the fit and appearance of your trousers and make you look sloppy. Wear dress shoes – a neutral colour like black or brown – instead of your comfortable sneakers. Consider yourself lucky that, compared to women and their battle with heals, your shoes are always relatively comfortable, even the dress kind. As for presenting women, we do not recommend jeans, simply because women cannot dress them up with a formal shirt, jacket, and tie the way men can. Women can wear a suit, a dress, or a blouse with a skirt or trousers and an optional jacket. If you are unsure about whether a full suit is too formal, you can bring the jacket with you and choose to leave it off if that makes you feel more comfortable in the end (after scanning the field), as long as the top you intended to wear with it is presentable on its own (i.e., make sure it has sleeves, that it is not see-through, and that it looks good from the back as well as from the front). As a woman, you can wear a skirt or trousers, so please choose what you are comfortable with. If yours is a formal presentation and you are planning to wear a dress or a skirt, consider wearing tights, even in summer. There are sheer summer tights available that are nearly invisible but still contribute to the impression that you dressed with care. Although there are cultural, fashionable, and personal preferences for and against tights in summer, you can always take a pair with you to a conference, ‘just in case’. Dresses and skirts give a more feminine impression than trousers, but make sure the skirt isn’t too short. Knee-length or just above the knee is preferable to short. Dark colours (e.g., blue, grey, black) are a safe choice, but that does not mean that you should avoid brighter colours if these are your preferred style, as long as you feel comfortable in them. Bright colours can make a bold statement: they exude confidence and strength. Just make sure that they match your inner state – wearing bright red just to mask strong feelings of insecurity and self-doubt could backfire when all it does is make you aware of the sharp contrast between how you feel and how you look.

The Moment of Truth: Stand Up and Deliver


It should go without saying that women, too, should keep their sneakers firmly locked in their closet when it comes to selecting their presentation outfit. Other than that, women have more options than men when selecting shoes. Make sure that it is a dress shoe that matches your outfit, and that it is comfortable. You will most likely be standing up when delivering your presentation, and the last thing you want is to be distracted by uncomfortable shoes – or to distract the audience by wobbling on those nine-inch heels that look great but are simply out of your league. Wearing heels can make you feel more confident (e.g., one of the authors of this book prefers to wear heels when presenting, which she privately labels her ‘instant two-inch self-confidence’), but beware that heels can be bad for you balance, making you unstable and giving the impression that you are nervous and unsure of yourself. We generally recommend flat shoes or shoes with a modest heel, since these give you optimal stability and balance. However, if you run around all day on your stilettos, feel free to wear these. In our opinion, any dress shoe is acceptable, as long as it matches your outfit and wearing it does not make you look like Bambi on ice.

 

Discussion Time

For some, this is a point at which they let out a sigh of relief, but for others, the moment they dreaded most has just arrived: time for questions from the audience. Whether you love it or hate it, the interactive discussion following your presentation is an integral part of a presentation, and you should respect it as such. It is not a minor epilogue that you only have to survive – it is an essential part of your presentation in which you could get valuable feedback about how your message was received, and in which you might receive interesting questions that sharpen your thoughts and trigger further research ideas. It is also an important opportunity to clarify the unclear and to rectify misunderstandings. In this chapter, we use the term ‘discussion’ to refer to the interactive question and answer part that typically follows an oral presentation, acknowledging that this term is also used for the unilateral presentation of theoretical or practical implications and limitations of your work at the end of an oral presentation. This is where you learn what the audience thinks of your work, and this is where you can obtain (or ask for) the oh-so-important feedback. Isn’t that what the presentation was all about, after all? But handling a discussion properly is a special skill. We have both seen well-known scientists deliver a slightly disappointing, less than inspiring presentation that made us wonder why they were so famous. But then the discussion started, and they came alive! They listened well to the questions and were able to put them into perspective and link them to other studies and theories. Suddenly it became very obvious why they had earned their fame. But we have also seen people deliver a brilliant, smart, and even funny presentation, only to fall flat on their face during the subsequent discussion because they did not properly listen to the audience’s questions, gave brief and uninspiring answers, became overly defensive in their responses, or let the audience take over the discussion. Handling a discussion properly is a skill, but luckily a skill that you can acquire through practice. 

Discussion Time


Although the discussion is somewhat less predictable and less under your own control than other parts of your presentation, we think that some questions or comments can be anticipated, which gives you an opportunity to prepare for the discussion. In this chapter, we will discuss how to handle the discussion following your presentation, and give you tips and strategies for dealing with difficult or unexpected questions from the audience and maximising your profit from their valuable input. Questions Are Compliments in Disguise Before anything else, remember that questions (even the critical ones) are really compliments in disguise. Notwithstanding the odd person who asks a question without having paid you any attention while you were talking, the vast majority of people who ask a question do so because they did pay attention – a great deal of attention in fact. That’s a good thing! A question means that you presented your work in such a way that the audience wants to know more, and makes an effort to gain a better understanding of your work. At the same time, a question is valuable feedback: it provides information about which parts of your work need more explanation or which parts inspire further thinking. And that, my dear presenter, is a huge compliment. Does this mean that a lack of questions is an insult in disguise? It certainly doesn’t automatically mean that, and the term ‘insult’ is probably too strong a word here, but when your presentation generates few to no questions, you may have to wonder why that is. There can be several explanations. One common reason for a lack of questions at conferences is that the audience is simply tired from absorbing information all day, or is not yet fully awake and functional if your presentation is delivered early in the morning following an elaborate conference dinner. In other words, there may be several external reasons for why people are not as engaged as you would have liked them to be. That is unfortunate, but part of life. If you anticipate a limited attention span based on the scheduling of your presentation, you could try to cope with it by keeping your presentation simple and straightforward, but there isn’t much else you can do. Another reason for a lack of questions is that your presentation was very clear and complete. This happens sometimes, for example, with research presentations in which your findings are exactly in line with your predictions (which were straightforward to begin with), and you extensively covered all implications and limitations. In this case, you could ask open


Delivering Your Presentation

questions to start a discussion, such as a question for suggestions for further research or for potential applications of your work. But a third reason for a silent audience may be more worrisome: they could be keeping quiet simply because they did not understand your presentation, and gave up trying halfway through. If only one or two small things were unclear, people would ask questions for clarification, but if they lost track of you completely, they wouldn’t know where to begin with their questions, and so they may decide to stay quiet. Here is another important reason to practise your presentation beforehand in front of an audience of friends or colleagues: they can tell you honestly whether they understood your presentation or not. The Audience Is Not a Pool of Sharks, but a Box of Teddy Bears Some presenters view their audience as a pool of sharks, ready and eager to devour them as soon as they have the opportunity. Such thinking is neither accurate nor constructive. We encourage you to think of your audience as your friend, not your enemy. It may include the occasional windbag who sees a discussion as an opportunity to boost their ego by thrashing someone else, but most people are not like that, and most people do not like people who are like that. The audience is there because they are interested in your presentation and in you, and they would like to exchange ideas with you about your work. If you are friendly to them, they are friendly to you. So jump into that box and embrace your friendly teddy bears! Their questions, even the critical ones, are not personal attacks on you, but come from their innate critical thinking. Scientists are made for critical thinking, and they like nothing better than poking holes in seemingly smooth presentations. It is not personal, it is their job, their hobby. One could even say that the more critical questions the audience can ask, the more they enjoy themselves. So, instead of warding off or deflecting their criticism, open up to it. Play along. Discuss together how you could improve your work. You’ll see that this activates the audience and simultaneously helps you generate valuable feedback on your work. Ideally, you achieve a state in which you are open to the audience and their possible points of critique, rather than defensive and closed. An open attitude, however, does not mean that you have to agree with every critical comment that is laid at your feet! Although there are some cultural differences in this respect (see Chapter ), a Western audience would respect a presenter who is able to stay true to their work while still being open to suggestions for improvement. So your job is to walk a fine line

Discussion Time


between believing in your work and defending it where necessary, while simultaneously being receptive to possible points of critique and acknowledge them if you deem them justified. It is important that you stay in the driver’s seat during the entire discussion, and this starts at the beginning. This is still your presentation, and you are not some deer in the headlights waiting for the audience to start shooting their questions. You are the expert on your presentation, there is nobody in the world who knows more about the ins and outs of your own work than you. You can use the discussion to assess what the audience has understood of your presentation, which parts of it were less clear, and to seek suggestions for improvement or for future work. The discussion gives you valuable information from a group of intelligent and interested people (otherwise they would not have attended your presentation), so use it to your own advantage!

Tips for Responding to Questions Depending on the situation, you may or may not have an organiser or session chair to facilitate the discussion. If you do, let them do their job. The organiser or session chair (see Chapter ) will keep track of people in the audience who wish to ask a question, and the order in which they can. Do not panic if members of the audience do not raise their hands immediately after you finished your presentation, as they often need a few moments to sort through all of the information that you provided and to let it sink in, before they can formulate a question. Hands will rise eventually, and the questions will start flowing. As to responding to these questions, we offer several pieces of advice. Repeat the Question to the Entire Audience Briefly summarise or repeat the question, making sure that you address the entire audience. This has several advantages. First, it ensures that the entire audience has heard the question. Typically, the person asking the question addressed only you. Their voice is directed away from the rest of the audience, and they are usually unassisted by a microphone. Odds are that a sizeable part of the audience did not hear the question. If you start responding without the question being clear first, you are guaranteed to lose your audience’s attention. Repeating or summarising the question in more common or even lay terms could also help to translate a question that was phrased in highly technical terms to a form that could be understood


Delivering Your Presentation

by people without specific knowledge of your area of expertise. For example, in research on negotiations, there is a so-called fill-in-the-blank measure that is used to measure a ‘fixed-pie perception’. Most negotiation researchers will know these concepts, but if someone asks a question about this at a more general conference, it is better to repeat the question in such a way that also the non-negotiation researchers would know that it is a question about how to measure the idea of ‘my gain is your loss’ that many negotiators have. A second advantage of briefly summarising the question is that it can serve as a check to whether you understood the question correctly. Some questions are hard to understand because the questioner used concepts that are unfamiliar to you, or spoke in a soft voice or with an unfamiliar accent. Repeating the question gives you an opportunity to check whether you correctly understood the query. As a third advantage, repeating the question buys you time to think and organise your thoughts. One of the authors once presented research on the effects of breaks on negotiation processes and outcomes, and somebody asked her how her experimentally controlled negotiations with pre-timed breaks could inform us about breaks in real-life negotiations. She repeated in the following way: ‘This question is about how the effects of the controlled and pre-timed breaks in our study can be generalised to negotiations outside our research laboratory, in the real world.’ In doing so, she could check with the questioner whether she understood the question correctly, she made sure the audience was fully cognisant of the question, and at the same time, paraphrasing the question in her own words enabled her to organise her own thoughts before answering the question – through a pre-timed break indeed. Involve the Audience, Not Just the Questioner As a corollary to the previous point, make sure that you address the entire audience when responding to a question, not just the questioner. If you address the questioner only, you are sure to exclude the audience and turn what could have been an exciting group discussion into an exclusive oneon-one. So maintain eye contact with the audience, not just the questioner, and make sure your voice can be heard clearly in the furthest corner of the room. Other ways of involving the audience are by redirecting questions to the audience. For example, in your response to a specific question, you may find yourself saying that ‘although my work did not address this particular question, I believe X and Y did. I’m not sufficiently

Discussion Time


familiar with their work though, so I would be happy to hear if anyone in the audience has an idea about this?’ By directing a question to the audience, you include them in the discussion. It also helps to move away from what is sometimes too strong a focus on a particular detail of your work to more general topics – which are often of more interest to the audience at large. If a question is too specific to be of interest to the broader audience, or the discussion becomes too specific, you could also cut it short with a comment such as ‘Perhaps you and I can discuss this further after this session?’ Stay Friendly Please be aware that some members of the audience are just as nervous about asking a question as some presenters are about responding to questions. People asking questions are often secretly afraid that they are asking about something you already mentioned (but that they missed because they weren’t paying attention) or something very obvious (suggesting they are lacking in general knowledge or intelligence). As a presenter, you should acknowledge the person who asks a question in a friendly way. You can do this explicitly (e.g., ‘Thank you, that is an interesting question’) or implicitly by taking the time to formulate a clear and respectful reply. Always keep in mind that there are no ‘stupid’ questions. If people ask a question about something you already addressed in your presentation, it may be because they were a bit distracted at that point, or because they did not quite understand your earlier explanation. That does not make them idiots – it makes them human. Moreover, it is also possible that your explanation was not as clear as you had intended. Realising this will go a long way in addressing your audience in a friendly and respectful manner. See a Question as an Opportunity Questions can be opportunities to elaborate on certain aspects of your work. When making a presentation, you often have to leave out certain information due to time constraints, from methodological information to interesting ideas about practical applications. Questions are opportunities to put this information back in. Some presenters even prepare backup slides about these issues when they foresee that leaving out certain information might raise questions. Adding some extra slides to your presentation to be used when addressing questions from the audience is an excellent way of both preparing yourself for the discussion and of conveying the extra


Delivering Your Presentation

information that you were keen to share, but had good initial reason to leave out of the main presentation. Wrapping Up Your Answer Keep your answers brief and to the point. When you have finished answering a question, you could wrap up with a concluding comment (e.g., ‘And that is why I used this methodology for my work’). This is an indication for the audience that you have finished answering the question. You may be tempted to use a phrase like ‘I hope this answers your question’, but be aware such a remark can easily trigger a new question. It also suggests an insecurity on your part about the value of your answer. If you are indeed in doubt whether your response fully answered a question, you are free to ask, but we recommend that you do not make this a standard part of your response to questions from the audience.

Starting a Discussion A good way to stay in control of the discussion and to ensure that the discussion focuses on those elements that you are most in need of feedback on is by steering the discussion yourself. One way of doing so is by starting the discussion with a specific question to the audience. Invite the audience to think along with you. For example, you could say that you are intrigued by how your findings appear to contradict the findings of similar work conducted by someone else, and that you are very interested in hearing the public’s opinion on this. You could also invite the audience to think about an explanation for your own (unexpected) findings, or about the implications of your work for a particular field. Remember that a discussion is a good way of gathering feedback, so if you are in need of feedback on a specific aspect of your work, feel free to steer the discussion in that direction. Once the members of your audience respond to your query and contribute their ideas, it is important to acknowledge these in order to stimulate other people to share their thoughts as well. People are more likely to share their ideas when they feel that their input is valued. Sometimes this means that you need to curb your enthusiasm in responding along the lines of ‘I already thought of that, but this will not work because . . .’ Of course, you have had more time to think about the issue, and there is a high likelihood that the audience will contribute at least some ideas that you had already considered and discarded yourself.

Discussion Time


However, publicly discarding each idea that your audience contributes is a sure way of killing the mood and ending the discussion. Keep in mind that starting a discussion with a specific question to navigate it towards a topic that you are interested in can be beneficial for you, as a presenter, but it is not always something the audience itself enjoys. They may have other questions that they wish to ask, other topics to address. They may not even find your question of particular interest. For an audience, a discussion can be enjoyable because this is the part where they can contribute actively, after having sat passively for some time to listen to your presentation. By controlling the content of the discussion, you are denying your audience the joy of sharing and discussing their own ideas. We suggest a compromise, in which you first allow your audience to contribute with any comment or question that they may have following your presentation, and then, if time permits, redirect the discussion towards the topics you are particularly interested in.

Questions during the Presentation You may receive questions while in the middle of your presentation. Whether and how you respond to these is entirely up to you, but there are several considerations you may want to take into account. First, responding to questions during a presentation can disrupt the flow of your presentation. This may not only make it more difficult for you to retrace your steps and pick up where you left off after having responded to a question, but it will also make it more difficult for the audience to temporarily ‘pause’ their focus on your work to enter a discussion mode, after which they need to refocus on your presentation. Second, answering questions during your presentation goes at the expense of your presentation time. Make sure you only respond if you know that you have sufficient time. Third, if you accidentally omitted a vital bit of information in your presentation and you do not respond to a clarification question during your presentation, it may become very difficult for the audience to understand the remainder of your presentation. It can be very useful to answer questions for clarification during your presentation, rather than afterwards, to ensure that your audience stays on track of the presentation. If there is a part of your presentation that is unclear, you may lose some of your audience’s attention. Responding to a simple clarification question may prevent this. When you expect that a certain part of your presentation is hard to follow (e.g., intricate hypotheses, difficult experimental set-up, difficult theoretical model), you could


Delivering Your Presentation

even explicitly ask your audience whether this part is clear before continuing with the rest of the presentation. If you are open to clarification questions that can be answered briefly, but not to more elaborate discussion questions, we suggest that you respond to the latter type of question using a sentence such as ‘that sounds like an interesting question, and I’d be happy to address this in some detail at the end of my presentation’. If you are not open to any questions during your presentation (e.g., because of time constraints or because you know that questions disrupt your flow of thought which impedes the quality of your presentation), you could make a brief statement at the beginning of your presentation to indicate to the audience that they shouldn’t bother with questions during your presentation (e.g., ‘Please hold your questions until the end of my presentation, at which point I’m happy to answer any questions that you may have’). Our general recommendation would be to respond – shortly – to clarification questions, and to postpone more indepth questions to the end of the presentation (e.g., ‘Feel free to ask clarification questions during the presentation, but please hold your other questions until the end of my presentation, at which point I’m happy to answer any questions that you may have’).

What If You Do Not Know the Answer? Sometimes people ask a question to which you do not know the answer. This happens to every presenter once in a while. It could be that a question refers to prior work that you are not familiar with, a technique that you haven’t heard of, or simply an issue that you have not thought of before. There are several things that you can do when you do not know the answer. First, you can acknowledge that you do not have the answer straightaway (‘That is an interesting question, I hadn’t thought of that before’). You might be tempted to beat around the bush and attempt an answer that you are not sure of, but you run the risk of giving an off-topic answer that is not related to the question, or giving an answer that is not convincing to the majority of your audience. Second, you can ask for clarification. If you are not familiar with the concepts in the question, you could ask whether the questioner could briefly explain the concept, which buys you time to think. Third, you can park the question for later (‘That sounds like a really interesting question and I would like to learn more about it, could we talk more about this after this presentation session?’). This latter strategy is useful when the question is very specific, or is

Discussion Time


unlikely to be interesting to the larger audience. So if you are struggling how to respond to a question, acknowledge, ask for clarification, or park the question for later. These reactions are generally accepted as long as you do not respond to every question in the same way.

Different Types of Questions Although people can ask questions about just about anything, many of these questions can be classified into a small set of categories. Recognising what type of question is addressed to you can help you to respond in an appropriate manner. Questions for Clarification One of the most frequently asked (and easily answered) questions are those asking for clarification. People may have missed some information in your presentation, or they need more background information to understand your work. Do not provide more information than requested – sometimes the missing link is just a small piece of information that is easily provided. Extensively elaborating on, for example, your method of data collection in response to a question about whether you included equal numbers of men and women in your sample is a waste of everyone’s time. A simple ‘We had  men and  women in our sample, so the numbers are almost equal’ would suffice. Alternative Interpretations Alternative interpretations are not so much questions but comments (often disguised as questions). People may interpret your findings differently from you, and that is fine. Such alternative interpretations can be extremely valuable to you as a scientist, either because they may make a lot of sense or because you need to learn how to parry them in case they do not make much sense. People offering alternative explanations are often out for an intellectual exchange of ideas. For example, a person asking you if you have thought about X as an alternative explanation for your findings would generally not feel very satisfied if you just answered ‘No, I hadn’t thought about X as an explanation’. They would want to discuss how X may explain your findings. In case you had not considered X before, you can return the question (e.g., ‘No, I hadn’t thought about X before, but it


Delivering Your Presentation

may be an interesting idea. What do you think the role of X may have been?’) and turn it into a real exchange of ideas. Practical Applications Your work may be theoretical in nature, or more applied. If your work is more theoretical, you should still expect some questions about the practical applications of your work. After all, not everyone in your audience has the same theoretical background as you. In fact, they may not even be interested in your theoretical background. These people listen to your presentation with a different mindset, often trying to discern pieces of information that they would consider of practical, rather than theoretical, importance. You should prepare yourself for this type of question and be able to provide a coherent answer, even if you feel that the main contribution of your work is to theory, rather than to its applications. Conversely, when your work is primarily applied in nature, you should still be prepared for questions about the theoretical background. Links to Other Work A potentially difficult type of question involves making a connection to work or literature that you are not familiar with. For example, someone might ask ‘how your work relates to the work of Professor Y, who, in the late sixties of the previous century, argued that . . .’ Being not familiar with Professor Y’s work, a question like this may send chills down your back. Were you supposed to have known about Professor Y and her work? Perhaps, and perhaps not. There is no point in dwelling on those thoughts right then and there. Professor Y’s work may have been very relevant to you, in which case the questioner did you a favour by pointing you in her direction. Or Professor Y’s work is not very relevant at all – it is just something that the questioner is personally familiar with. When people are very familiar with a certain topic, they often see links with other work that others do not see, or would not consider strong or important. Sometimes questioners even just want to show off their knowledge by referring to some obscure work in the past that very few people are familiar with. The point is – you do not know what motivated the questioner to ask this specific question, and because the link with Professor Y’s work could be relevant to you, you should always take such questions seriously (‘Professor Y’s work? No, I am not familiar with it. How would you think her work is relevant to my own?’).

