Giving an oral presentation at a scientific conference is an almost inevitable task at some point during your medical career. The prospect of presenting your original work to colleagues and peers however may be intimidating, and it can be difficult to know how to approach it. Nonetheless, it is important to remember that although daunting, an oral presentation is one of the best ways to get your work out there, and so should be looked upon as an exciting and invaluable opportunity.
Although things may vary slightly depending on the type of research you are presenting, the typical structure is as follows:
- Opening slide (Title of study, authors, institutions and date)
- Study aims
- Strengths and weaknesses
Picking out only the most important findings to include in your presentation is key, and will keep it concise and easy to follow. This in turn will keep your viewers engaged, and more likely to understand and remember your presentation.
It is important not to clutter your slides with too much text or too many pictures. An easy way to do this is by using the 5×5 rule. This means using no more than five bullet points per slide, with no more than five words per bullet point. It is also good to break up the text-heavy slides with ones including diagrams or graphs. This can also help to convey your results in a more visual and easy-to-understand way.It is best to keep the slide design simple, as busy backgrounds and loud colour schemes are distracting. Ensure that you use a uniform font and stick to the same colour scheme throughout. As a general rule, a light-coloured background with dark-coloured text is easier to read than light-coloured text on a dark-coloured background.
You should practice your presentation before the conference, making sure that you stick to the allocated time given to you. Oral presentations are usually short, and it is therefore easy to go under or over time if you have not rehearsed. Aiming to spend around one minute per slide is usually a good guide. It is useful to present to your colleagues and seniors, allowing them to ask you questions afterwards so that you can be prepared for the sort of questions you may get asked at the conference. Knowing your research inside out and reading around the subject is advisable, as there may be experts watching you at the conference with more challenging questions!
It is useful to bring along handouts of your presentation for those who may be interested. Rather than printing out miniature versions of your power point slides, it is better to condense your findings into a brief word document. Not only will this be easier to read, but you will also save a lot of paper by doing this!
Having rehearsed your presentation beforehand, the most important thing to do when you get to the conference is to keep calm and be confident- remember that you know your own research better than anyone else in the room! Be sure to take some deep breaths and speak at an appropriate pace and volume, making good eye contact with your viewers. If there is a microphone, don’t keep turning away from it, as the audience will get frustrated if your voice keeps cutting in and out. Gesturing and using pointers when appropriate can be a really useful tool, and will enable you to emphasise your important findings.
When reaching the end of your presentation, you should slow down in order to clearly convey your key points. Using phases such as ‘in summary’ and ‘to conclude’ often makes those who have drifted off slightly during your presentation start paying attention again, so it is a critical time to make sure that your work is understood and remembered. Leaving up your conclusions/ summary slide for a short while after stopping speaking will give the audience time to digest the information. Conclude by acknowledging any fellow authors or assistants, before thanking the audience for their attention and inviting any questions (as long as you have left sufficient time).If asked a question, firstly thank the audience member, then repeat what they have asked to the rest of the listeners, in case they didn’t hear the first time. Keep your answers short and succinct, and if unsure, say that the questioner has raised a good point and that you will have to look into it further. Having someone else in the audience write down the question is useful for this.
The key points to remember when preparing for an oral presentation are:
- Keep your slides simple and concise
- Rehearse timings
- Prepare answers to questions
- Speak slowly and use gestures/ pointers where appropriate
- Make eye contact with the audience
- Emphasise your key points at the end
- Make acknowledgements and thank the audience
- Invite questions
- Be confident!