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Giving a killer presentation

29 May 2019

You know your research inside and outside and you have written your abstract. Great. But that conference where you will present at is coming closer. How will you translate your days, months or years of work to the audience in just 30 minutes or less? In this age of instant gratification and short attention spans, you need to grab - and keep - the audience’s attention!

A few things to consider when preparing your presentation and to keep in mind when on stage:

1. Prepare yourself. Practice your talk in advance as it will give you a peace of mind. At our conferences, we invite speakers to test their presentation beforehand. Make use of that precious preparation time and arrive timely.

Presenting a talk

2. Start with a bang. If you don’t have the attention of your audience at the beginning of your presentation, you will lose them completely. You can take off with a short video or an attention-grabbing but relevant picture, like our speaker Andreas Tolias did at RNGS19 with his talk ‘The fabric of the neocortex’.

3. Create a thread. You know what you want to tell your audience but to give them some structure, begin with a short overview. Inform them you will start with X, followed by Y, and ending with Z. If what you are planning to say doesn’t contribute to your main story, leave it out. Learning how to make a good hook is one of the hardest parts about presenting.

4. Know your audience. Who do you want to impact with your talk? Try to find out what the audience might already know and present new data. Researchers are there to learn. You want your story to resonate, not just with subject matter experts, but also with persons from other disciplines, companies, and institutes.

5. The slideshow. The slideshow should come with the presenter and not the other way around. So, in theory, if you have a good story, that should be enough. Then again, you might need some slides to present some findings. Keep the following rules in mind:

  • Make your slideshow attractive. Don’t use too much text.
  • If you use text, use bullet points and a bigger font size.
  • Use a reasonable number of slides.


6. Storytelling. Storytelling is one of the most effective ways to communicate, even at a science conference. You don’t want to endlessly drone on about the technical details. Stories help us to pay attention, to remember things better, and to stay motivated. Try to involve anecdotes of patients, scientists or yourself so that people can relate.

7. Using your body to the fullest. To get your message across, giving it a go with only verbal means, might not be enough. Here’s where body language comes into play. When you use good intonation and make gestures, you will have the spectator’s attention. Make use of the stage and keep breathing! Taking deep breaths feeds oxygen to your brain.

8. End with a boom. People mostly remember the beginning of an experience and the end. That’s why it’s important to make a short summary of everything you have said at the end. Keep it concise, to the point and repeat your core message.

9. Enjoy the ride. Finally, don’t overthink it. It might take a few shots to get that presentation skill right, but with a few tips and some experiences, you will get there, and you might even enjoy it after a while. Be confident and passionate and you are already a long way in with engaging with the audience.

We hope we have managed to help some of you and that you will rock your next presentation!