Discussion Time


Dealing with Nasty Questions Most of the time, people ask questions or respond to your presentation from a constructive mindset. Sometimes, and in some fields more than others, you may encounter questions – or questioners – that you would consider downright nasty, for example, by insinuating in a derogatory tone that your work is not up to par (‘I already teach our first-year students that you should not use this type of analysis’). Keeping the previous discussion of different types of questions in mind, you should of course first carefully consider if a question really is nasty, or if you are just being overly defensive. Your own interpretation of a question has a strong impact on how you respond to this question, and how the ensuing discussion evolves. For example, if you construe a question as nasty, your response is likely to be defensive, which in turn can trigger a reaction from the questioner that you would construe as even more aggressive. Box . explains how this phenomenon works. Nasty questions are rare. One could even argue that there are no nasty questions – only questions posed in a nasty tone. The questioner may not even be aware that you find their question offensive. Almost every nasty question can be rephrased in a more neutral one. Dealing with nasty questions is a lot like dealing with regular questions. Thus, our advice is to always acknowledge the questioner and respond in a respectful manner – no matter how disrespectful you think their question was. Keep your moral high ground. Paraphrasing As always, you should start with repeating the question in your own words. This is a crucial step in dealing with nasty questions, because when you repeat the question in your own words, you can take out the elements that sounded offensive, and focus on the part of the question that you want to address. If we use the previous example in which the presenter’s analyses were questioned, the presenter could respond like this: ‘Thank you for your question about the statistical tests that I used to analyse my data. You suggest that I should have used another type of test, but let me show you what my deliberations were to opt for the tests that I used.’ Paraphrasing the question in neutral terms allows you to move away from the offensiveness of the question and continue to answer the question in a respectful manner. By paraphrasing the question, or repeating it in your own words, you can choose to zoom in on particular aspects of the question. For example, when your entire work is questioned, you can choose to zoom in on the


Delivering Your Presentation Box . How action triggers reaction: Leary’s rose

When responding to questions from the audience, you may find an interaction model called the Leary’s interpersonal circumplex (also known as Leary’s rose) useful (Figure .; Leary, ). This model uses two dimensions to label interaction patterns. The vertical dimension is about dominance versus submission (‘above’ versus ‘below’), and the horizontal dimension is about opposition versus collaboration (‘opposed’ versus ‘together’). Nasty, aggressive, or competitive comments and questions such as those ostensibly devaluing your work can be placed in the ‘above/opposed’ quadrant. Friendly leading and helping behaviours such as showing opportunities for further development of your work and providing constructive suggestions for improvement are placed in the ‘above/together’ quadrant. In the ‘below/opposed’ quadrant, you can place defiant and withdrawn behaviour such as indignant, grumbling people or people who deliberately walk away from a situation. We typically refer to these behaviours as passive aggressive. Placed in the ‘below/together’ quadrant are dependent and cooperative behaviours by people who follow and accept what a leading person says. Leary’s rose posits that certain types of behaviour trigger certain reactions. On the ‘above/below’ dimension, behaviours trigger opposite responses. That is, dominant ‘above’ behaviours tend to trigger submissive ‘below’ behaviours, and vice versa. According to Leary’s rose, if someone asks you a question in a dominant or aggressive tone, you will have a natural tendency to respond submissively. Conversely, if a questioner’s demeanour is submissive, you tend to become the leader in the interaction. On the ‘opposed/together’ dimension, however, behaviours trigger similar responses. That is, ‘opposed’ behaviour triggers ‘opposed’ behaviour, and ‘together’ behaviour triggers ‘together’ behaviour. ABOVE






TOGETHER defiant


withdrawn dependent


Figure .

Leary’s rose

Discussion Time


Leary’s rose can be used to stay in the driver’s seat while answering nasty questions. When you encounter a nasty or critical question (‘above/opposed’), your natural reaction is often to defend yourself (‘below/opposed’). However, as a presenter, the best position is the ‘above/together’ quadrant. When you display behaviours such as leading a discussion, giving solutions to potential problems, or showing how specific issues should be dealt with, the audience is more likely to display ‘below/together’ behaviours, which means that they are open and receptive to your message. The position to avoid as a presenter is the ‘below/opposed’ quadrant. In this position, someone else is leading the conversation and may attack your ideas, and you find yourself in a defensive position. When you encounter a question that you perceive as nasty, reflect for a moment, and avoid responding in a ‘below/opposed’ (i.e., defiant, withdrawn) manner. Rather, try to react in an ‘above/together’ manner, for example, by asking for elaboration or suggestions (‘You are concerned about the validity of our measurements. Are there specific parts that you are worried about, and which steps could we take to increase the validity?’). Your ‘above/together’ reaction can subsequently trigger a ‘below/together’ response from the questioner. In this way, you will have effectively warded off a potentially unpleasant discussion and turned it into a positive and constructive one.

methodology that you used and explain why you think that was appropriate for your research question. As a result, you do not need to defend your entire work, but can focus on explaining a specific element of your work instead. Paraphrasing also allows you to zoom out where necessary. When a questioner criticises a specific element of your methodology, you may broaden the question to the methodology in general or to other work that uses similar methods. You can then deal with the question in a broader light. Moreover, it becomes less threatening because you are no longer (exclusively) defending your own work but are engaged in an open discussion about the appropriateness of a certain type of method. Postpone or Park Another possibility to deal with a nasty question is to postpone or park the question. You can still acknowledge the questioner (‘Thank you for this question’) but indicate that you will deal with the question at a later point, for example: ‘I think this question warrants some more thought, so perhaps we could discuss it afterwards.’ Of course, this does not oblige you to meet with the questioner after your presentation if you are really not interested – conferences tend to provide ample opportunity to avoid


Delivering Your Presentation

people if necessary. On the other hand, what you thought was a nasty question may turn out to be a very useful question, so rather than avoiding, it may prove beneficial to face your questioner and see what the question was all about. Minimal Response Some nasty comments do not even require much of a response, because they are more about the questioner than about your work, or you. If you fear that your response will lead to an unwanted discussion, you could try to cut it short by giving a minimal response, for example, by saying ‘Thank you for the valuable suggestion, I will certainly take this into account.’ If you say this in a polite but firm tone, and subsequently turn your face to the audience as if to invite new questions, you have effectively nipped a nasty discussion in the bud. Note that this response is perhaps on the border of what may still be considered polite behaviour, so make sure you do it in a friendly and respectful manner, and use it only once during a discussion! Ask the Questioner for Suggestions You can include the questioner in the discussion by asking for a suggestion or advice on how to improve the element that they criticised. Sometimes people only ask a question to show their own expertise, and you can tap into that expertise by asking what they would do in your place. For example, ‘Thank you for your question about the statistical tests that I used to analyse my data. You suggest that I should have used another type of test, could you please elaborate on that? I would love to learn more about alternative means of testing.’ You may wish to add ‘after this session’ to your response (‘You suggest that I should have used another type of test, could you please elaborate on that, perhaps after this session?’) to make sure that the discussion does not focus too much on this particular question, and to give you an opportunity to move on to another question or remark.

 

Verbal and Non-verbal Behaviour

When delivering oral presentations, we tend to focus on the content of our presentation and our accompanying audiovisual material. We focus on what we say, and less on how we say it. However, the way a presentation is delivered is probably just as important as its content. A high-quality presentation on paper may not be experienced as such when delivered in a monotonous voice and by a presenter who avoids all eye contact. In this chapter, we will give you some tips to help improve the way you deliver your presentation. We will first deal with breathing, which may be of special interest to nervous presenters who tend to have a feeling of lightheadedness or simply run out of breath during their presentation. We then turn to the use of your voice: its volume, intonation, and pace. We will also cover body posture and eye contact.

Breathing Time to start your presentation. All eyes are on you. Did you remember your lines? Yes? Take a deep breath, and then breathe out. No, don’t start talking yet. First breathe in, and, more importantly, breathe out. Although breathing is such a natural process – we do it even when we are completely unconscious – controlling your breathing is actually very hard, especially in stressful situations. We hardly need to stress the importance of breathing in (you don’t want to pass out after all), but the importance of breathing out certainly does require special attention. It appears natural to take a deep breath before you start your presentation, and then start speaking until you run out of breath, at which point you are more or less forced to take another deep breath, allowing you to rattle on until you practically turn purple. The problem with this type of breathing is that you tend to ‘blow yourself up’ by adding more and more air to your system (which resembles a state of hyperventilation). Many presenters who are nervous for their presentation experience a feeling of light-headedness 


Delivering Your Presentation Box . Controlling your breathing by focusing on your pronunciation

Consciously controlling your breathing is difficult. For a short period, or in specific situations (yoga or meditation classes), it is doable, but for longer periods or during presentations it is hard. The stress of delivering a presentation renders us out of breath and we end up talking like a train out of control, thundering forwards at breakneck speed. A neat trick to regain control of your breathing is by slowing down your presentation through focusing on your pronunciation. How does that work? When preparing for your presentation, you should try to pronounce your text as well as you can. Just pretend that the audience is full of people with a hearing impairment, and that you have to speak v-e-r-y c-l-e-ar-l-y to make sure that they understand you. The result is that it slows your presentation down a little. As you are slowing down the pace of your presentation, your breathing follows the slower pace (followed by your heart rate, which helps to reduce feelings of stress; see Chapter ). The additional benefits of this technique are that the reduced pace of your presentation gives you more time to think about what you are going to say and that the audience is more likely to understand you because of your clear pronunciation. It may feel a bit strange to speak this way, but the audience usually does not notice anything different about your presentation, other than it is perhaps easier to understand.

or they run out of breath during their presentation. Those are all symptoms of too much inhaling, and not enough exhaling. The solution to this problem is to focus on exhaling. One relatively easy way to remind yourself to breathe out is by including reminders at certain points during your presentation. When your presentation allows you to take a brief pause (e.g., when transitioning to a new section), force yourself to breathe in . . . and out. If you’re using a full transcript or presentation notes, you could include a written reminder to breathe out at those points. You may also want to practice your breathing, using the tips provided in Box ..

Voice Although most people are perfectly capable of using their voice for speech – both to an individual and to a larger audience – we are all aware that some people deliver presentations with a clear, commanding voice that practically mesmerises their audience, whereas others struggle to capture their audience’s attention. What causes these differences? And what can you do to improve the impact of your voice?

Verbal and Non-verbal Behaviour


Volume An important factor influencing the impact of a voice is its volume. In general, louder voices have a more commanding presence than soft voices (although this is certainly not always the case – some soft voices can be extremely compelling as well). Interestingly, if you wish to increase the volume of your voice, you should not speak louder but rather change the tone of your voice. This has to do with the difference between a ‘chest voice’ and a ‘head voice’. A chest voice sounds relatively low and loud. A head voice is higher and airier. Everyone has a chest voice and a head voice, although most men tend to use their chest voice, and most women tend to use their head voice. The advantage of a chest voice is that it can more easily produce a high volume without having to raise your voice, and without your voice becoming uncomfortable to listen to. As most men naturally use their chest voice, they have an advantage when presenting; their natural voice is relatively low and carries far. Cherish that! If your voice is relatively high, or if you normally use your head voice, you have a challenge when you want to address a larger audience. Those with a high voice – the majority of women – need to pay attention not to sound like a squeaky toy when they want to pump up their volume. A head voice can start sounding angry – even hysterical – when you add volume. The best advice we can give is to try to lower the tone of your voice. By lowering your voice, you are more likely to use your chest voice, which allows you to increase your volume, and it can slow down your pace as well. For an exercise to check which type of voice you are using, and how to find your chest voice and head voice, see Box .. Intonation A speaker’s voice can reveal much about the speaker’s feelings – for example, whether they feel powerful and in control, or insecure and powerless. One clear giveaway is the intonation used at the end of a sentence. When the intonation goes up at the end, the speaker appears more insecure than when the intonation goes down. An upwards intonation is associated with questions, not statements. Pronouncing your sentences as if they were questions suggests that you are not sure about your message – as if you need the audience’s confirmation that what you’re saying is correct and clear. When practising your presentation in front of a lay audience (see Chapter ), ask your audience about your intonation.


Delivering Your Presentation Box . Finding your chest and head voice: An exercise

For this exercise, you might not want to be heard by others. This is a vocal warm-up exercise that you can use to figure out where you can locate your chest voice and your head voice. Start by making a very low noise and then gradually go higher and higher. Slowly and continuously increase the tone of your voice from very low to very high, and then back to low. It should resemble the sound of a racing car gradually gaining speed until it reaches top speed, and then it gradually loses speed until it stands still and just rumbles. You may notice that, as you go higher and higher, you cannot use the same type of voice. Instead, you need a transition to a different type of voice (you need to shift gear) in order to reach a higher tone. That is the point where your chest voice changes into your head voice. Below that break point, you use your chest voice, above that break point, you use your head voice. When you gradually go down from high notes to lower notes, you change back from you head voice to your chest voice. This transition is usually less audible or noticeable however. It is easier to find the break point when going up, than when going down.

If they say that you have a tendency to raise your intonation at the end of each sentence, this is something to pay special attention to. Note that there are exceptions to this principle. Some languages or accents have a natural tendency to raise the tone towards the end of a sentence, for example, Australian or Irish. Naturally, we do not recommend that you change your accent to appear more confident. Pace One of the most common problems with oral presentations is that presenters speak too fast for the audience to fully comprehend them and for the message to reach full impact. The reason for this lies in presentation anxiety and a wish to rush to the end of the presentation. Stress speeds up the pace of your presentation, as well as your breathing and your heart rate. An increased presentation pace is particularly problematic because a good presentation should actually have a slightly lower pace compared to talking face-to-face with someone in a relatively quiet environment in order to make it understandable for the audience. Talking as if you have a train to catch often means that your audience is unable to keep up with you, and losing your audience’s attention is one of worst things that can happen to a presenter. This is why it is so important that you learn to pace yourself.

Verbal and Non-verbal Behaviour


There are at least two reasons for why an oral presentation should be slow paced. First, presentations are typically dense with information, and you should give the audience sufficient time to digest it. Second, the physical distance between you and the audience, the acoustics of the room, distractions caused by other members of the audience, background noise, and in some cases the use of a microphone can all contribute to the degradation of the audio quality, compared to a regular face-to-face conversation in a quiet environment. A slower pace gives the audience more time to process the information, and they are also more likely to overcome problems due to a lower audio quality. The exercise presented in Box . provides a neat trick to help you slow down the pace of your presentation by focusing on your pronunciation. Box . in the previous chapter also contains a useful suggestion to this end. It is about practicing your presentation while lying down. The idea of this exercise is that you teach your body to breathe in a relaxed manner while giving your presentation. If you do that exercise, it increases the chances that your body automatically goes into the relaxed breathing mode while you are giving your presentation.

Posture and Movement Presenting in front of an audience enhances feelings of self-consciousness. You are suddenly eerily aware of yourself standing there – and of the audience looking at you. Body parts that moved just fine a minute ago may feel awkward now. Although you never thought about what to do with your hands before, you may suddenly find yourself wondering where to put them (in your pockets, behind your back, or clasped in front of you?). Your posture is important as it shows how you feel (confident? nervous?). Posture also contributes to the level of authority that the audience assigns to you. Open postures, for example, in which you keep your head up and your legs slightly spread, are seen as more powerful than closed postures in which your arms are crossed and your shoulders are hunched. Being aware of the impression that you create by your posture can help to improve the quality of your presentation. A good, basic posture to assume during your presentation involves standing on two feet with your weight equally distributed across both legs, feet flat on the ground positioned right below your hips, knees very slightly bent, shoulders low and relaxed, and head and back straight. Your arms can be bent at the elbows such that your hands meet at about approximately the height of your belly button. This posture implies confidence


Delivering Your Presentation

and simultaneously facilitates breathing. Alternatively, you could let your arms hang beside your body. When you put your feet wider, it will give you more status, but too wide will make you look ridiculous – like a pretend captain on a ship. If you lean most of your weight on one leg, you assume a bent, slightly slouched position. The audience could interpret this as a sign of insecurity or of indifference. Keep both feet firmly on the ground and your spine straight. Walking Around Whereas we encouraged you to pick your spot in Chapter  (i.e., your base, the spot from which to deliver your presentation), this does not mean that you need to stay glued to that spot for the entire duration of the presentation. Some movement during your presentation can be good, as long as you do not overdo it. Movement attracts attention. People pay more attention to you if you are moving than if you are standing still as a rock. But make sure your movement has a purpose. Presentation anxiety often triggers repetitive movement that distracts from your presentation (see Box .).

Box . Repetitive behaviours and fidgeting If you have attended a number of presentations, you may also have seen some of the following behaviours displayed by presenters: rocking back and forth, pacing, or fidgeting with hair, clothing, or jewellery. These behaviours serve no function in the presentation, and can be quite distracting. So why do presenters do them? These behaviours are typically self-soothing behaviours, and occur unconsciously in response to stress. Repetitive behaviours such as rocking or pacing are reminiscent of the behaviour of large animals locked up in a small cage – they often pace back and forth along the same path for hours on end. Repetitive behaviours tend to calm us down. Fidgeting (with hair, clothing, jewellery, a pen, a water bottle . . . you name it) likewise occurs because we feel stress. In this case, we are looking for something to occupy our hands – something that can help distract from the stress of the presentation setting. If you recognise such repetitive behaviours within yourself, you may benefit from tips on how to cope with stress that are provided in Chapter . Both repetitive behaviours and fidgeting are distractors and should be kept down to a minimum. Because these behaviours often occur unconsciously, the only way of becoming aware of them is through practise – first in private in front of a camera, then in front of a real audience. Awareness of your own behaviours is an important first step towards controlling them.

Verbal and Non-verbal Behaviour


A simple trick is to change positions when your presentation moves to a different section. For example, in a research presentation, you could deliver your introduction from your base spot, then move to another spot when explaining the method and results, and go back to your base spot for the conclusion. This could have several advantages. First, your physical movement underlines the distinction between the different sections of your presentation. Second, you can pick a position that is best suited for what you need to do. For example, during your introduction, you may wish to have a secret peek at your notes every now and then, so standing in the vicinity of your notes can be useful. In this phase, the audience’s attention is typically focused on you, and any slides you may use serve as background information only. When explaining your methods and results, however, the focus of the presentation shifts somewhat to your slides. Whether your findings are presented in the form of graphs, quotes, conclusions, or pictures, they are often best communicated through projection on the big screen. By taking a position nearer to the screen, you support the increased importance of the information presented there. It also helps your audience to switch their attention between you and the screen – their eyes only need to cross a short distance instead of half the room. Whereas a spot close to the screen is recommended when discussing your findings, this is not a good spot if you intend to use a pointer. If you wish to use a pointer to highlight particular findings, you should pick a spot from which you can point at the screen and still keep a good view on the audience (see Box . in Chapter  for more information about the use of a pointer). Standing too close to the screen may force you to turn your back to the audience, and that is an absolute no-no in presentation land. When moving around, there are two things you should avoid doing. One is to stand or walk in the line of the projector (if you are using one). Walking in the line of the projector and, as such, making shadows on the presentation screen does not appear very professional. When scouting your presentation venue before your presentation, figure out which areas are safe to stand in or walk through in this regard, and which are not. Second, please do not turn your back to the audience. This seems so obvious (and simple), and yet, presenters do it all the time. Presenters typically turn their back to the audience when they are reading from their slides (which they shouldn’t be doing in the first place), when they are using a pointer to highlight a specific element on their slides (also not recommended), or simply because they are insecure and feel better when they do not have to face the audience. However, turning your back to the audience is a sure way of losing contact with the audience, so try to minimise this as much as


Delivering Your Presentation

possible. Ensuring that you face the audience at all times is something to pay attention to when practising your presentation with the use of a projector and a pointer. Hand and Arm Gestures When making an important statement, you can emphasise this through a hand gesture. But too much gesturing, or the wrong type of gesturing, can have an adverse effect on your presentation. So what criteria should you keep in mind? Our advice is: use gestures that help you get your core message across, and avoid those that distract from your message. Deciding which gestures are helpful and which are not is often an empirical question, and it may be worthwhile asking the audience of your practice presentation for feedback. Some people naturally make a lot of movement, and some do not, and both can be effective presenters. Here are some practical tips if you wish to improve your hand and arm gestures, but keep in mind that they are mere suggestions – it is best to stay close to your natural self and avoid gestures that feel very unnatural to you. ()


() ()

In general, it is best if the hand goes no higher than your shoulder. Wild gestures in which the hand is at the level of your head, or even higher, can be seen as overly dramatic (but sometimes that may be just the effect you aimed for). Gestures often appear less extreme if they involve one arm instead of both. If you have a tendency to use too much gesturing (something one of the authors of this book continues to suffer from), it could help if you remind yourself to use only one arm for gesturing. The other arm can remain in a relaxed base position. Open-handed gestures build more trust and rapport with the audience than closed-handed gestures (e.g., a fist). Avoid standing with your hands on your hips as if you were Superman or Wonder Woman. It can be seen as a sign of arrogance. Also avoid standing with your hands in your pockets, which can be interpreted as nonchalance.

Eye Contact You may have noticed that, when you are insecure about your presentation skills or less convinced about your message, you tend to avoid eye contact

Verbal and Non-verbal Behaviour


with the person or persons you are addressing – whether this is in an informal conversation or in a formal oral presentation. It should come as no surprise that eye contact with your audience is very important. But why? There are in fact several very good reasons for making eye contact with your audience. First, and foremost, eye contact is the most important way to connect to your audience, which is crucial if you wish to get your message across. When you look people in the eye, they are more likely to look back and concentrate on what you say. They may also feel more invited to engage with you and participate when necessary. Good eye contact with your audience is therefore an important means of keeping them focused and involved. Second, making eye contact shows that you have confidence in your message. If you are able to look your audience in their eyes while addressing them, you appear more sure of yourself than if you look away from your audience. Your own confidence in your message is perhaps the most persuasive tool a presenter can have. Third, eye contact shows respect for your audience. Making eye contact is a way of acknowledging your audience and the attention that they are paying to your words. And fourth, eye contact is a way of obtaining realtime feedback on your presentation. Are people still listening or do they appear distracted? Are their faces comprehending or puzzled? Do they appear interested? Be careful not to over-interpret the audience’s nonverbal behaviour though. Other people may seem uninterested when in fact they are merely pondering your work. Whereas most of us would not deny the importance of eye contact, we do often struggle to get it right. How do you make good eye contact with a room full of people? Should you talk to one specific person in the middle of the room? How long should you maintain eye contact? We recommend that you try to distribute your eye contact over the audience rather than focusing on one specific individual (or one abstract point in the back of the room). Good eye contact is often said to last between three to five seconds. Too short and you appear like a nervous rabbit, too long and you may appear threatening. Of course, the larger the audience, the more difficult it is to achieve eye contact with everyone. However, that should not be a problem. You do not need to look every single person in the eye, but try to give each part of the room or audience equal attention. Too often, presenters focus only on one side of the room, or on one half of the audience, which may result in the other half feeling left out. And if they feel that you are not paying attention to them, they might not want to pay attention to you either.


Delivering Your Presentation

If making good eye contact with the audience is an issue for you, you might ask a friend or colleague to sit in the middle of the room and smile or nod every time you look at them. You may not even consciously notice it, but it is very reassuring to see a friendly, agreeing face in the audience. Try it out yourself – whenever you are listening to a presentation, nod or smile each time you meet the eyes of the presenter. After a while, the presenter will more and more often look at you, and isn’t it nice to know that you can boost someone’s confidence with something as simple as a smile?

 

How to Deal with Stress

“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two? Does that seem right? To the average person that means that if they have to go to a funeral, they’d be better off in the casket than giving the eulogy.” Jerry Seinfeld, 

Whereas this quote by the comedian Jerry Seinfeld may not be entirely accurate (people don’t actually fear public speaking more than death – it is just something that more easily springs to mind when asked to name sources of stress; Brewer, ), it does highlight one of the main characteristics of public speaking: many people are not particularly fond of it, and some are even scared of it. So if you ever felt anxious over delivering an oral presentation, it just means that you are a normal human being. You should probably get worried if you’re not a bit nervous. The good news is: a modicum of stress is nothing to worry about. It is normal, it is healthy, and it might even be good for your presentation. In fact, research has shown that a moderate amount of stress is better for most types of performance than little to no stress (Tomaka et al., ). Too much stress, however, can be crippling and hinder your presentation. We will therefore provide some tips and tricks in this chapter to help you manage your stress levels so that they are actually constructive, rather than destructive, for your oral performance.

What Is Stress? Feelings of stress can arise when people experience a threat about some performance that is important to them. If delivering an oral presentation about your academic work is important to you, you are already halfway in meeting this definition of stress. However, the other half is crucial, and determines whether you will feel primarily negative emotions such as fear, or positive emotions and a ‘go get ’m’ attitude. We are referring to 


Delivering Your Presentation

your appraisal of your presentation as a threat, or as a challenge (Tomaka et al., ). A threat appraisal is associated with the belief that you are unable to cope with the task before you. As an academic, you tend to be gifted with a decent dose of intelligence and this book provides you with some useful information on how to deliver a presentation, so if you still feel you are unable to come up to scratch, you should ask yourself why that is. Are you unsure about your presentation skills? Or are you unsure about the content of your presentation, or that you may not be able to answer all of the audience’s questions? Oftentimes, these insecurities have no foundation in reality, and being aware of that will go a long way to reducing your stress levels. Keep in mind that you actually are the expert when it comes to your own work – even if it is just a single and relatively simple experiment or theoretical idea. You spent all those days, weeks, months, sometimes even years working on it, so what makes you think you don’t know what you’re talking about? True, there may be things out there that you missed, there often are. But no one expects you to be perfect! The audience simply wants to hear about your work and talk about it during discussion time. The bottom line here is that, once you feel able to cope with the task ahead of you, you no longer appraise it as a threat but instead as a challenge. Indeed, this is your opportunity to tell others about the fascinating work that you did and the ideas you have. This is your chance to show them how important this topic is, not to mention interesting. And this is your moment to shine – to show them who you are and what you’re worth!

Coping with Stress When you are experiencing feelings of stress about your upcoming oral presentation, there are roughly two ways in which you can deal with that. One is called emotion-focused coping, and the other is called problemfocused coping (Lazarus & Folkman, ). Emotion-focused coping deals solely with the negative and stressful emotions you experience when thinking about your upcoming presentation. You can deal with these emotions in various ways, from seeking distraction to breathing and relaxation techniques. So if thinking about your rapidly approaching presentation date causes your heart rate to go through the roof, you could distract yourself with other things, ranging from other work-related tasks to checking your social media or cleaning your apartment. Even spending an infinite amount of time selecting the right layout for your presentation

How to Deal with Stress


slides instead of working on the content of your talk is a form of procrastination designed to avoid thinking about the presentation itself – and thus to avoid the stressful feelings associated with it. Emotion-focused coping is sometimes thought of as an ‘ostrich technique’, in the sense that it involves putting your head in the sand when it comes to dealing with the actual problem. Needless to say, when emotionfocused coping is at the expense of preparing your presentation and increasing your feelings of self-confidence, it is not constructive. However, emotion-focused coping can be constructive if it helps to reduce excessive feelings of stress at times when further preparation is no longer possible or necessary. Distracting yourself during those last hours before a presentation or conducting a few constructive breathing exercises may help to reduce your stress levels from extreme to moderate, which is just what you need for an optimal performance. Problem-focused coping is, as the term itself suggests, focused on tackling the problem at hand – in this case, preparing and ultimately delivering your presentation. Silvia () argued that you do not need to feel inspiration to write a scientific article, and that you do not need to be ‘in the mood’ in order to write. The same applies for preparing an oral presentation. Preparing a presentation is just a task that needs to be done, and the most important part for you is to sit down in front of your computer and start working. It really is that simple. If thinking about your upcoming presentation is stressful to you, you should prepare yourself to the extent that you become confident in your ability to deliver a good performance. You can do so by following a few simple tips. Scheduling The first tip is very simple: make a schedule and stick to it. Make a reasonable estimate of the amount of time you need to prepare your presentation, and plan your schedule accordingly. When you are a novice in the field of presenting, add one-third of the time you estimated as reasonable. Allow for plenty of time for rehearsal at the end, as this is important (see Chapter ). Start with the content and the most important elements to deliver your core message, and once you are satisfied with these, you can move your attention to additional elements, refining your text and slides, and other issues such as finetuning your layout. That way, if you find yourself short of time to prepare your presentation, at least the most important elements are done. It may not look as good as you wished, but the core message can be delivered, and that is the most important thing.


Delivering Your Presentation

Making a schedule can be advantageous for two reasons. First, the nice thing of having pre-scheduled hours to work on your presentation is that you do not need to worry about your talk outside of those hours. Nonscheduled hours can be used guilt-free for anything else, from work to relaxation. The other advantage of a schedule is that you are cutting the vast and abstract task of ‘preparing an oral presentation’ up into smaller, more manageable parts. Instead of starting the day with ‘today I will make a presentation’ – which can be a daunting goal even to the most seasoned of presenters – you can start your day with ‘today I will make an overview of the method of my research’ or ‘today I will decide on the core message of my presentation’. Team Up Oftentimes, if your presentation is delivered at a conference, you may know other presenters at that same conference. It could help to team up and share your goals and progress with these other presenters. It is infinitely harder to procrastinate if you have a buddy with the same goals and who is checking on your progress. Make a pact – for example, agree that you will both hold off on the tempting drinks at the end of the day, and instead first practice your presentations separately in your hotel rooms for an hour before joining the others for drinks and dinner. You can motivate each other, support each other during difficult parts in the preparation phase, and help each other stick to your schedules. Equally important, you can use each other as a practice audience. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is If you’re still struggling to stick to your (self-appointed) deadlines, we have a tip based on research on how to stick to commitments (Ashraf, Karlan, & Yin, ). First, give $ to a trustworthy friend (or any other amount that is painful to lose). Second, pick a charity that you do not support. Third, promise your friend to start preparing your presentation, and tell him or her exactly when you will start and when you will finish. If you fail your deadline, your friend will donate your money to your disliked charity fund. Ouch! There are websites that use similar principles; you make a commitment and put in money which will be transferred to a charity or organisation of your choice, for example, Promise or Pay or (founded by Yale academics).

How to Deal with Stress


Be Nice to Yourself Last but not least: if you want to handle stress productively, it is important to be nice to yourself. This idea may seem counter-intuitive, as you may think that being nice to yourself would lead to not dealing with the presentation altogether. However, being nice to yourself can increase your motivation to do well on a task, and it can increase the amount of time that you work on improving your performance (Neff, ). The official term for ‘being nice to yourself’ is self-compassion, and it involves offering kindness and understanding towards yourself and to refrain from judging your own (perceived) inadequacies and failures. Sometimes, we are very strict on ourselves, telling ourselves that we are stupid and lazy for not doing everything that we set out to do, or as well as we wanted to do it. It is much better to accept that giving a presentation can be stressful and to allow yourself to be nervous. Tell yourself it is only human to feel stressed, that other presenters feel it too, that this presentation will pass, and that you will survive (and prosper!) no matter what happens.

Techniques for Managing Stressful Emotions The best way to handle presentation stress is through thorough preparation and practise – we cannot emphasise this enough. However, once you have done all that you can on this front and you are still feeling overly edgy, here are several other techniques for coping with the physical manifestations of stress. In contrast to preparation and practice (which are problem-focused techniques), the techniques we offer here are purely emotion-focused. They help you reduce the physical symptoms of stress without tackling the cause of these symptoms (such as the fact that you have to deliver a presentation for which you are ill-prepared). We therefore only recommend the techniques offered in the following as a supplement to preparation and practice – not as their alternative. Physical manifestations of stress (that is, feeling stressed, feeling on edge) can be managed in both physical and cognitive ways. Physically, we can use our body to master our mind; we can do exercises that ‘fool’ our body and subsequently our mind that we are calm. For example, breathing calmly sends a signal to our brain that we are calm, and as a result, we feel calmer. When we use a cognitive way to manage stress, we use our brain to master our body by convincing ourselves that we do not need to stress, and as a result we feel calmer. In the following, we present several physical


Delivering Your Presentation

exercises and cognitive techniques. Some are more suitable for last-minute stress (belly-breathing or thinking of someone who loves you unconditionally), others can be used in the preparation phase (practise while lying flat on your back, or rational emotive behaviour exercises; see later). Which exercise of technique works best for you is very much a personal matter. We therefore suggest that you try out several of the exercises and techniques, and discover what works best for you. Physical Exercise : Reduce Stress through Belly-Breathing The goal of this exercise is to relax your mind through relaxed breathing. Sit on a chair with your back against the backrest and breathe. Most people will use belly-breathing when they sit in this position. It means that you can see your belly going in and out while you are breathing, and that your chest remains still. If you want to experience belly-breathing or want to check whether you are indeed belly-breathing, you can exhale on an ffffsound. You will see your belly going in, and that is exactly what we are looking for here. Just exhale on an ffff-sound – inhaling does not need focus, that happens automatically. Belly-breathing is a non-stressed way of breathing. Chest-breathing is when your chest is clearly expanding and contracting, for example when you are panting. When we are stressed, we tend to use chest-breathing more than bellybreathing. However, you can fool your body – and subsequently your mind – into thinking it is not stressed by deliberately using belly-breathing. Belly-breathing will send a signal to your body and mind that you are calm and relaxed, and as a consequence, you may feel more calm and relaxed. So, when you notice that you are stressed, for example, right before a presentation, we suggest that you find a chair to sit on, place your feet flat on the ground and your butt tight on the seat, and start belly-breathing in a calm tempo. Focus on exhaling slowly (you might try a very soft ffff-sound). Physical Exercise : Belly-Breathing on the Ground If you like the effect belly-breathing has on your body, you may wish to continue to this second exercise which aims to condition your body to use belly-breathing during the presentation. Practise your presentation while lying flat on the floor or on a bed (for example, at home or in the privacy of your hotel room). When you are lying flat on your back, your body automatically uses belly-breathing because chest-breathing is difficult in this position. Practising your presentation while lying down trains your

How to Deal with Stress


body to use belly-breathing while delivering your presentation, and you increase the likelihood that your body automatically snaps into the bellybreathing mode when it is your time to shine. Physical Exercise : Slap Yourself! The goal of this third exercise is to get you out of your head (and the frantic thoughts about presenting circling in there) and to be alert and ‘in the moment’. This exercise may sound a little unorthodox to an academic’s ears, but it is a good stress-reliever, and actors often use it before going on stage. It is very useful when you notice that you have unproductive stressful thoughts such as ‘I cannot do this’, or ‘They will not like it.’ You may want to do this in private though – not everyone will understand the purpose of your self-slapping behaviour. Here’s what to do. Stand firmly on both feet and stretch your arms forwards. Now slap your left arm with your right hand. Slap it gently (no need to bruise yourself!) from the hand to the shoulder and back, two or three times. Make sure you slap your entire arm (above and under, inner and outer side). Repeat for the right arm. Use both hands to gently slap your neck, chest, back (where you can reach it), butt, legs, feet, and back up again. Finally, you can gently tap your face and head. After this exercise, you are usually more aware of your body, your head is clearer, and you feel alert without negative stress. Physical Exercise : Being Pushed The purpose of this fourth physical exercise is also to get you out of your head and into a grounded but flexible state of mind. It is a rather unconventional exercise that originates from the world of martial arts. This exercise helps people to physically stand firm on the (presentation) stage, which contributes to a more confident presence. It requires a confederate though, so it may not work in all situations. Place both feet firmly on the ground, right below your hips. Ask someone you trust to push you gently in any direction. Rather than straightening and strengthening your body to resist the force of the push, you give in to the push, and you move along with the force of the push while keeping your feet on the same spot on the ground. Try not to step away, but to absorb the push by giving into it. The trick here is to move along with the push, duck, bend your knees, and then rise up again. If you give in to the push as much as possible, it is


Delivering Your Presentation

impossible for the pusher to really push as he or she will find there is no resistance and nothing to push against. If you manage to give in to the pushes by making your body flexible – bending and twisting to absorb the push while remaining your feet on the same spot – you will notice that you enter a state of mind that keeps you literally ‘on the ground’. This mindset can help you cope with questions or comments from the audience after your presentation. Those of you who have practised a form of martial arts will recognise that these techniques are often not about resistance against force, but about giving in and using the force of the opponent to bring the opponent out of balance. Cognitive Exercise : Zoom Out The aim of this first cognitive exercise is to help you put your oral presentation into the right perspective. When you feel overwhelmed by the idea that you will have to deliver a presentation, try the following. First, picture yourself delivering the presentation. Try to visualise it as concretely as possible: the room, the audience, your vantage point, your slides. Then imagine you are (invisibly) floating above the presentation room. You see yourself and the audience, but smaller than before. Take a look at how you are moving, how the audience is seated, and notice the small details such as a water cooler at the back of the room. Now you fly higher, out in the sky and above the presentation venue. Take a look at the surroundings: the parking lots perhaps, some trees, people walking to and from the building. Fly higher again, and fly over the city. Maybe there are some highlights that you see, or main roads, rivers, or lakes, or maybe it is rush hour and the streets are jammed with cars. Again you fly higher, above the state or country. You can see the borders, see the shape of the country, a sea or ocean, rivers, mountains, beaches, or forests. Your final lap is into space – take an imaginary look at the earth in all its beauty. Now take a moment to realise how small your presentation is in the larger scheme of life. Stressful as it may be to you, it is not of earth-shattering importance, and if something goes wrong, well, that’s not the end of the world by any means. Cognitive Exercise : Think about Someone Who Unconditionally Supports You The goal of this second cognitive exercise is to find reassurance and gain confidence in yourself. We all have had, and hopefully still have, people in

How to Deal with Stress


our life who supported us unconditionally. Whenever we did a good job, they cheered and complimented us. Whenever we made a mistake, they comforted us, and told us that making mistakes is a way to grow and to become better. Think of such a supporter in your own life. This can be a parent, a sibling, a partner, a grandparent, a favourite teacher, a friend, a mentor – anybody you can think of that supports you, whatever you do. Now imagine what this person would say to you when you tell them that you worry about this presentation. Put some real effort into imagining their words and message, not your own. Make their supporting words last at least one minute, the longer the better. Cognitive Exercise : Attacking Irrational Thoughts The next exercise can be used to attack counter-productive and irrational stress-enhancing thoughts and is based upon rational emotive behaviour therapy developed by Albert Ellis (Ellis, ). Our thoughts have a major impact on our feelings of tension and stress. One could even argue that we cause our own presentation stress because we often have irrational and unproductive thoughts about presenting. For example, we may have thoughts like ‘Everyone will immediately see what an incompetent imposter I am’, ‘If I make a mistake during my presentation, I am a failure’, or ‘I won’t survive if my presentation goes wrong.’ If you experience thoughts like these, it is no wonder that you become nervous and stressed for a presentation. These thoughts, however, are strong exaggerations and overgeneralisations, and they are simply not true. If your presentation goes wrong or if someone criticises your work, that does not mean that you as a person are worthless or that everyone thinks you are incompetent. If you make a mistake during your presentation, it doesn’t mean that you are a failure. You will definitely survive (and prosper), even after a presentation has gone horribly wrong. So, how can you deal with this kind of irrational and unproductive thinking? First of all, think about which irrational thoughts make you nervous. Then question these thoughts: are they really true, always, and ever? Then replace the irrational thoughts with more rational thoughts. Take the following example thought: ‘People are bound to have a lot of criticism about my work. They will ask questions that I cannot answer. My incompetence will be revealed in front of the whole audience. This is horrible, it is a disaster.’ How can you tackle this? First, discuss the thought with yourself in your mind, for example:


Delivering Your Presentation

‘Why am I an incompetent researcher if I cannot answer all of the questions?’ ‘Of course, it is a pity if I cannot answer all of the questions perfectly, but is that really what is expected of me? Is this at all possible?’ ‘And if I cannot answer them all, does that mean that I am a bad researcher?’ ‘Can I accept that I do not perform perfectly, that not everyone thinks that I am competent? If they do not think I or my research is competent, how bad is that really? To what extent does that say something about me as a person?’ ‘Should every presentation always go well?’ Then start replacing irrational thoughts by more rational thoughts. Try not to deny the thoughts, but to look at them in a different way. For example: ‘Every researcher has their strong and weak points.’ ‘I am only human, I can have my weaker moments.’ ‘It is not a disaster if I do not convince everyone of my competence and skills.’ ‘I can make mistakes, that is necessary for learning.’ This exercise also works well if you do it together with someone else. Other people are often more likely to see the irrationality of your thoughts. Cognitive Technique : The Fifteen-Minutes-of-Worry Technique In addition to the aforementioned exercises, there are two cognitive techniques that you could try to manage feelings stress and its symptoms, such as excessive rumination. One technique that can be used to reduce excessive rumination is to dedicate a specific brief time period each day to rumination, usually fifteen minutes (Borkovec et al., ). During these fifteen minutes, you allow yourself to ruminate as much as you want about anything that is on your mind. During the rest of the day, when you feel your thoughts drifting to those rumination topics again, you tell yourself to stop and postpone the rumination to the assigned fifteenminutes-of-worry, during which the issue will get your full attention. If you notice yourself worrying too much about the presentation, you can introduce this fifteen-minutes-of-worry technique as a means of controlling your stress levels.

How to Deal with Stress


Cognitive Technique : Look on the Bright Side There may be parts in your presentation that you feel more confident about than other parts. If your insecurity about certain parts of your presentation is giving you excessive stress, you could try focusing your presentation specifically on those parts that you are confident about, thereby moving the spotlight away from those parts that you feel are a bit shaky. Depending on which elements you wish to highlight and which you prefer to lowlight, you could say things like: ‘My main goal for this presentation is to introduce a new theoretical perspective, and the data I will present serve to illustrate the process leading up to this perspective’ or ‘This study is a first attempt to demonstrate the underlying process of X, and although I am aware that more research is needed, I would like to highlight that the first results seem to support our reasoning.’ By thinking about the strong points of your research, you can steer your (and the audience’s) attention to the highlights of the study. That does not mean that you should hide or ignore potential drawbacks. When there are weaker points in your work, you can and should acknowledge these, but do not let them define your presentation.

Coping with a Total Blackout Participants of our presentation skills courses often mention the fear of having a ‘blackout’ during a presentation, a term used to refer to a mental state of being completely blocked and frozen, of not knowing what to say or what comes next. Such a state of total blackout is extremely rare, luckily. We have met very few people that actually experienced a blackout. But the fear of a blackout can be very real, and equally crippling. In fact, the fear of a blackout can cause you to enter a downward spiral, in which initial feelings of stress turn into panic because you fear a blackout is approaching, and these feelings of panic could ultimately cause you to freeze and block – eventually even triggering the dreaded blackout. What can you do when you experience a situation that is, or closely resembles, a blackout? First, breathe out, several times (and preferably on an ffff-sound to make sure you use belly-breathing). Some presentation blackouts may be due to a lack of exhaling and too much inhaling (see ‘Physical Exercise : Reduce Stress through Belly-Breathing’ section of this chapter), which puts the body in a state that approaches hyperventilation. By focusing on breathing out, you can put your system back in balance.


Delivering Your Presentation

Second, check your presentation notes. This is where detailed notes or a full transcript come in handy. Even in the case of a serious mental meltdown, you should still be able to read the lines in your transcript. Doing so will return a sense of control over your presentation, which can reverse the cycle of panic you entered. True, reading your lines from your notes is not the state of natural presentation flair you had hoped to accomplish, but it sure beats not knowing what to say and being frozen on the spot. And as you continue reading, your mind will start working again and you will slowly return to a state in which you are able to formulate your own sentences. Third, hold on to your core message. Say the core message out loud to get yourself and the audience back on track, and then connect it to the part of your presentation where you got stuck. For example ‘Economic development is inextricably linked to environmental sustainability’ (core message), and ‘I was telling you how the definition of economic development has changed over time.’ By saying this out loud, you focus yourself on what you were going to say, and this will often help you back on track. Keep in mind that many of us have had moments during a presentation where we lost our train of thought, followed by a state of mild (to severe) panic. It happens to the best of us, and it is only human. Your audience will know this too, and many will recognise it from personal experience and sympathise with you. And if you are able to regain your composure after such a moment and continue your presentation, you are sure to win their respect!

 

Adapting Your Presentation

Knowing how to prepare and deliver your oral presentation is important, but knowing how to adapt your presentation to a specific setting and to a specific audience is what differentiates average presenters from the really great ones. A conference presentation is different from a grant application interview, and a poster presentation is different from a blitz presentation. In Chapter , we discuss the most common formats of oral presentations and provide specific tips to make sure that your presentation is well adapted to a specific format. Adapting your presentation to the expected audience is as important as making sure it fits a specific format. Remember: delivering an oral presentation is all about the audience. If your audience is unable to comprehend your message, and if you are unable to leave any sort of lasting impression, then what is the point of presenting your work? You have to know your audience, their likes and dislikes, their goals and mindsets, their norms and values, and adapt your presentation accordingly. To this end, Chapter  discusses various relevant cultural differences that are important to take into account when presenting in an international context. Presentation techniques and habits that are perfectly acceptable in one culture may be considered arrogant or offensive in another culture – and it is good to be aware of that. In Chapter , we compare audiences on a number of other dimensions, such as small versus large audiences, national versus international audiences, and scientific versus lay audiences. Needless to say, it matters whether you are delivering an oral presentation to a small, local, scientific audience or to a large international audience of lay people. Knowing how to adapt your presentation to your audience is the key to delivering a successful presentation.


 

Various Presentation Formats

A typical conference presentation in the field of social sciences and humanities spans about fifteen minutes, followed by five to ten minutes of discussion. Parts I and II of this book were written with this typical format in mind. However, not all presentations fit this format. There are presentation types that are much shorter, or substantially longer. Presentation types can also vary in how formal or informal they are, and in whether the use of a projector is an option, or a poster or prop (= object) should be used instead. In this chapter, we will discuss various alternative presentation formats. Note that presentation formats are sensitive to trends: what is a common presentation format now may not be common ten years from now. However, by discussing the various presentation formats that are currently in fashion, we hope to provide you with some general insights that are also applicable to future formats. In Chapter , we presented a structure in which a presentation is centred around the core message with layers of extra information to support the core message. This structure helps you to shorten or lengthen a presentation. Shortening means taking off layers, leaving only the core message and some extra information to support it. Lengthening means adding layers around the core message, or adding a second or even third core message. Deciding which layers to add or to leave out is an important part of preparing each presentation, and the less time you have, the more you need to make sure that the layers contain the most relevant information that your audience needs. We start this chapter with Blitz presentations, which are shorter-than-average presentations, followed by extended or longer-than-average presentations, and we end with specific advice on grant presentations and poster presentations.



Adapting Your Presentation

Blitz Presentations Blitz presentation is a general name for short presentations that typically last no longer than seven minutes. Another common name for such short presentations is rapid-fire presentation. There are various forms of such presentation formats, depending on whether and how many slides you can use, or if you use a prop. In this section, we differentiate between the elevator pitch (– seconds), the FameLab format ( minutes), and the Pecha Kucha format ( minutes and  seconds). Elevator Pitch The elevator pitch derives its name from the fact that it is so short that you can deliver it within the time that is needed to take a ride on an elevator (lift). It is based on the idea that you have something to share (e.g., a plan, a result) with someone so important and busy that the only time they can spare for you is the time that they spend in the lift going from one floor to another. During those ten to thirty seconds, you have their full and undivided attention. This means that you need to be ready to pitch your idea in such a manner that the core message is delivered in a few seconds, and the recipient is also aware of its importance. Not an easy feat! In science, we have taken the notion of an elevator pitch and adapted it to a somewhat more useable (or at least, elongated) format. There is no single time limit that applies to all of these presentations, but they tend to vary between twenty seconds and (in extreme cases) five minutes. Five minutes does give you a lot more time than twenty seconds to deliver your message, but it still needs to be short, to-the-point, and easy to understand. Moreover, it needs to convey a sense of importance and should be persuasive. Even in the extended five minutes time frame, this is quite a challenge. The core message is the main building block of an elevator pitch. It is not, however, the only element that needs to be included. You need to provide a minimum of information about yourself (e.g., explain who you are, what your affiliation is, with whom you collaborate) so that the audience or target person has an idea who they are dealing with. An elevator pitch also needs to be persuasive. Because of its short nature, it often functions as a ‘teaser’, informing the audience that your work is worth having a closer look at. They may then approach you later to discuss your work in more detail. In fact, conferences sometimes use pitch presentations as teasers for poster presentations. Based on a short pitch, the

Various Presentation Formats


audience can decide which poster to visit in a subsequent poster session, and discuss the author’s work in more detail. The main challenge for you as a presenter is therefore to convince the audience that your work is important and worthwhile, and to entice them to seek you out at a later point. In sum, the main building blocks of your elevator pitch are () your core message, () your name and affiliation, followed by () a compelling reason why the audience should be interested in your work. FameLab FameLab presentations are three-minute presentations about a scientific topic to a lay audience. Importantly, you cannot use slides, but you are expected to use a prop – any (small) object that can help you illustrate your message. For example, one of the authors once witnessed a presenter holding a teabag, explaining how sugar can help to extract certain substances out of tea, and another presenter holding a plastic tube explaining how small plastic tubes placed under someone’s skin can help grow new arteries. FameLab is a relatively young format, introduced during the Cheltenham Science Festival in . Since then, it has grown in popularity and, at the time of writing this book, accumulates in a yearly international FameLab competition in which early-career scientists from over thirty countries worldwide compete. Unlike conference presentations, the goal of a FameLab presentation is to communicate scientific concepts and knowledge in a charismatic way to a broad lay audience. The focus of FameLab is therefore more on the presentation itself, rather than a potential discussion afterwards. Its traditional focus is on topics from the physical and life sciences such as astronomy, chemistry, physics, biology, and medicine. It hasn’t found its way to the social sciences yet, but that may just be a matter of time. As in other presentations, a FameLab presentation needs a core message. And since this type of presentation needs to be understandable to a general lay audience, you need to take even greater care to construct your core message in normal, every-day language. You have more freedom in this type of presentation about when you introduce your core message. You can do this in the beginning, as with regular presentations, but some presenters also choose to give a more theatrical introduction to their topic in the form of an anecdote or example, and deliver the core message at the end. Since this type of presentation is very short, you can only introduce your work superficially, which means that you need to pay special attention to differentiating between the essential elements of your message and


Adapting Your Presentation

the less essential ones. You will also need to focus on how you can explain your work in easy-to-understand language that a lay audience can comprehend. To put it simply: if a family member or neighbour doesn’t understand the presentation, then neither will your audience. Pecha Kucha Pecha Kucha is another relatively new presentation format that was invented in  by Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham of Tokyo’s Klein Dytham Architecture. It is a simple format in which you show twenty images, for twenty seconds each. Klein and Dytham’s idea was to reduce the amount of time each presenter stopped and talked about an individual image or slide, hence the twenty-second limit for each slide. A Pecha Kucha presentation lasts six minutes and forty seconds total – making it only marginally longer than a pitch presentation. This type of presentation is particularly popular in settings in which academics present their work to a broader audience that includes nonscientists, such as journalists, practitioners, students from other disciplines, and lay people with diverse backgrounds. Pecha Kucha is a challenging format that should not be underestimated. In our opinion, it is best reserved for presenters with some measure of experience. The challenge lies in the fact that the pace of your presentation should be perfectly synchronised with your slides. In true Pecha Kucha fashion, your slides automatically transition to the next slide after twenty seconds. If your oral presentation isn’t perfectly synchronised, you end up wrapping up the previous slide’s topic while the next slide is already projected (making you rush), or you are forced to take a break when speaking because the relevant slide hasn’t yet appeared on the screen. There is no room for improvisation in this format. Even the most seasoned presenters need to practise their talk several times, often with the use of a written script, in order to deliver a fluent presentation. Pecha Kucha is well-suited to deliver a general message or idea, but not to present complicated research with mixed findings. As with FameLab presentations, the focus of Pecha Kucha presentations is on the presentations themselves, not on the discussion afterwards. In fact, many of these presentations do not even have a follow-up discussion. So a Pecha Kucha presentation delivers a relatively straightforward, simple, and clear message that can stand on its own. Given the fact that Pecha Kucha presentations are often delivered to a mixed or lay audience, you need to pay special attention that your presentation does not contain jargon or overly

Various Presentation Formats


complicated concepts (see Chapter ). Make use of metaphors and examples to explain difficult concepts, and cut rigorously in the various elements of your work until you are left with a simple and straightforward presentation. Your slides, like your speech, need to be simple and straightforward. Keep in mind that people need time to process information on slides, so the more information you put on your slides, the more people are forced to divide their attention between you and your slides. And, as we discussed in Chapter , the consequences of this division of attention are detrimental. The slides of a Pecha Kucha presentation are therefore best reserved for visual information only. They are not the same as the slides for a general presentation. You should think of your slides as background information that serves to emphasise or illustrate the content of your presentation without distracting from it by drawing too much attention. Textual information should be limited to a single word or sentence. The Pecha Kucha presentation centres around a fluent oral talk of six minutes and forty seconds, supported (but not dominated) by visual information in the background.

Extended Presentations As opposed to rapid-fire or pitch presentations — which tend to be very short — extended presentations are talks that have a longer-than-average time span. In this section, we will focus on four common types of extended presentations: brown-bag presentations, colloquia, keynote presentations, and TED talks. Brown Bags A brown-bag meeting – or lunch colloquium – is an informal meeting at work, typically organised around lunchtime. These meetings take place within the academic world, but also in organisations and government institutions outside academia. The term ‘brown bag’ refers to the brown lunch bags that participants take with them – the contents of which is consumed over the course of the presentation. So yes, brown-bag presenters are often facing grinding jaws when addressing their audience, but that should not stop them from delivering a fine presentation. Brown-bag presentations are characterised by their informal nature, by the fact that they are (usually) meetings among colleagues at the same workplace (as opposed to conferences), and by the fact that their focus is on generating discussion.


Adapting Your Presentation

Brown-bag presentations can be very valuable tools for scientists to gather input on their work. They provide (or should provide) a relatively safe environment to present your work, to discuss its limitations, and also to express your doubts, should you have any. In order to profit maximally from this type of presentation, it is best if you do not present the type of completed, tried, and tested work that you may normally present at conferences. After all, if your work is already completed, perhaps even already published, then what is the point of seeking additional feedback on it? The general idea of a brown-bag presentation is to generate discussion, and presentations that have some ‘open endings’ to them (e.g., presentations of new research ideas or unexpected research findings that need to be made sense of ) are far better suited to that end. Please note that an informal presentation is not the same as an unprepared presentation. The challenge here lies in considering beforehand what it is that you would like to receive input on. Do you have specific topics that you would like to discuss, or would you just like to hear the audience’s general opinion on your ideas or work? The presentation should be created such that it maximises the chances of generating the input you seek. One way to do this is by being clear, from the outset, what your goal is. For example, you could state at the beginning of your presentation that all feedback is welcome, but that you are particularly interested in the audience’s opinion on X and Y. You then need to make sure that you provide all the relevant information so that your audience can indeed form an opinion on X and Y. When wrapping up your presentation, you could once again invite the audience to deliberate on the topic of X and Y. Because of its informal nature, it is more customary than in conference presentations for the audience to ask questions during your talk. But remember that you are still in charge – if you do not like this, you can ask your audience to hold their questions until you have finished. However, these questions could provide interesting input to you and may generate a lively discussion, so we recommend that you keep an open mind on this matter. To ensure that these unexpected in-between discussions do not undermine your presentation, you could opt to deliver your most relevant information at the beginning of your presentation, so that you have the freedom to allow spontaneous discussion to take place without having to worry about the time you have left to deliver the remaining part of your presentation. An important tip for brown-bag presenters is to bring a pen and notebook with them to their presentation. Since the primary objective is to gather input, you should make notes of this input to ensure that you

Various Presentation Formats


remember it at a later stage. This may seem a bit overdone (we’re all intelligent people after all, surely you are able to remember some comments), but don’t forget that these comments are provided directly after (or sometimes in the middle of ) an oral presentation. The potential stress of delivering an oral presentation, even an informal one, may impair your ability to memorise and recall in detail all of the various comments and suggestions you may receive. Colloquia A colloquium is a generic term that, in a scientific context, refers to an academic seminar for which a different speaker is invited each time. Some colloquia are constructed as mini-conferences, including multiple speakers and spanning half a day or a full day. However, we will focus on the type of colloquium somewhat more common to the social sciences, which includes a single speaker. These colloquia are typically held on a regular basis (e.g., weekly or monthly) at an institution. Although visitors from outside the institution are welcome, the majority of the audience consists of members of that institution. Moreover, colloquia can be heavily attended by undergraduate students, who are often explicitly encouraged to attend (sometimes as part of their mandatory curriculum). Colloquium speakers are usually scientists who have a doctorate degree or are close to obtaining one, although some colloquia are also organised for undergraduate or PhD students. Most speakers are invited from other institutions, but some are from within the institution. The typical length of a colloquium is about one hour, giving you approximately forty to forty-five minutes for your presentation and fifteen to twenty minutes for discussion. Hence, the categorisation under ‘extended presentations’. Based on this information, two characteristics emerge that you should take into account when preparing a colloquium. First and foremost, you will probably be addressing a mixed audience consisting of junior and senior scientists with various backgrounds and expertise. A crowd like this is good for obtaining feedback from a different angle than the one you usually receive from your own collaborators. However, you cannot expect too much prior knowledge on the subject of your presentation, so you need to make sure that you start with the basics – something that you may not do when addressing a more specialised audience. You should avoid jargon, explain difficult concepts, and certainly do not expect your audience to be familiar with more specialised elements such as a specific research methodology.


Adapting Your Presentation

A second characteristic of a colloquium is its length: approximately forty-five minutes of (mostly) uninterrupted talk. The sheer length of this presentation is taxing for your audience. Most people have a hard time concentrating on one person for forty-five minutes, so you need to devote some prior planning to how you can keep your audience interested. It is often assumed that most adults can focus their attention on something that they find interesting for a maximum period of twenty minutes. Our advice on how to structure your long presentation roughly follows the logic of the attention span. As a rule of thumb, you can discuss one core message in twenty minutes, in line with the maximum attention span of an adult audience. For a forty- to forty-five-minute presentation, this leaves you with two core messages. More than two runs the risk of delivering a presentation that is too dense with information, delivering a cognitive overload to the audience. Less than two core messages, however, could mean that your presentation has too little information and could bore the audience. With multiple core messages, you have to make sure that there is a logical connection between the core messages so that you can give an overarching structure to your presentation. The core messages can have a common theme, they can follow a model (e.g., antecedents – process – consequences), or use any other logical sequence. For example, in a colloquium on poverty and social exclusion, you could devote one half of your presentation on how living in poverty contributes to social exclusion and isolation (core message: poverty leads to isolation) and the second half on work showing that active involvement in community centres can prevent isolation (core message: involvement in community centres prevents isolation). These are two separate core messages but within a clear overarching theme. We also recommend that you include several moments in your presentation in which you give the audience some respite – an opportunity to divert their attention. These moments of respite could include a question directed at the audience, a short video, or an extended illustration. A logical moment to include such a minibreak is when transitioning from one core message to another. Minibreaks like these will help your audience to refocus on the next part. Colloquia are usually more formal than brown-bag presentations, but may still maintain a degree of informality. Thus, there may be questions throughout your presentation (as usual, you decide whether to answer them immediately or at the end of your presentation) and it

Various Presentation Formats


may be a good opportunity to get feedback. But in contrast to brownbag lunches, colloquia are usually more ‘finished’ presentations in which you provide an overview of your work, rather than new ideas or raw findings. Keynote Addresses A keynote address is a special speech at a meeting or conference that captures the underlying theme of the event or that addresses an important new insight or idea. Keynote speakers are invited speakers, and delivering a keynote lecture is considered an honour. Keynote speakers are often selected to raise interest in the meeting, and they are typically people who are well known for their expertise in a particular field. It is uncommon for junior scientists or PhD students to deliver a keynote address, but not impossible. If you are invited to deliver a keynote address at a meeting (congratulations!), you are probably already an experienced presenter, so we will keep this section brief. Like a colloquium, a keynote lecture is typically an extended presentation, of approximately forty to forty-five minutes, followed by a (relatively brief ) period of discussion. Given the length of a keynote, you could easily address two core messages, or as an experienced speaker, perhaps even three. Keep in mind that your audience may still have a varied background, so make sure that you sufficiently explain important concepts and that your presentation is not too specialised. It should interest a broad audience and be able to capture their attention for an extended period, and that is quite a challenge, even to the most seasoned of speakers. As with colloquia, it is a good idea to include minibreaks in your presentation in the form of, for example, illustrations, examples, or videos that allow your audience to relax their focus for a moment. A keynote address tends to be quite formal with little room for interaction. Whereas regular conference presentations are often organised in multiple parallel tracks, a keynote address typically does not compete with other presentations and thus attracts a large audience. You will need to use a microphone and address a relatively large crowd. Make sure you maintain eye contact with the entire audience, not just the few people on the first row (see Chapter ). Your slides should be clearly readable, even from a distance. In the event that the room has multiple projection screens, the use of a pointer to highlight an element on a slide (not highly recommended to begin with) is out, so make sure that you are using animations


Adapting Your Presentation

or multiple slides if you intend to focus the audience’s attention on specific elements on a slide. Because of the size of the audience, we do not recommend entering into discussions throughout your presentation – they are unlikely to interest all attendees and could reduce their attention. During the discussion section at the end of your talk, you will need to pay special attention to ensure that all questions are heard and understood by the rest of the audience. Sometimes a separate microphone is available for the audience, but if not, make sure you repeat the question and address the entire audience when responding to the question. You may want to keep your answers to questions brief, particularly if the questions are very specific and may not interest everyone in the audience. TED Talks TED talks are presentations that are posted online on for free distribution. The first TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) conference was organised in  with an emphasis on technology and design, but the perspective has since broadened to include scientific, political, cultural, and academic topics. The aim of a TED talk is to share ideas with a broad audience, under the slogan ‘ideas worth spreading’. A TED talk lasts eighteen minutes or less (one core message!), and the use of slides or props is limited. A TED presenter stands in the spotlight on a dark stage and addresses a sizeable audience. The most popular TED talks are those that include elements that the audience can relate to – for example, because they involve a personal story, or because they address a common and relatable problem (e.g., in the field of leadership, motivation, happiness, or sex). TED presenters are invited because they are passionate about their work or ideas, as well as able to bring their message with a contagious degree of enthusiasm. Clearly, this is not for everyone! Typically, TED presenters from within the social sciences and humanities have a reputation of being both established and respected scholars as well as inspiring and motivational speakers. Anyone can nominate a person for a TED talk (via TED. com), but the TED committee ultimately decides whom to invite. Being invited is both an honour and a challenge. But TED presenters do not have to face the task of preparing an informative and inspirational, as well as surprising and entertaining, presentation alone. A TED speaker team works with presenters well in advance to ensure a presentation that will succeed on a TED stage. Because of this, we will not go into detail of the requirements of a good TED presentation.

Various Presentation Formats


Grant Applications Some funding schemes or funding organisations require their applicants to present their grant proposal to a committee. Although the same basic presentation principles apply here as they do for other (more formal) presentations, there are some unique features to grant application presentations that require special attention. Take Them Seriously First, you should take the presentation of your grant application very, very, seriously. Although we doubt that anyone applying for a grant would do otherwise, it doesn’t hurt to point this out. Grant application interviews are like job interviews in the sense that you are presenting much more than just your work or your ideas. You should look at it as if you are selling yourself and your ideas to potential buyers who will decide whether or not to spend their money on you, and the committee’s impression of you weighs heavily in their final decision. We do not need to point out that there is a lot riding on that decision. There is no room for error here – an ill-prepared presentation, sloppy slides, or too casual an outfit can all be tickets to rejection. The committee consists of people that decide whether you get funding for your proposal or not, so treat them with all due respect. Rehearse your presentation until you know it by heart, and practice it several times before a mock committee to obtain valuable feedback. If slide design is not your forte, have a specialist look at your slides or help you prepare them. Dress to impress. Go all the way, use all of the tools and help systems available to you. Your competitors will do the same, after all. Grant application interviews are often held at unfamiliar venues. You should prepare for all eventualities so that your presentation can go on as planned, even in the case of a total system failure. For example, if you were hoping to connect your own laptop, also prepare for a situation in which you cannot connect your laptop but have to use a given computer (with an outdated system that doesn’t run the programme that you were planning to use). Bring your own pointer to use for remote slide transitioning, just in case one isn’t provided for you. Providing handouts to the members of the committee may appear old-fashioned to some readers, but it is in fact not a bad idea because it allows you to leave something physical behind – something the committee members will remember you by after you have left the room.


Adapting Your Presentation Grant Application Committees Are Diverse

Second, keep in mind that the members of a grant application committee may have a different background than you. Oftentimes, they represent different scientific disciplines. One of the authors of this book once presented her grant proposal to a committee consisting of people from various disciplines within the social and behavioural sciences, but none were psychologists (as she was). Unfortunately, she was not informed of their backgrounds beforehand. As a result, she received some questions that put her somewhat out of balance or which she had difficulty interpreting, simply because different disciplines come with different norms and habits (luckily, she didn’t fail completely as she was awarded the grant in the end). People from different disciplines vary in their interests or in what they consider important in a good scientific project. They may also not be familiar with research methods that are very common in your field, or worse, be predisposed to reject these methods from the outset. When the committee members are known to you before the interview, do your due diligence and inform yourself of their various backgrounds and their possible likes and dislikes for topics or research methods. Even more than in other types of presentations, you should avoid jargon and falling into the trap of assuming that the audience has much prior knowledge, and you should prepare to defend every element of your proposal in a subsequent discussion, no matter how basic this may seem to you. This requires a different way of looking at your proposal – not from the perspective of a well-informed journal editor or reviewer of a specialised journal, but from the perspective of a relative outsider. Make It Easy to Say Yes Try to make it easy for the members of the committee to say ‘yes’ to you and your proposal. If the grant scheme has a special goal such as addressing a specific societal problem or a specific scientific innovation, make sure that you explain how your proposal meets this goal, and how you and your proposed work fit into the general mission or vision of the organisation awarding the grant. Grant schemes usually have a list of requirements that need to be fulfilled and it is important that you clarify in your presentation how you intend to cover all of these requirements.

Various Presentation Formats


Show Your Enthusiasm Show your enthusiasm for your proposal in your presentation. Enthusiasm is catchy and contagious. Enthusiasm is expressed both verbally and nonverbally, but perhaps even more important than saying that you believe in your proposal is the non-verbal expression of this belief. Eyes that sparkle, supportive hand motions, a voice that captivates . . . all of these express your enthusiasm more than words could possibly do. When preparing your presentation, as well as in those moments before your interview, take some time to focus on the positive aspects of your proposal. Remember why you are passionate about your work – why you believe in what you do, and why doing it makes you happy. Once you feel it, you will show it, and it is hard for a committee to stay detached when facing an applicant that speaks so passionately about their work.

Poster Presentations A poster presentation is a format in which the emphasis lies on showing a poster rather than on a verbal address. Poster presentations are common at medium to large sized conferences. A poster presentation is like having a stall at a market: a large room filled with posters and presenters standing next to their posters, and a browsing public. Like a market salesperson, as the owner of a poster, you need to vie for the public’s attention. The idea is that passers-by are so intrigued by your poster that they stop and enter a conversation with you, at which point you can pitch your work. But given the multitude of posters in the room, the odds that they pass you by are substantially higher than the odds of stopping. It’s a busy and competitive market. The Underdog of Presentations Poster presentations are sometimes viewed as the underdog of all presentation types: at the bottom of the pecking order, it is a place where you may end up if your submission for an oral presentation was rejected. Poster presenters are often early-career scientists such as masters students or PhD students, although this may vary depending on a specific field or conference. The low-status reputation of posters is only partially justified though. Conference organisers often face the daunting task of trying to accommodate as many submissions as possible in a limited schedule. The time


Adapting Your Presentation

schedule for oral presentations tends to be more limited than the physical space available for poster presentations. Presentations of work that is relatively simple and straightforward (regardless of quality) lend themselves better to the poster format, thus creating space in the schedule for more complicated presentations or presentations that engender a lively discussion. In other words, the decision to assign a submission to the poster category rather than to the presentation category is often based on other considerations than the quality of the submission. One reason for why poster presentations are sometimes viewed as underdogs has to do with how they are organised. Posters are presented on walls or boards, and the public is free to browse through the space. Conference visitors often use this as an opportunity to meet and greet their colleagues and catch up, paying the posters only scarce attention. Indeed, some conferences combine poster presentations with lunches around noon, or pre-dinner drinks at the end of the day, turning it into a social event. Careful readers of this book would know by now how difficult, yet important, it is to draw and hold the audience’s attention when delivering an oral presentation. Now imagine trying to capture and hold someone’s attention in a noisy room full of distractions! It should be clear that this is where the biggest challenge lies for poster presenters: drawing and holding people’s attention. Posters Are Conversation Starters The primary purpose of a poster is to draw people in and engage in a conversation with them. Posters are not miniature papers, they are conversation starters, pure and simple. Since you can’t very well clutch to unsuspecting passers-by and begin talking about your work out of the blue, the poster serves as the bait. A well-designed poster is the first step to catch someone’s attention. Put some effort into designing your poster in such a way that it is visually appealing to passers-by. Use contrasting colours and illustrations. Laminate your poster if possible to give it a more professional appearance. A single A or E-sized poster also appears more professional than a poster of similar size crafted out of several smaller pieces of paper. In a setting where many others just like you are competing for the attention of passers-by, these little things can make a big difference Posters are large sheets of paper that contain a visual presentation of your work. In Europe, the typical format is A (   cm) and in the USA, the standard format is E (   inches). The first and most important rule for creating a poster is that it should be kept simple. A poster is not a condensed paper but a visual representation of a key

Various Presentation Formats


element of your work. This means that the focus is on visual information, not textual information, and that it should have one core message only. That core message should be presented in such a way that it requires a minimum of cognitive effort to grasp. Remember that people are walking by your poster while looking in all directions and with a multitude of distractions. If the single cursory glance that they cast in the direction of your poster isn’t sufficient to get them interested, they may simply walk on. What to Put on a Poster Important elements to include on your poster are your name (and that of your co-authors), your affiliation, and your core message. Making the (abbreviated) core message the title of your poster is a way of ensuring that it draws attention. Use graphics to present key findings or illustrate (research) methods. You do not need to include all of the information that you would normally include in a paper. In fact, by tactically omitting bits of information, you are inviting the public to engage in an interaction with you, which is the primary purpose of a poster presentation. When answering questions, you can also squeeze in your well-rehearsed pitch talk (see later) to promote and further explain your work. Including too much information on a poster, mostly in the form of text, is the major pitfall of poster presentations. People can either read or talk to you, but they can’t do both. Posters that are dense with information result in conversation avoidance. Moreover, posters that are dense with textual information tend to have little curb appeal, as they clearly signal that it requires some serious effort to grasp their meaning. And since many conference participants have already been overloaded with information during the many oral presentation sessions, they vastly prefer it if their lives were made easy by simple and visually attractive posters that contain a limited amount of text. Remember that a poster is a conversation starter, not a conversation killer. As scientists, we do recognise your almost overwhelming need to be accurate and complete in the information that you provide. However, there are other ways of doing this, rather than putting all of the information on one big poster. One recommended way is to prepare handouts that contain more information than your poster. You can give these handouts to people you had a conversation with, to take with them as they move along. The handout could include a link to your website or that of your research group, or to a specific paper that provides even more detailed


Adapting Your Presentation

information on your work. The idea is that the handout serves as a calling card and provides additional background information at the same time. To this end, make sure that the handout is no more than a single page that contains your name, affiliation, and contact details, as well as a clear but brief summary of your work. Put in the same amount of attention drafting and designing your handout as you do in your poster. Poster Pitch Once you have captured a person’s attention with a well-designed poster with an attractive or interesting message, a catchy and well-prepared pitch talk can subsequently provide the start to a real conversation about your work. You do not need to hijack innocent people passing by, but an open and friendly posture will make it easier for them to approach you if they want to. A friendly ‘Hello’ or ‘Good morning/afternoon/evening’ combined with a smile will indicate that you have noticed them and that you are available for a conversation. A subsequent question, ‘Would you like some extra information?’ or ‘Is there anything I can help you with?’, can also help to start a conversation. Starting a conversation out of the blue might feel awkward, for both poster presenters and for the passers-by, but a friendly, co-operative attitude is probably all you need here. If you wonder how to start the conversation, you can ask questions such as ‘Is there anything specific you would like to know?’ or ‘Shall I give you a short overview of my work?’ If you feel the conversation is over, you can give them a handout and conclude with a friendly remark such as ‘Thank you for stepping by, if there is anything else you would like to know, please contact me, and I will be happy to answer any question.’

 

Cultural Differences

The world of science is an international world. We share our knowledge and ideas with colleagues from across the globe at international conferences and through international journals, websites, blogs, vlogs, and so on. And even though these international communications are expressed in the same (typically English) language, that does not mean that we think and act the same. Cultural differences permeate the field of oral presentations in visible and invisible ways, and a basic level of cultural awareness is indispensable for an international presenter. It is undoable to provide detailed information on the cultural specifics of all countries in the world. Not only are there many, many different countries with each their own cultural profiles, but within each country you will find large differences as well. Instead, we will provide some basic information on general cultural differences, based on scientific literature on different cultural dimensions. With this (literally) global advice, you will be able to adapt your presentation according to global cultural dimensions, and it is up to you to familiarise yourself with the ultimate specifics of your audience.

Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Geert Hofstede is a Dutch social psychologist and engineer who gathered an enormous data set on people’s work-related values in more than thirty countries when working for IBM. Based on this data set, he distinguished initially four – later six – cultural dimensions to explain the differences between people in the different countries. These dimensions are: collectivism versus individualism, power distance, achievement versus nurturing orientation (previously called masculinity versus femininity), uncertainty avoidance, long- versus short-term orientation, and indulgence versus restraint (Hofstede, , ). 


Adapting Your Presentation

Although these dimensions are very useful to describe cultural differences at a societal level, it should be noted that they are less effective when describing individuals in those societies. People within a society (be it a country, a region, a group based on a common belief structure, or something else) can vary widely – they may be typical of their culture in one respect and very atypical in another. Cultural dimensions only capture what the people of a society have in common, not how the individuals within that society differ from each other. There can be collectivistic people in an individualistic society, and individualistic people in a collectivistic society. As such, cultural dimensions are overgeneralisations of cultural attributes, and one should always exercise caution when applying them to individuals. However, the cultural dimensions give us indications of how people on average think and behave in a specific culture or society, and as such, they can guide us in preparing and delivering our oral presentations in a culturally diverse world. Collectivism versus Individualism The first dimension, collectivism versus individualism, refers to the extent to which people in a society are integrated into groups or seen as individuals. In collectivist societies, work group goals or family goals are emphasised over individual needs and desires. The group or groups to which you belong, such as your family, extended family, or your work, are important in shaping your thoughts and actions. Values of group harmony, consensus, and cohesiveness are strong, and an emphasis is placed on agreement between individuals and co-operation. In contrast, in individualist societies, people behave more independently of their groups and their norms, and pursue their individual goals, rather than a group’s goal. These societies stress values of individual achievement, freedom, and competition. Japan, North Korea, and Indonesia are examples of collectivist countries, whereas Germany, the Netherlands, and the USA are examples of countries with individualist values. When delivering an oral presentation in a society known to have a collectivist culture, we recommend that you highlight your affiliation and the people you collaborate with. Your group memberships are important information for people in collectivist societies, so make sure that information is in your presentation. A simple way to do this is to use your organisation’s house style when designing your slides, and to ensure your affiliation and your collaborators are clearly listed on the title slide. Whereas we do not generally recommend including literature references

Cultural Differences


on your slides, when presenting in a collectivist society it is valued that you clearly acknowledge those whose work you borrow from or build on. Therefore, your presentation could include verbal references to previous work from other scholars, thus respecting their contribution to the field. Given the emphasis placed on harmony within collectivist cultures, you may also wish to pay special attention to how you respond to questions and critical comments from the audience. In individualist cultures, open disagreement with points of criticism is more accepted and even admired than in collectivist cultures. In collectivist cultures, people generally respond less favourably to selfpromotion than people in individualist cultures. Do you normally often refer to your own work and include many self-citations on your slides, or even pictures of your published articles? Perhaps you should tone this down when presenting in a collectivist culture – it could easily be seen as ‘bragging’ in a culture in which modesty is highly valued. In individualist cultures, you can focus more on your own achievements and contributions without looking too self-absorbed. Talking about who you are and what your accomplishments are can be informative for members of your audience who wish to form an impression of you as an individual. In individualist cultures, there is generally more room for innovative, creative, or other aspects of your work that are divergent from the mainstream ideas. Such contributions are even encouraged to a certain degree. When presenting in an individualist culture, you may wish to pay special attention to ways in which your work is different from existing work, and thus provides a unique and innovative contribution to the field. Compared to collectivist cultures, presentations in individualist cultures may more strongly reflect the presenter’s personal style (rather than the general university format), and contain anecdotes, pictures, or examples from their personal life. Power Distance Power distance refers to the extent to which members of a society accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. In societies with high power distance, there is usually a strong hierarchy, and you should behave according to your position in this hierarchy. When those in power use their position to make decisions, this is likely to be accepted and not challenged by those in lower positions. In countries with low power distance, society is more egalitarian and there are more degrees of freedom to behave informally with those in higher or lower positions. People in lower power positions have a better chance of being taken seriously by


Adapting Your Presentation

those in power, and are more likely to challenge or disagree with their seniors, including their supervisors and professors. Belgium, France, Russia, Malaysia, China, and the United Arab Emirates are relatively high in power distance, whereas the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Sweden are relatively low in power distance. When delivering an oral presentation to an audience reflecting a highpower distance culture, there are a few things to keep in mind. If a more powerful person asks a question or makes a comment following your presentation, it is expected that you do not openly disagree with that comment. Disagreeing with or challenging a more powerful person, especially in a public situation, can be considered rude and inappropriate in a high power distance society. The best response to a comment you do not agree with is to acknowledge the question, remain polite, and find a way to respond without saying ‘no’. It is better to say something like ‘That is an interesting suggestion, thank you. I will certainly look into this’ than ‘Thank you for the suggestion, but I disagree.’ When addressing a high power distance audience, we recommend to be polite and somewhat formal towards those in more powerful positions than you. Acknowledge the people organising the conference or meeting, and show your appreciation for the fact that you are allowed to present there. Refer to (more powerful) people using their title (dr, professor, etc.). When addressing a low power distance audience, less formality is required. The use of titles is less common, and open (but respectful) disagreement is more acceptable. Achievement versus Nurturing Orientation The third dimension is achievement versus nurturing orientation (also known as masculinity versus femininity). Achievement-oriented societies emphasise ambition, acquisition of wealth, assertiveness, performance, and success. Moreover, in achievement-oriented societies, there tends to be a strong division between male and female gender roles. Nurturing-oriented societies stress caring and nurturing behaviours, and important values are quality of life and warm personal relationships. Gender roles tend to be more fluid in nurturing societies. Japan, Mexico, and the USA are examples of achievement-oriented societies, whereas the Netherlands, Sweden, and Denmark are examples of nurturing-oriented societies. Because success, ambition, and assertiveness are more strongly valued in achievement-oriented cultures, as a presenter you are free to highlight your relevant accomplishments during your presentation, for example, by

Cultural Differences


referring to your own work or your connections. Networking is also a common and valued activity in achievement-oriented cultures, which can make it easier for you to get in touch with more established or senior scholars. Conferences organised in achievement-oriented societies often include several networking opportunities within their programme, thereby facilitating the interaction between juniors and seniors. Gender roles are more clearly differentiated in achievement- versus nurturing-oriented societies. This means that ‘typical’ male or female behaviour and apparel are more accepted or expected in achievementoriented societies compared to nurturing-oriented societies. Knowing this may be useful, although we do not recommend that you blindly conform to such gender role expectations. It is important to stay true to yourself. Uncertainty Avoidance The fourth dimension is about how people deal with the insecurities of every-day life, and it is related to the degree to which people feel uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. This dimension revolves around how a society deals with the fact that the future is unknown. Those high in uncertainty avoidance have a high need to exert control, maintain strict codes of beliefs and behaviours, and are less tolerant of differences in what people believe and do. In societies characterised by high uncertainty avoidance, conformity to the values of the group or nation is the norm, and social class still determines who will be successful in life. Moreover, high uncertainty avoidance societies prefer rules and structure over flexibility, because structured situations provide a sense of security and predictability. In contrast, people low in uncertainty avoidance have a more relaxed attitude, are easy-going, and tolerant of differences. In societies characterised by low uncertainty avoidance, practice counts more than principles. Examples of countries that score high on uncertainty avoidance are France, Mexico, Japan, and Russia. Examples of countries that score low on uncertainty avoidance are the USA, Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Indonesia. When you deliver a presentation in a high uncertainty avoidance society, you could expect more rigidity and bureaucracy in terms of procedures and rules. Individual requests, such as the wish to present on a specific day of the conference programme or a dietary request, may be more difficult to accommodate in high compared to low uncertainty avoidance societies. In general, expect that things in high uncertainty avoidance societies should go ‘by the book’. Similarly, it can be more


Adapting Your Presentation

common at conferences in high compared to low uncertainty avoidance societies that all presenters use the same presentation tool (e.g., PowerPoint), and that connecting your own laptop is difficult, if not impossible. If you are from a high uncertainty avoidance society, you may find conferences organised in a low uncertainty avoidance culture to be lacking in clarity with regards to rules and regulations, which can be uncomfortable. Time Orientation and Indulgence versus Restraint The fifth and the sixth dimensions, long- versus short-term orientation and indulgence versus restraint, are less relevant for the field of presenting and will therefore only be discussed briefly. Although these dimensions describe important differences between societies, we do not expect them to be very influential with respect to oral presentations themselves, although they could influence how people behave before or after a presentation (e.g., during social gatherings at a conference). The dimension long- versus short-term orientation is about change. People in a long-term-oriented society consider that the world changes constantly, and believe that you should prepare for the future and be able to change to adapt to new situations. A long-term orientation is often seen as the result of values such as persistence and thrift. People in a long-termoriented society see the world as a stable situation, such that it is now as it was created, and adhering to the status quo and the past is what you should do. Examples of countries with a long-term orientation are Japan, China, and Hong Kong. Associated with a short-term orientation are values such as a concern for maintaining personal stability or happiness and for living in the present. Examples of countries with a short-term orientation are the USA, Australia, and Denmark. The dimension indulgence versus restraint deals with gratification of needs. In indulgent societies, people are free to pursue and gratify their personal needs or impulses in order to enjoy life and be happy. In restraint societies, the gratification of those needs is regulated by strict norms. People in those societies are guided by duties, and can only satisfy their personal needs if society allows it. Examples of indulgent societies are Mexico, Puerto Rica, Trinidad, and Sweden. Examples of restraint societies are Pakistan, Ukraine, Estonia, and Iraq. Knowing about how a society scores on these dimensions can help you to be prepared in both your oral presentation and in associated social interactions. However, keep in mind that every culture is unique, if only

Cultural Differences


because it encompasses a unique combination of all these dimensions. For example, Indonesia is high in both power distance and collectivism. When a presenter in Indonesia thanks their professor or supervisor (who is a highly respected person within the Indonesian society) during an oral presentation, the presenter is not only appreciating the professor but also communicating credibility to the audience. We also urge you to beware of over-generalisations, such as thinking that ‘all Asian societies are collectivistic and therefore similar in culture’ or ‘all European societies are high in achievement orientation’. If at all possible, we recommend that you search for additional information about specific norms and values when presenting in an unknown culture. To know your audience is an important part of presenting, especially when presenting in a different society.

Inductive versus Deductive Reasoning The previously discussed dimensions by Hofstede cover a wide variety of cultural differences. There is, however, one additional cultural difference that we consider relevant in the context of oral presentations as it affects how we reason in our work: the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning. People who are used to inductive reasoning tend to draw conclusions based on empirical observations (Meyer, ). They start with specific observations, try to uncover a pattern among the observations, and draw general conclusions based on these patterns. An example of inductive reasoning is: ‘In the study I just presented, I found no differences between men and women in their willingness to help others. I also found no such gender differences in the four previous studies that I conducted. Therefore, there are no gender differences in helpfulness.’ Inductive reasoning is not faultless. There is always a possibility that a new observation comes up that overthrows the earlier conclusion. Moreover, even if all the premises are true in a statement, the conclusion could still be false. For example, in the inductive reasoning ‘I am tall. I am a woman. Therefore, all women are tall’, the conclusion does not logically follow from the statements. In the field of oral presentations, people who are used to inductive reasoning tend to focus on the observations and conclusions of their work, and pay somewhat less attention to the underlying theory, definitions, principles, and assumptions of their work. Inductive reasoning is typical in the USA and the Netherlands. Deductive reasoning, on the other hand, means starting from a general, theoretical point and then move to more specific hypotheses (Meyer, ). Only after establishing a firm theoretical rationale will deductive


Adapting Your Presentation

reasoners move on to the tests of this rationale and conclusions. Deductive reasoners start from a theory, develop hypotheses and predictions, and then test whether their predictions are true. In deductive reasoning, if something is true for a class of things in general, it is true for all elements of that class. For example: ‘All dogs are animals. A Saint Bernard is a dog. Therefore a Saint Bernard is an animal.’ People who use deductive reasoning are often more focused on understanding the underlying principles, the ‘why’ of a phenomenon or occurrence, rather than the application of the knowledge. In the context of oral presentations, this may mean that they are more interested in the theoretical and conceptual background of your work and the rationale for your hypotheses and the methodology than in the applicability of the conclusions. Example societies with a more deductive reasoning style are Germany, France, Spain, and Russia. The core-message-first approach that is central to the current book is a clear example of inductive reasoning. Central to this approach is that you present your conclusion first in the form of the core message, and then add layers of explanation. However, it can be easily adapted to suit an audience that is used to deductive reasoning. You should assign more time to the presentation of the theoretical background and the methodology of your work, relative to the observations and (practical) conclusions. When facing a deductive audience, you could start explaining the concepts and theoretical background of your work right after delivering the core message.

The Use of Humour A final word when dealing with cultural differences is about humour. Although we are generally fans of using humour in a presentation, in light of cultural differences we would advise you to be conscious of cultural sensitivities when using humour in an international context. There are vast cultural differences in what is considered ‘funny’ or ‘humorous’. Remarks that are considered hilarious in your own culture may be considered offensive in another culture. There are also cultural differences in whether humour or jokes in general are considered appropriate to use in scientific presentations. Humour tends to be somewhat less appreciated as part of an oral presentation in Germany or Japan, whereas it is more readily accepted in the UK or the USA (Machlachlan, ). When in doubt, choose to err on the side of professionalism, and leave the jokes for the dinner table. Humour can be a good way of bonding with your colleagues, so when used appropriately during socialising, it can definitely have a positive effect

Cultural Differences


on the social atmosphere and it can facilitate networking. The emphasis is, of course, on ‘appropriately’. Oftentimes, jokes are at the expense of another party. For example, Americans make fun of Canadians, Dutch make jokes about Belgians, and Uruguayans poke fun at Argentinians. Such jokes could be hilarious to Americans, Dutch, or Uruguayans, but offensive to Canadians, Belgians, or Argentinians. A slightly safer form of humour is the self-deprecating one in which you laugh at yourself, or your own group (e.g., Americans making fun of Americans). There are also marked differences in the degree to which jokes involving sex or violence are considered appropriate or even funny. Given the general sensitivity of these topics, we recommend that you avoid any sex jokes, jokes about gender or racial or national differences, or jokes involving violence, both during your presentation or when socialising with your colleagues. On the positive side, studies have shown that there are some types of humour that appear universally appreciated. These include exaggeration or understatement, verbal irony, and witty cynicism.

 

Addressing Different Audiences

You may have noticed that the main focus of this book has been on you, the presenter. Whereas you are undoubtedly important, your oral presentation really isn’t about you – it’s about your audience. So let’s talk about the audience. Whether you present your work to a few close colleagues, to a large scientific audience at an international conference, or to a group of non-scientists at the local theatre, the design and delivery of your presentation may need to be adjusted to accommodate the audience. The aim of the current chapter is to provide you with some tips on how to do this. We will do so by differentiating audiences on three characteristics: small versus large audiences, national versus international audiences, and scientific versus lay audiences. As a general rule, we advise you to adapt your presentation to the audience that you are addressing. Ask yourself questions such as: How much prior knowledge of the subject can I expect my audience to have? What is their primary goal for attending (e.g., to learn about your work, to learn about you, or to obtain course credit)? How fresh or tired will my audience be? The answers to all of these questions, and many more, may impact the effectiveness of your presentation, and are therefore important for the preparation of your presentation. You may think that it is not you who should adapt to the audience – the audience should adapt to you. After all, it is your work and you are the presenter, so why should you make all the effort? If they aren’t interested in your work, they shouldn’t attend your presentation. Such thinking is understandable, and certainly valid from the presenter’s point of view. But ask yourself this: If your audience is unable or simply not interested in understanding your message, then what is the point of your presentation? Whether or not a piece of spoken text is informative – whether it can be considered information – depends on the audience, not on the presenter. Therefore, if you wish your efforts at presenting to have any meaning, it is wise to take your audience into account. 

Addressing Different Audiences


Small versus Large Audiences One characteristic in which audiences can differ is their size. Small audiences (i.e., less than approximately twenty-five people) tend to be more selective than large audiences, although this may depend on the context. When a conference programme contains multiple parallel sessions, you may find yourself presenting to a small but select audience of people who chose to attend your presentation over several other competing ones. This suggests that they are very interested in what you have to say. Oftentimes it also means that their expertise is close to yours – hence their interest in your work. A small audience is addressed differently than a large audience. Small audiences can be approached more informally, and personal contact with members of the audience can be part of the presentation. For example, you could ask your audience questions during your presentation, and you could respond to questions from the audience if you are willing to do so (see Chapter  for more information on responding to questions from the audience). It is also easier to maintain good eye contact with the individual members of your audience, allowing you to respond to non-verbal signals such as those indicating confusion, interest, or boredom. A presentation delivered to a large audience (fifty or more people) tends to be less personal and less interactive. Some useful tips for addressing a large audience are presented in Box .. Due to the size of the audience, you simply cannot cater to all individual members’ needs and desires. Some people may find your presentation interesting, others may not. Some may want to ask several questions, but others may not be interested in the discussion that these questions trigger. Large audiences also provide more distractions, and allow members of the audience to (somewhat inconspicuously) engage in other activities than attentively listening to your presentation. The reduced social control and increased anonymity offered by large audiences simply makes it easier for members to take a peek at their email (and respond to some emails, while they are at it), inspect the conference programme, or immerse themselves in the world of social media. Finally, the venue for presentations addressing a large audience is typically larger than that for addressing a small audience. This means that your audience may experience more difficulty hearing you, and sometimes even seeing you. As a result of all these characteristics, large audiences are generally less focused, more distracted, more diverse, and may have greater difficulty in hearing and comprehending you. This has several consequences for how you design and prepare your presentation.


Adapting Your Presentation Box . Tips for addressing large audiences

() () () () () ()

Make sure that your presentation has a clear structure. Practise and be well prepared. Use variation to keep your audience focused. Avoid discussions during your presentation. Use a microphone. Speak slowly and articulate well.

Create Structure Make sure your presentation has a clear structure. A clear structure helps your audience to stay focused. For example, you could outline various subtopics in your presentation, use clear slide titles, and use intermittent summaries when transitioning to a new subtopic. Practice Due to the relative formality of large audience presentations, you have less room to ‘wing it’ when delivering your presentation. This is not an informal conversation, where you can respond to questions and cues from the audience and let your presentation evolve organically. In fact, when presenting in a large lecture theatre, the lighting may be such that you can barely see your audience, let alone have any type of interpersonal contact with them. You may as well be addressing a blank wall – but in the knowledge that + people are looking at you and listening to every word you say. Clearly, you need to make sure that you are well prepared. The core message of Chapter  applies here more than ever: practice, practice, practice. Keep Your Audience Focused To keep your audience focused, you may need to resort to some extra tricks. In general, attention is attracted by anything that is new or unexpected, or potentially entertaining (we are only humans, after all). So variation is key here. You can bring variation in the tone and pitch of your voice, in your movement and gestures, and in the content of your presentation. In fact, alternating between slides with text and slides with images already contributes to more variation. Select images carefully: an image that is unexpected or that stirs emotions can help draw attention back to your presentation.

Addressing Different Audiences


A brief video clip is also a sure way to draw attention. Avoid sticking too long to the same topic or the same part of your presentation. A ten-minute explanation of the method of your study in a monotonous voice using textbased slides will surely cuddle anyone to sleep. Limit Questions Limit the questions you respond to during your presentation to clarification questions only, or even decide not to take any questions at all at that point. Questions often result in one-on-one discussions that may not be of particular interest to the remainder of your audience. When responding to questions after your presentation, please ensure that you include your entire audience. Chapter  provides some useful tips to that end. Use a Microphone Larger audiences are typically accommodated in larger venues, and this may require you to use a microphone. If at all possible, opt for a wireless headset or lapel microphone (a wireless microphone that can be attached to your clothes) over a handheld microphone or microphone mounted to a tripod or desk. The wireless headset and lapel microphone allow you optimal freedom of movement. Mounted microphones force you to stand still, often partially hidden behind a piece of furniture, which creates a somewhat static presentation. Handheld microphones are difficult to manage properly, as you need to make sure that the microphone is in the same position close to your mouth at all times. Speak Slowly and Articulate Well Speak slowly and make sure that you articulate well. This goes a long way in compensating for potential negative effects of poor audio systems (when using a microphone), resonance in larger venues, and the low volume of your voice as it reaches people sitting in the back rows.

National versus International Audiences Audiences differ in their composition. Sometimes you are addressing an audience of people with a similar background as you, who speak the same language. At other times, you find yourself addressing a room full of people from all over the world, for most of whom English (the language of science) is a second or third language. Such international audiences differ


Adapting Your Presentation Box . Tips for addressing an international audience including non-native English speakers

() () () () () ()

Speak slowly and include brief pauses. Use functional gestures to complement and strengthen your verbal language. List the key points of your presentation on your slides. Use common language and avoid colloquialisms, buzzwords, and slang. Be alert for accents and pronounce clearly. Make sure that your face is clearly visible.

from national audiences in their cultural diversity. The issue of cultural diversity is discussed at length in Chapter  of this book, so we will not address that here. International audiences also differ from national audiences in the language that is used to address them. Typically, we use our native tongue to speak to people from our own country, and English when speaking to an international audience. Of course, if you grew up in the UK, the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or any other Englishspeaking part of the world, you have a major advantage: you can speak in your native tongue regardless of who you address. Do you realise how lucky you are to be able to communicate about your work in a language that comes naturally to you? Speech comprehension is impaired when that speech is delivered in a foreign language. For example, scientists have compared the comprehension skills of American students for whom English was not their first language to that of native English-speaking American students when listening to a lecture (Dunkel & Davis, ). The non-native students made fewer notes and were able to recall less information from the lecture compared to the native students. Listening to a speech in a foreign language simply involves greater cognitive effort than listening to a speech in your native language, and this greater cognitive effort is at the expense of the listener’s information processing and recall skills. In the following, we will discuss how you can help non-native speakers to follow your presentation. For a quick checklist, please see Box .. Slow Down and Pause As a presenter addressing an international audience, it is important to take your audience’s language comprehension skills into account. There are a few simple ways to do this. First, it is vital that you speak clearly, slowly,

Addressing Different Audiences


and that you articulate well. It is difficult enough for some people to follow foreign speech – to follow foreign mumblings may be impossible. Make sure that you insert brief pauses of three to five seconds in your presentation as well, to give your audience a chance to catch up. Did you know that professional translators for the European Union usually only work for thirty minutes uninterrupted? Translating is such a taxing job that maintaining intense concentration for more than thirty minutes is extremely difficult. Just imagine listening to (and internally translating!) ten oral presentations a day. . . Use Functional Gestures Non-native English listeners also benefit greatly from non-verbal cues – more so than native listeners. A study among middle school students who were either native English listeners or English learners whose first language was Norwegian showed that English learners were much better able to comprehend an oral presentation when the presenter used gestures during the presentation, as opposed to no gestures (Dahl & Ludvigsen, ). The use of gestures did not notably impact the comprehension of native listeners. So, when addressing an international audience, you should pay special attention to your non-verbal behaviour. Use facial expressions and hand gestures to complement your spoken language. This does not mean that you should simply move more and include more gestures – what matters is the functionality of those gestures and movements. Gestures that are unrelated to your message could undermine listening comprehension, so they should be avoided. List Your Key Points on Your Slides If you are a non-native English speaker yourself, and you know that people sometimes struggle to understand you during your oral presentations, you could help your audience by summarising the key points of your presentation on your slides. Note that we generally do not recommend that you fill your slides with text. However, more text on slides is still preferred over an oral presentation with textless slides that people struggle to understand. Use Common Language Speakers who are very proficient in the English language, such as native English speakers, should also pay special attention when addressing an


Adapting Your Presentation

international audience, even though they can do so in a language at which they excel. The international scientific language of English is best thought of as a slightly simpler form of English than the type of English you learned when growing up as a native speaker. Non-native English speakers have a more limited vocabulary than native speakers. The use of uncommon or ‘fancy’ words may make it more difficult for your international audience to understand you, so the advice is to keep it simple and stick to common language. Native English speakers should also be alert to the use of typical colloquial expressions, buzzwords, and slang, as non-native English speakers are often far less familiar with these than native speakers. For example, the expression ‘jump the gun’ (doing something too early or too soon, before the correct time) is not commonly known among non-native English speakers and creates serious confusion when used in an international context. There are many expressions that are common knowledge for native English speakers but are often hard to understand for non-native speakers. Buzzwords may also be less familiar to an international audience. If you need to use buzzwords (‘agile development’, ‘deep learning’, ‘flipped classroom’), explain it in mundane terms, and preferably link it to other concepts that might be more widely known or recognised. Sometimes buzzwords are just new labels to concepts that were already there. Slang is a type of language consisting of words and phrases that are regarded as very informal and that are more common in speech than writing, typically restricted to a particular context or group of people. We recommend not using slang in academic presentations. Slang is too informal. An academic presentation is not an informal event, it is an opportunity to inform others about your work, and using informal slang words is likely to decrease your authority. Moreover, the words or phrases that are used in slang are very hard to understand for people outside of a particular group, which means that there are certainly multiple members of an international audience who will struggle to understand it. Curb Your Accent Another factor that native English speakers should heed when addressing an international audience is the use of an accent or dialect. A few years ago, BBC America listed five British accents that are hard to understand for Americans (Brown, ). These accents were: Geordie (north-east England), Edinburgh (Scotland), Cockney (London East End, England), Glaswegian (Glasgow, Scotland), and Barry (Vale of Glamorgan, Wales).

Addressing Different Audiences


If people are struggling to understand accents within their own language, imagine how difficult these accents can be if they are part of another language that you are still learning! Of course, suppressing an accent is not easy, and may not be necessary. An accent in and of itself isn’t a bad thing and can be quite charming. The best advice we can give you is to focus on your pronunciation – just make sure your audience can still understand you. Please note that our advice regarding accents and dialects applies equally to non-native English speakers. Their accent will stem from their native tongue. The reason we addressed native speakers first is simply because native speakers may sometimes be less aware of the fact that they have an accent that makes it more difficult for others, in particular non-native English speakers, to follow their speech. We expect non-native English speakers to be generally aware that the pronunciation of their speech may sometimes be lacking. Be Visible When you are addressing an international audience with a foreign or local accent, you could enhance speech comprehension by ensuring that you are clearly visible as a presenter. Yes, you read correctly: people can hear you better when they can see you better. Scientific research has shown that speech comprehension deteriorates rapidly when the speaker’s head is no longer clearly visible (Tye-Murray et al., ). This is not surprising, as we tend to use visual cues such as facial expressions and lip movements to help interpret spoken text. This is also widely known in theatres, where light technicians pay special attention to illuminating actor’s faces to ensure the public can understand their lines (A. van der Meulen, personal communication, ).

Scientific versus Lay Audiences Delivering an oral presentation to a lay audience requires a different approach than delivering an oral presentation to your scientific peers. There are several relevant differences between scientific and lay audiences. The most obvious difference is that the members of a scientific audience have an academic background, often in your particular field, whereas the educational and professional background of the people in a lay audience can vary from basic primary education to an academic degree in any field of expertise. This variety in lay audiences is challenging, since the aim of


Adapting Your Presentation

any presentation is to have your message understood by everybody in the audience, or at least by the vast majority of your audience. The second important difference between both types of audiences is that a scientific audience most likely has an academic interest in your work. A lay audience will also be interested, but their specific interests may vary greatly. For example, a presentation on breaks in negotiations to a lay audience might attract housing agents who want to learn how to convince potential buyers, lawyers who would like to improve the way that they help their clients, scientists interested in conflict management, or web designers who are about to launch their own company. This means that most people will be looking for hands-on knowledge that is useful in a wide range of contexts. Few people (if any) will be interested in the theoretical foundations of your work or the specifics of how you analysed your data. As an academic, presentations to lay audiences are relatively new to us. Many academics have little to no experience with this type of presentation, and it also tends to fall outside of their comfort zone. The first thing to remember when preparing a presentation for a lay audience is that it is not a scientific presentation. You cannot simply take a set of slides that you used previously at an academic conference presentation and use this for your lay audience presentation. We recommend that you start afresh, keeping in mind the following three principles. () () ()

Generate interest by making your work relevant to your audience (even if it is not). Keep it simple (even if it is not). Show your expertise.

First make sure that the people in the audience want to hear your story, then make sure that they can hear your story, and finally make sure that they believe your story. Generate Interest As discussed in Chapter , it is important to get your audience captivated by your presentation, and sometimes you need to take a few extra steps to show them exactly how or why your work may be of interest to them. This advice is important for scientific presentations, but even more so for presentations to a lay audience. Given the diverse background of lay audience members, they often need to be persuaded that you have

Addressing Different Audiences


something of value to offer them. A lay audience needs to be ‘seduced’ to listen to you – their interest should never be taken for granted. So what can you do to seduce your audience? Use a Real-Life Example or Problem The first tip is to start your presentation with a real-life example or problem to which people can relate. One way to increase people’s interest in your work is by showing them how your work could help them solve a situation or problem that they might encounter themselves. For example, when the topic of your work is about absenteeism, refer to a situation at work; when it is about violence, refer to a violent situation that has been in the media. Look through last week’s news to see if you can find an example of a situation in which your work is relevant. Not every topic lends itself easily to such real-world applications, but finding a good practical example is always worth the effort. The interest and attention of your lay audience may depend on it. Generate Curiosity A second way to capture your audience is by generating curiosity. It is very rewarding for people to solve a puzzle or a riddle, and you can use people’s curiosity to increase their interest in what you have to say. So ask a question that the audience does not yet know the answer to, and tell them that you are going to give them the answer in your presentation. For example: ‘Have you ever dealt with a difficult teenager? I will tell you how their brain works and give you some advice on how to deal with them’ or ‘Have you ever tried to quit smoking? I will show you how to do it.’ This approach works particularly well for those topics that do not always appear to have an immediate relevance for our daily life. One of the authors once attended an oral presentation about parallel universes. The presenter started to explain to the public that the laws of physics were just right for our universe to exist; if these laws were a little stronger or weaker, our entire universe would explode. Her question was: ‘Why are our laws of physics exactly right, and why didn’t our universe explode at the start?’ She then told the audience that there were several ways to explain it, and made a case for an explanation via parallel universes. The presentation was intriguing. The presenter posed a question that most of the people in the audience had never thought of. If you can generate curiosity among your audience members and satisfy their curiosity during your presentation, you are guaranteed their undivided attention.


Adapting Your Presentation Keep It Simple

Once you managed to capture your audience’s attention by generating curiosity, your next focus should be on keeping their attention. We may start out with a great example of the practical relevance of our work, and entice our public to keep listening by generating curiosity. But all too often, we then serve them a death blow by shifting back to our academic mode and present our scientific work in much the same way that we do when we present it to our scientific colleagues. Within minutes, our audience zooms out and all of our initial efforts to capture their attention have been in vain. Making your work interesting to a lay audience involves more than a few sentences on its applied value at the beginning, and perhaps a few more at the end. You should stay in this mode of ‘how is this relevant for my audience?’ and ‘how can I keep them interested?’ from beginning to end. With every step you take, every piece of information you reveal, these questions should be at the forefront of your mind. Often, this means that you will omit pieces of information that you would normally present to a scientific audience – such as detailed information about the method of your research or the way in which you analysed your findings. It may also mean that you add information throughout, such as explanations about the meaning of particular findings. But most importantly: you need to keep your presentation simple. Keeping it simple means that you are easy to follow by people who can think but are not experts in your field. Choose What to Tell (and What Not) The first thing to do in an effort to keep things simple is to choose what to tell and what not to tell. Choose which information is relevant for your audience to understand your core message, and which information you can leave out. As researchers and academics, we are experts in our own topic of research. As a result, we tend to see a lot of nuances and details that are important to us and to others working on similar topics, but not necessarily to the rest of the world. The academic in us is trained to share all of this information – all the ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ of our work. We feel compelled to share how our work builds on, but is different from, prior work, and we absolutely must share the limitations of our work. A scientist never gives a simple answer to a simple question. We have learned throughout the years to start our answer with ‘It depends . . .’ Needless to say, the members of a lay audience are not served by all these details. To them, these details are irrelevant and often plain boring.

Addressing Different Audiences


The same details that capture the interest of your scientific peers are guaranteed to lose the interest of the members of a lay audience. The most important information to divulge to a lay audience is the conclusion of your work, followed by how this information is useful to them personally, or to the world at large. Of course, it could be informative to share how you came to these conclusions (i.e., your methods), but keep this information general and brief. Use visual illustrations whenever possible to make your method come alive, rather than a lengthy oral description. Use Every-Day Language It is very easy to put people off by using language that is too specialised and technical. Whereas you may be able to get away with jargon such as ‘historical institutionalism’, ‘open-closed political spectrum’, or ‘free-market anarchism’ among your fellow political scientists, you need to explain these concepts when you are addressing a lay audience. Using simple and ordinary language does not mean that your work is simple or ordinary, nor does it signal that you are not intelligent. Quite the opposite, in fact. It is often hard to explain academic work in lay terms. We believe that it is a sign of being stronger than your work if you are able to explain your work in every-day language to people who haven’t invested the same amount of time and effort into the topic as you have. So use technical terms sparingly, and if you need to use them, explain them well. Use a Visual Cue and a Metaphor The use of a relevant example or metaphor can help people relate to your work and understand your message (Fetterman, ). Combining the metaphor with a visual cue may work even better. For example, in the field of psychology, the concept of a ‘conditioned response’ refers to a learned reaction to a stimulus, such as a dog who starts to drool when ringing a bell, because he has learned to associate the sound of that bell with food. In a presentation on why the sound of an incoming text message makes people happy, you could refer to the conditioning principle by showing the picture of the drooling dog. People have learned to associate the sound of an incoming text message on their phone with the positive reward of social contact, and as a result, the sound itself makes them ‘drool’. Metaphors are very useful in helping a lay audience understand your work and link it to something concrete. The more abstract your topic is, the more useful a proper metaphor can be.


Adapting Your Presentation Show Your Expertise

An oral presentation to a lay audience differs from that to a scientific audience in the relative emphasis on your conclusions and practical implications, and the restricted information regarding research method and limitations. However, this leaves you with one potential problem: How can your lay audience members tell how reliable the information you are feeding them is? How will they know if they should take you seriously? To ensure that your lay audience believes in the validity of your message, you need to convince them of your expertise in this domain. They need to believe that you know what you are talking about, especially when they cannot assess this by themselves. Reveal some of your academic successes or accomplishments, such as prizes, titles, publications in well-known journals, years of expertise, an important research funding, or famous coworkers. Providing such information is less common in scientific presentations (where it may be considered bragging), but more common, acceptable, and even important in presentations to a lay audience. An honest and brief indication of your expertise in this area will vastly increase your audience’s susceptibility to your message.

 

Attending Oral Presentations

As an academic, you will not only need to deliver oral presentations of your own work, but you will also be attending presentations by others. Attending such presentations can be tremendously useful for learning more about various topics in your field, and for becoming acquainted with other people in your field. Of course, how much you pick up from attending other presentations, and how well you are able to expand your network, depends entirely on how you approach these tasks. The focus of the fourth and final part of this book is therefore on what you can do to make the most of attending oral presentations and scientific gatherings such as conferences. Presenters are typically highly conscious of their audience, and small signs signalling agreement, loss of interest, or confusion can have a vast impact on their performance. The act of presenting may appear to be a one-way stream, but is in fact quite interactive. As a member of the audience, you benefit from a focused and motivated presenter – therefore, you should avoid conscious or unconscious behaviours that can undermine the presenter’s focus and motivation. In Chapter , we provide a number of dos and don’ts with respect to how to be a good audience member. We also provide you with some useful tips to stay alert and active, so that you can maximise the benefits from attending the presentation. Many oral presentations are delivered at conferences and similar scientific gatherings. These meetings revolve around much more than just the presentations, however. For academics in all stages of their career, attending conferences is an excellent opportunity to build, expand, and maintain their network. Such networking is a vital part of an academic’s life, but how do you go about it? Chapter  provides some useful tips for how to behave at, and make the most of, conferences, from dinner etiquette to introducing yourself to senior scientists. By taking these tips into account, you can make the most of conferences and be sure to enjoy them. 

 

How to Be a Good Audience Member

Have you ever delivered an oral presentation and noticed that some of the members in the audience were not paying attention to you? Then you know how demotivating it is to address an audience that is looking at their smartphones, working on their laptops, or even chatting amongst each other in the mistaken belief that you will not notice. The behaviour of an audience can have a vast impact on the presenter, so as a member of the audience it is important that you ‘behave’. But how does one behave as a good audience member? Is there even such a thing as a good or a bad audience? Some will say that it is a presenter’s own responsibility to make sure that the audience is interested in the presentation (implying that if it is not, the presenter is doing a poor job and the lack of interest is entirely deserved), whereas others will say that some audience members are indeed better behaved than others. It makes sense to argue that an audience of teenagers or toddlers poses a particular challenge to even the most seasoned presenter, but does this argument also hold for an audience of scientific peers? Perhaps it does. Scientists are just humans, and when we find it difficult to concentrate on a presentation, we tend to resort to other ways to occupy ourselves. Scientists are also busy people, and we often believe that we are capable of juggling more than one task (such as listening while responding to emails) simultaneously. Whatever the reason – scientists are not always perfect exemplars of ‘good’ audience members. The problem with being less than well behaved as a member of the audience is that your behaviour may, inadvertently, affect the presenter and the quality of their presentation. Your behaviour can be a distraction to the presenter and may even undermine their self-esteem, all of which can easily deteriorate their performance. Conversely, your actions as an audience member can also contribute positively to the presenter’s performance, as we will discuss in this chapter. So, as a member of the audience, it is in your own best interest to behave! In the following, we 


Attending Oral Presentations

will provide some dos and don’ts for people who wish to be a good audience member. Do: Show Up on Time The first thing you can do to facilitate the presenter’s job is to show up on time for the presentation. Showing up on time means that you enter the presentation venue no later than ten to five minutes before the start of the presentation, giving you time to find a seat and arrange your things, if necessary. Entering the room after the start of the presentation is a serious disruption to both the other members of the audience and the presenter. You may think that if you are silent enough, no one will notice your late arrival. This may be true for some members of the audience, provided you enter the room at the back and stay at the back. But remember that presenters are facing the room, which means that they always notice your entrance! A late entrance is a distraction that can make presenters lose their train of thought, irrespective of how much noise you make. It can make presenters think of whether or not they should pause their presentation until you are seated, whether or not they should welcome you, and even whether or not they should give you a brief update of the part of the presentation that you missed. All of these thoughts interfere with the attention that they can devote to the oral presentation itself. Do: Be Quiet It almost goes without saying that you should not be noisy during the presentation itself. This starts with paying attention to the signs that indicate that a presentation is about to begin. Once that sign is given, you should stop your conversation with your neighbour, no matter how interesting it is or how long you haven’t seen each other. You can always pick up where you left off after the presentation. Sometimes you may feel the need to share an idea or comment about the presentation with your neighbour during the presentation itself. Do so in a soft whisper and make sure it does not turn into a prolonged conversation. Audience members who keep talking or whispering to each other are very distracting for a presenter. Presenters can interpret the whispering as a sign that you find the presentation uninteresting, that you disagree with the message, or even that you are making fun of them. This interpretation is irrespective of the actual nature of your whispering, because a presenter cannot tell the difference between you sharing a compliment about the presentation with

How to Be a Good Audience Member


your neighbour, and you gossiping with your neighbour about the previous night’s dinner. Whispering can undermine a presenter’s focus and the quality of their presentation. Do: Nod or Show a Friendly Face Presenters who are at ease tend to deliver presentations of higher quality. As a member of the audience, there is much you can do to help the presenter feel more comfortable. How? By nodding. Nodding works very well in a Western context. Presenters who see a nodding face will interpret this gesture as a sign that you agree with them and understand their message. As such, a simple nod from a member of the audience can be a big support to presenters and boost their confidence. Of course, you shouldn’t overdo it. Try the following: when you are in the audience and have eye contact with the presenter, nod once or twice, slowly. Repeat a few times when the presenter is looking in your direction. You may notice that the presenter will gradually turn to you more often – this is a logical consequence of showing your support. The presenter picked up your nodding as a sign of interest and encouragement, and as people naturally prefer others who show interest in what they have to say over those that don’t, presenters will eventually turn to you. Showing a friendly face can also help support a presenter. Some presenters are anxious about their audience’s reaction to their work or their presentation skills. Although this is understandable – but not necessary in most cases – being anxious is generally not good for a presenter’s performance. As a member of the audience, you can do your part in curbing a presenter’s anxiousness simply by showing a friendly face. This advice is important because the face we show when we are thinking may not always appear very friendly to others, even if our intentions are completely benign. When you are processing the presented information and try to couple that in your head with other relevant knowledge, it is possible that you show what we could call a ‘thinking face’ – a frowning face that could easily be interpreted as a sign of confusion or even disapproval. This is a natural phenomenon and simply part of an expressive face. But anxious presenters are extra alert to cues signalling the audience’s reaction to their presentation. Your natural thinking face may be interpreted as a sign of disapproval even when you are in effect very positive about the presentation. So, being conscious of your facial expressions can help put the presenter at ease, which ultimately contributes positively to the quality of their presentation.


Attending Oral Presentations Do: Ask Questions during Discussion Time

There are few things more awkward after an oral presentation than a room full of people with no questions during discussion time. To a presenter, waiting in silence while everybody is watching you can make time go veeeery sloooooowly indeed. The awkwardness then slowly spreads to the audience that realises it is coming up short – but with no question prepared, it is easier to look away then to raise your hand and start a discussion. Meanwhile, the presenter is frantically trying to interpret this silence. Has the audience dozed off? Didn’t they like the presentation? Was it all clear, or was it perhaps so unclear that no one knows where to begin asking questions? Considerate audience members can help prevent these awkward moments by making sure that they have one or more questions prepared. The trick to a successful contribution to discussion time is to think of questions while listening to the presentation. Some people are so absorbed by the presentation that they do not think of any topic that they would like to discuss until discussion time has come. They then simultaneously need to process the information that they just absorbed and think of a question, all the while being hindered by such concerns as ‘What if my question was already answered by the presentation, but I missed it?’, or simply ‘What if my question is stupid?’ No wonder presenters sometimes encounter a wall of silence at the end of their talk; their work is done, but now the audience needs to shift into gear, and fast. When doing her PhD, one of the authors of this book was advised by her supervisor that she should always come up with at least one question when listening to a presentation. It was good advice, which is why we pass it on in this book. When listening to a presentation, train yourself to think of questions you would like to ask, and make notes if you come up with more than one question. Force yourself to think of at least one question. You do not actually need to ask your question(s), you simply need to train your brain to stay in an active mode and formulate questions while listening. This gets easier over time, and it eventually also becomes easier to come forward with your question and contribute actively during discussion time. But step  is to come up with a question. Most sincere questions are acceptable, but you may consider leaving questions that are too detailed or not of interest to the broader audience until the break. A question is merely an invitation to the presenter to elaborate, and most presenters are happy to do so. If you are afraid that the presenter has already provided the answer to your question somewhere in

How to Be a Good Audience Member


the presentation itself, you can start your question with ‘Maybe I missed something, but . . .’, or ‘I am not sure whether you discussed this already, but . . .’ If something was unclear to you, you can phrase your question like: ‘I may have misunderstood – could you please elaborate about X . . .’ or ‘I wondered about X, so could you please say a bit more about how you came about to . . .’ If you have a competing theory or hypothesis in your mind, you could phrase it as ‘When I was thinking about your research, I thought . . . and I wondered how you looked at this idea’ or ‘If someone would use theory X, he or she might predict Y, and I am curious about your ideas on this.’ Don’t: Use Discussion Time to Promote Your Own Work Discussion time is for an intellectual discussion about the presenter’s work. Occasionally, we see audience members asking questions that were clearly not intended to invite the presenter to elaborate on their own work, but simply to highlight the questioner’s own work. It is a case of stealing the presenter’s spotlight, and a demonstration of poor manners. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with asking a presenter to compare their work to the relevant work of other scholars (including your own). However, if the sole purpose of the ‘question’ is to promote your own work to the presenter and other members of the audience, then it is better to remain silent. Don’t: Thrash the Presenter Another example of poor manners when it comes to audience etiquette is the posing of overly critical, even offensive, questions. There is a clear difference between being critical and being offensive. Being critical is good – it is one of the foundations of science – but being offensive is not. Offensive questions make presenters defensive, and this is not conducive to an open intellectual discussion. The difference between critical and offensive questions or comments is often in the way that they are phrased. For example, the question ‘How does the work you just presented contribute to our knowledge on this subject over and above the work of X, Y, and Z?’ is critical but acceptable, but the comment ‘Your work contributes nothing to our knowledge on this subject over and above the work of X, Y, and Z’ can be offensive to the presenter. How can you keep critical questions or comments from turning into offensive ones? As a general rule, you should ask a question as you would like people to ask you a question. Take some time to reflect on your question,


Attending Oral Presentations

particularly if it is a critical one. How would you react if that question was posed to you? Next, avoid judgemental labels. Do not label someone’s work negatively. You may have some doubts about it, but that does not mean it is bad. Your interpretation might be wrong or you may need more information to see the value, but do not mistake your judgement or ideas for the truth, and be prepared to listen what a presenter has to say. Third, be concrete. Refer to facts and concrete cases, and do not overgeneralise. For example, refer to ‘the work you just presented’ instead of ‘your work’ or ‘you’. Fourth, choose a question format rather than a comment format to invite the presenter to respond and explain rather than defend themselves. The question ‘I was wondering about the field of X, how would you apply your work to the field of X?’ is less offensive than the provoking statement ‘Your work is not applicable to the field of X.’ Make an effort to be genuinely curious for the presenter’s answer to your question, because people respond more positively to questions that they perceive as sincere than to questions that they perceive as disingenuous (Brown, ). Fifth, offer suggestions or solutions instead of simply highlighting a problem. For example, the comment ‘Your work reminds me of that of X, but what sets it apart is that you looked at factor V’ is much more constructive than the comment ‘Your work seems very similar to that of X.’ Do: Thank Presenters for Their Contribution (But Do Not Go Overboard) If you enjoyed the presentation you listened to, then it doesn’t hurt to briefly thank the presenter before you put your question forward. Oftentimes we are so focused on our question that we dive straight in, forgetting all social niceties. In some cultures, this direct approach may be considered a bit rude. By thanking the presenter for their interesting presentation (or any other compliment that is applicable), you are simultaneously putting them at ease, signalling your intentions are benign and they have nothing to fear from the question you are about to ask. As with questions, however, make sure that your thanks or compliments are sincere. If you cannot think of anything positive to say, it is best to say nothing. Do: Be Conscious of Cultural Differences Be aware that how – and whether – questions are asked differs between cultures and societies. For example, people from individualist cultures are often less afraid to have a deviating point of view than people from

How to Be a Good Audience Member


collectivist cultures. People from cultures that are low in power distance will be less affected by status differences compared to people from cultures that are high in power distance, and feel more free to ask their questions and make critical comments to a broad range of presenters, including those in a higher status position. People from achievement-oriented cultures may also be more likely to ask critical questions to show off their knowledge compared to people from nurturing-oriented cultures. We refer the reader to Chapter  of this book for a more extensive discussion of cultural differences, and their potential consequences for the field of oral presentations. Don’t: Doze Off One day you will find yourself listening to a presentation, and fighting against sleep. Whether this is because of your advanced years, too much partying the night before, the warmth of the room, the (in)famous afterlunch dip, or the sheer overload of information you had to absorb all day, it happens to the best of us. Since falling asleep is not something to aim for when attending an oral presentation, what can you do to stay awake and alert? If you are outside a presentation room, you could awaken yourself through a cup of strong coffee, fresh air, or physical exercise (e.g., twenty jumping jacks). However, if you are inside a presentation room, you have to try to get your system pumped up in a less conspicuous manner. One way to stay alert is by chewing on a small piece of gum or candy. The activity of the chewing muscles sometimes helps to keep you awake, as does the sugar from a piece of candy. Another strategy to stay alert is by giving yourself an assignment that forces you to pay attention – for example by taking notes or by thinking of at least one question to ask the presenter during the discussion. If you are feeling sleepy, it may also help to take a seat at the front of the room as opposed to the back. A seat at the back gives you more opportunity to doze off unnoticed, so it is best to avoid these facilitating conditions. As an emergency strategy, you could pinch yourself in your hand or your ears. Take some skin of the upper side of your hand, and twist it. It will hurt, and that is exactly what we are aiming for. The idea is that pain increases adrenalin levels and adrenalin will stop you from falling asleep. Do: Give Constructive Feedback to the Presenter Presenting can tap into underlying insecurities about our work, our presentation style, and ourselves. Oftentimes, these insecurities remain unaddressed


Attending Oral Presentations

or are even affirmed, as discussion tends to revolve around weaknesses or points for improvement, not around the elements that were good or great. In other words: how often do we hear, as presenters, what was good about our presentation? We are not talking about general compliments here such as ‘That was very interesting’, we are talking about specific, detailed feedback not just about the content of the presentation but also about the layout of the slides or our presentation style. If you genuinely want to be a good audience member, you may consider providing presenters with some concrete, constructive feedback on their presentation. The time to provide such feedback may not be during the presentation or discussion session itself. Rather, you may reserve your comments for a more informal moment afterwards. At conferences, several moments such as these exist, such as during a meal, a coffee break, or over drinks. Do not force the moment if no suitable opportunity arises, as this can make your feedback feel awkward or insincere. Presentation practice with peers are also a good opportunity for feedback. When providing feedback, be conscious of cultural status differences. A lower-status person providing extensive feedback to a higher-status person may be seen as overstepping their bounds, even in low power difference cultures. It is, however, acceptable to give constructive and positive feedback to your peers (e.g., fellow PhD students). When giving feedback, it is helpful if you can explain which behaviours of the presenter or which characteristics of the presentation you liked and why you liked it. The more concrete and specific you can be, the more the presenter will know what to do in their next presentation. For example, you could say: ‘I really liked your enthusiasm.’ This comment is nice to hear, but enthusiasm can be portrayed in many ways, such as by fast talking, by a lot of smiling, or by energetic movements. The feedback becomes more concrete if you can point out why exactly you thought the presenter was enthusiastic, for example, by saying ‘I saw that you smiled a lot, which made me think you were enthusiastic, and that made it very nice to listen to your presentation.’ The general format for useful feedback is to start with an observation (e.g., ‘I saw you used a lot of pictures in your slides’ or ‘You started by asking a question to the audience’). Then you can say how you interpreted that and why you did, or did not, appreciate it (‘This made it easy for me to understand what you were saying’ or ‘This made me more interested in the topic of your presentation’). What if your feedback isn’t positive? Negative feedback is far more impactful than positive feedback, so we recommend that you tread

How to Be a Good Audience Member


carefully. People have a negativity bias (Baumeister, Finkenauer, & Vohs, ), which means that they pay more attention to negative information than to positive information. Negative comments have a larger impact than positive comments. For example, research by Gottman and colleagues showed that negative comments need to be compensated for by four or five positive comments to restore the balance (Gottman et al., ). We suggest that you only give negative feedback if the presenter explicitly asks for it, or if your relationship with the presenter is such that you can be confident that they will value the feedback, and not take it as a personal offence. Spontaneously giving suggestions to a person previously unknown to you about how to improve their presentation will not make you popular. Sometimes people give negative feedback in the form of wellintended ‘advice’. It may sound a little nicer to say ‘Can I offer some advice?’ rather than ‘I know what you should and should not do.’ However, the provision of advice, too, is usually restricted to people we know and trust. Our suggestion, similar to the negative feedback, would be to only give advice when asked for. Don’t: Hide Behind Your Laptop, Tablet, or Phone Nowadays, many people use laptops, tablets, and various other electronic devices for making notes during a presentation. And yet, we all know how easy it is to switch from making notes on our laptop to checking email, browsing the Web, or generally engaging in other activities unrelated to the presentation. Whereas the decision to engage in activities other than listening to the presenter and making notes is yours, it is important to be aware of how this can impact the presenter. Presenters may not see exactly what you are doing (only the people next to you or behind you can), but they do know that such electronic devices are often used for activities other than making notes. Consequently, they may feel that you are not paying attention to them when you are using your laptop or tablet. As a presenter, being unable to make eye contact with audience members because their eyes are focused on their electronic screens instead of on you can be very demotivating. When you use a laptop or other device for making notes, we advise you try to curb the lure of the Internet (you may even consider turning your device into flight mode), and to look at your screen as little as possible. Make frequent eye contact with the presenter, so that they know you are indeed paying attention to them.


Attending Oral Presentations

Conclusion There is more to being an audience member than sitting on a chair and consuming the information given. The interaction between the presenter and the audience can determine the impact and quality of the presentation. In this chapter, we suggested some dos and don’ts to help you to be a responsive audience member. Most importantly, be the audience member that you would like to have if you were the presenter in the room. Be on time, pay attention, and be friendly and constructive. We provided a few simple suggestions that you can incorporate to contribute to a safe presentation environment that will generate a lively and constructive presentation and subsequent discussion.

 

Making the Most of Conferences

As a novice in the field of academia, it is easy to feel overwhelmed when attending your first international conference. Some conferences are huge, with up to several thousand attendees and between ten and twenty parallel sessions. All of these attendees seem to know exactly what they are doing and where they are going. How can you find your own way in such a beehive of activity? Of course, your own presentation will be the highlight of the day, but you will also want to make the most of the remainder of the conference. Conferences are a good opportunity to learn about other interesting work, to meet interesting people, and, last but not least, to let them get to know you.

Selecting Presentations The first challenge is to select which presentations to attend. Naturally, you will want to attend presentations of work that is similar to yours. But our advice is to not restrict yourself to these presentations. We recommend that you also go for what captures your interest in a broader sense. Many scientists have a natural curiosity that they can nourish by listening to topics that are new to them. Besides, listening to work that appears completely unrelated to your own may sometimes give you novel and exciting ideas that can bring your own work to the next level. Importantly, you should study the conference programme beforehand, and mark the presentations that you would like to attend. During the conference, you often do not have time for this, and as a result you may end up attending presentations that are of no particular relevance or interest to you. Take the time to look beyond presentation titles when studying the conference programme, because titles (including session titles) can be misleading. If the abstract in the programme does not provide sufficient information to make a decision, you can search for the presenter online. An academic’s online profile can inform you not only of the type of 


Attending Oral Presentations

work they have been doing, but also how long they have been working on that topic. Someone who has been studying a particular topic for several years may have a different story to tell than someone who studied it as part of a one-time project that they were only remotely involved in. If a certain presentation seems particularly relevant and interesting to you, your online search can also help you prepare for a possible meeting with the author of that presentation. There isn’t a single academic who would react adversely if someone showed actual knowledge of their work and of other relevant information such as their affiliation. Most people would be flattered or impressed, and leaving a positive impression is an important goal of networking at conferences.

Socialising with Peers One can feel quite alone at a conference. If you are new to a particular field, it is unlikely that you will know many conference attendees – if any. For the more seasoned scientists, conferences are opportunities to catch up with colleagues and friends, and newcomers could easily feel excluded from that social vibe. But keep in mind that you are hardly the only newcomer at that conference. More likely than not, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of conference goers just like you who feel a bit isolated and somewhat overwhelmed. Associating with these peers at a conference can help instil a sense of comfort and increase your self-confidence. It certainly makes the more social moments such as lunch and dinner easier to handle. It can be tempting to always stick to your group of friendly peers or the colleagues from ‘back home’ who also attend the conference. There is much you can learn and achieve at a conference, but in order to reap all of the benefits, you must be willing to take some steps on your own. One of the important elements of maturing as an academic is building your own network. Whereas your friendly peers and colleagues may be part of that network, it can be important that you become acquainted with more senior academics and non-academics relevant to you. Note that we use the term ‘senior’ here to refer to more experienced people who have been active in the field for some time, regardless of their age. Getting to know your relevant seniors is something that is difficult to achieve if you always stick with the people you already know – you need to get out there and expose yourself. People need to see you as a unique individual, not as someone who is part of a clique. Moreover, your chances of entering a conversation with someone (senior or junior) are much higher when you are alone, as opposed to part of a group. So go out on your own

Making the Most of Conferences


occasionally, and you will find that it is much easier to make contact with new people, be they junior or senior.

Meeting Seniors Including more senior people in your network is valuable for various reasons. For example, seniors can give you useful advice on your own work based on their years of experience. Moreover, they can help to introduce you to other people, thus helping to expand your network even further. There may also be several moments now and in the future when you could benefit from their favourable impression of you – for example, when they review a paper you submitted, when you are looking for a good place abroad for an international academic visit, or when you are applying for a position at their department. Meeting more experienced seniors is important for your development as an academic, but how can you accomplish this? How do you approach a famous hotshot professor? Senior people are often surrounded by others simply because they know many people in their field, and because there are many others who would like to make their acquaintance, just like you. The likelihood of a senior academic spontaneously noticing a novice in the field and starting up a conversation is not very high, which means that it is often up to you to make the first move. One suggestion is to start with getting in touch with the senior’s younger collaborators, such as their PhD students and post-docs. Accomplished professors often take some of their PhD-candidates or postdocs along to a conference, and these junior people are easier to approach. They usually work within the same field as the professor, so you can talk to them about the same matters. Once you know them, it could be easier to get in touch with your target senior through your contact with the target’s juniors. This may take time though, and if you have neither the time nor the patience, we suggest you opt for a more direct approach. A more direct approach is to ask someone within your own circle to introduce you. If you are a PhD student, your advisor could take this role. Good advisors look after their PhD students at conferences, which includes introducing them to some important people. But when your advisor is not there, or is otherwise occupied, you may need to take matters into your own hand. Another option consists of simply walking up to your senior and starting a conversation. Networking is considered perfectly acceptable at conferences (at least those within individualist cultures, see Chapter ), and senior academics are used to being approached by others


Attending Oral Presentations

who wish to make their acquaintance. As long as you do it in a polite and respectful manner (‘Excuse me, is it okay if I ask you something?’), not much can go wrong. The question isn’t so much how to approach your senior, but when. Select your moment carefully. The best moments are those when the senior does not appear busy, for example, when queueing for lunch or when waiting at the coffee machine. If you ‘happen’ to be right next to your senior, you have an excellent opportunity to start a conversation. If you are at a conference spanning multiple days, you will find that it is more difficult to make contact with a senior at the beginning of the conference, and it becomes easier with every passing day. This is because we all want to talk to certain people at a conference, and we all try to grab the first available moment. So popular people tend to be very busy, particularly at the beginning, but become more available as time passes. Just wait for the right moment. Once you have your senior’s attention, you need to make the most of it. This is the time when a well-prepared elevator pitch comes in handy (see Chapter ). First, you should introduce yourself. Don’t just mention your name, but also refer to your affiliation, and, for PhD students, you could mention your advisor. It also pays to say something nice about the senior’s work. This shows that you know your material, and can help put the senior in a receptive mood. You could mention your own work and highlight how you feel that the senior’s work is relevant to that. This could be an opening to further the conversation, if not right then and there, then at another point in time. Do not claim too much time though – five minutes should be enough. You do not want to appear clingy. Depending on the course of your encounter, you can make an informal appointment to continue the discussion later, or promise to send some of your work. Sending a paper or another part of your work is a good way to get noticed. Of course, a separate personal meeting to exchange ideas may be even better. However, please note that a response such as ‘that sounds interesting, perhaps we can continue this discussion at a later point’ could mean anything between ‘I’m excited, let’s compare our schedules and pick a time for a meeting’ to ‘How can I get rid of you in a fast but polite manner?’ Polite euphemisms such as these are commonplace at conferences, which can make it difficult for a novice to find out exactly where they stand. Do not force the issue, and certainly do not chase your senior for the remainder of the conference to follow up on the ‘promised’ appointment – if they are really interested in your work, they will find you.

Making the Most of Conferences


Meals and Other Social Events Conferences can be quite taxing, and coffee breaks, lunch breaks, and dinner breaks may come at a welcome time. But keep in mind that there are no real breaks at conferences, because when the presentations stop, the networking begins. This does not mean that you always need to be active in scanning the crowd and introducing yourself to the next relevant senior academic. It simply means that opportunities for networking may arise at unexpected moments, and it is smart to be ready so that you can seize them when they do arise. Breakfast, lunch, coffee breaks, dinner, or drinks – all of these are important times to familiarise yourself with others in your field. Most conferences offer coffee breaks and lunch, and some offer dinners as well. Walking into a lunch or dinner venue as a novice can feel somewhat like walking into a high school canteen. Where are you going to sit? Although meals are an excellent opportunity for networking, perhaps you should be a little bit reserved when it comes to planting yourself on that empty seat next to the well-respected senior academic that you were hoping to meet. Introducing yourself to new people is good, but meals generally last longer than five minutes. Spending the entire meal talking about your work in an attempt to impress your favourite senior may pose quite a demand on the senior’s time. That does not mean that you cannot sit at the same table as your favourite senior. We simply suggest that you make sure that you do not monopolise his or her time, so make sure that there are others at the table with whom you can strike up a conversation as well. Even senior academics need a break from networking every once in a while. Do not worry if you do not see any familiar faces in the crowd that you can join at the table. You are not the only one in that situation. If you see an opening at a lunch table, it is perfectly acceptable to approach the table and ask the others if they mind if you take a seat. Once seated, start by introducing yourself, and ask others for their name. Oftentimes, this is enough to get a conversation started. Whereas most conferences offer lunch to their attendees, not all conferences have dinner included. The larger conferences in particular often expect attendees to make their own dinner arrangements. These settings make it more difficult to socialise with people outside of your own circle. You need to get yourself invited to a dinner group, and that requires you to already have several connections with members of that group. Regardless of whether you join a group consisting of various seniors you would like to


Attending Oral Presentations

meet, or whether you decide to have dinner with your own friendly group of peers, it may be good to realise that dinner in these settings involves a bit of planning. If you make no dinner plans, you may find that others have made plans without you, and that you are on your own. Conferences can be harsh, sometimes. Alcohol Some final notes on social events concern the consumption of alcohol and the act of gossiping. At many conferences, alcohol is consumed during dinner and drinks. For some conference goers, this is an invitation to indulge. Alcohol may have a special appeal in these settings because it can make conversing with virtual strangers much easier. Alcohol is sometimes termed ‘a social lubricant’ for good reasons. However, do not forget that you are still among colleagues. Know your limits and try not to cross them. One of the authors of this book, at the very first conference she attended less than one month into her PhD, made the mistake of following the crowd one particularly enjoyable conference evening. She drank more than was wise, and went to bed late. But unlike that crowd who could afford a less than clear head, she had to deliver a presentation the following morning. Although she managed the task, it was neither easy nor a particularly good performance. The lesson here is that alcohol and work do not mix very well, and no matter how enjoyable social events at a conference can be, they are still part of your work. If you enjoy socialising with a drink or two, do so with your friends outside of a work context. Gossip A social setting like a conference is a great opportunity to catch up with people that you haven’t seen for a while, and to get to know others. Part of this involves sharing information about others (‘Did you hear that X got promoted?’, ‘Y is quitting academia’, or ‘I heard that Z is in a relationship with her colleague . . .’). Be careful not to cross the line between sharing useful information and gossip. Gossiping, defined as the exchange of information with evaluative content about absent third parties (Beersma & van Kleef, ), can be beneficial or malicious. It can involve the sharing of positive evaluations of someone or something, or negative evaluations. There are several reasons why people gossip, such as to gather information, to bond with another person, or to punish those who violate social norms (Beersma & van Kleef, ). Despite some of the social benefits of gossiping, we

Making the Most of Conferences


strongly advise that you err on the side of caution and avoid any information sharing that may be construed as gossip. You never know who in your circle of gossip is acquainted with whom, which means that you may be gossiping about someone who is actually a close friend of your conversation partner. Sharing gossip can also be harmful for your reputation, and reputation is important for academics.

Conclusion Conferences are wonderful means of sharing new insights and finding inspiration. Conferences are also excellent opportunities for building and expanding your network. Networking is a highly social activity and can be great fun, but be aware that networking is still working – it is work. If you refrain from gossiping and take it easy on the alcohol, you will find that you can reap all the intellectual and social benefits that a conference has to offer. Enjoy!


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D graphs,  D graphs,  abbreviations,  alcohol,  anecdote, –,  animations, , , ,  asking questions,  cultural differences,  attending a presentation, – attending conferences,  attention disorder,  audiences, various, – international audiences,  large audience,  lay audiences,  small audience,  audio, , , , , , , , ,  audio recordings,  belly-breathing,  blackout,  blitz presentation,  breathing, –,  brown bag meeting, – buzzwords,  checklist,  clarification, , –,  clothing. See dresscode coffee break,  cognitive exercise, – collaborators, , , ,  colloquial expressions,  colloquium, – colour-blindness,  conference programme,  confidential information,  constructive feedback,  core message, –,  core message first, 

core message last,  timing of, – cultural differences, – achievement versus nurturing,  collectivism versus individualism, – indulgence versus restraint,  long- versus short-term orientation,  masculinity versus femininity,  power distance, – uncertainty avoidance,  dinner. See meals discussion, –,  start of discussion,  discussion time, – dresscode, – high heels,  men,  shoes,  women,  dyslexia,  elevator pitch, ,  emotion-focused coping,  eye contact, – falling asleep,  FameLab presentations, , – feedback, –, ,  formulation,  seeking feedback, – fidgeting,  final checks,  layout of the room,  spot,  technical facilities,  final statement,  fonts,  footers, 


 generating curiosity,  generating interest,  gestures, ,  giving feedback,  gossip, – grant applications, – graphs,  headers,  highlighting text,  humanities, –, , ,  humour, – hyperventilation,  images,  inclusive slide design,  inductive versus deductive reasoning, – insecurity,  intonation,  introducing yourself,  introduction, , –,  start, , – structure,  jokes, – key message. See core message Keynote (programme),  keynote address, – large audience, – tips,  lay audience,  Leary’s rose,  lectern,  light-headedness,  lunch colloquium, – main conclusion, , , – main message. See core message meals,  metaphor,  moving around, – negative feedback,  non-verbal behaviour,  notes,  offensive questions,  outline,  overcoming stress,  overview of presentation,  pace of speech, – paraphrasing, , 

Index pauses,  Pecha Kucha, , – pointer,  poster presentations, – posture,  PowerPoint, –, , – practice,  practising, – how,  when,  why,  preparation, , , , –, –,  presentation anxiety, – presentation formats,  presentation programme,  presentation skills, –, , , ,  presentation structure,  Prezi,  problem-focused coping, , – procrastination, – pronunciation, , , ,  q&a. See questions questions, – during presentations, – nasty questions,  no answer,  no questions,  tips,  rapid-fire presentation,  recording your presentation,  rehearsal, –,  results, – rumination,  schedule,  seated position,  selecting presentations,  self-presentation,  session chair, , –,  short presentation formats, – sitting,  slang,  sleepy during presentation,  slide background,  slide design,  slide format,  slide layout, – slides colours,  content,  end slide,  graphs and tables,  text and images, 

Index title slide,  transitions,  videos,  small audience,  social events, – social sciences, –, , , , ,  socialising meals and coffee breaks, – with peers,  with seniors,  sound. See audio start,  stress, , – exercises, – structure, –

theoretical framework,  time pressure, – transcript, –, , ,  tree metaphor, 

tables,  TED talks, 

walking,  written papers, 

use of examples,  using a visual cue,  voice, – chest voice,  exercise,  head voice,  intonation,  volume,  volume of voice, 