Presenting Your Research Publicly

Published: Tues., April 3, 2018

Much of your graduate experience prepares you to conduct research in your field. Just as important as conducting your research is presenting or sharing your research publicly. Whether you present a poster or oral presentation at a research conference or similar event, publish your work in a research journal, or present your work publicly to those outside your discipline, it's important to understand how to effectively share your work and help others understand it and its implications and applications.

Preparing Your Presentation

Be clear. Think about your presentation's organization. It should be easy to follow how you designed your study. In most fields, those categories will be background literature, methods, results, and discussion and future research or very similar terms. Use headings to show your organization. Avoid excessive graphics and designs that would make it difficult to read your poster or PowerPoint. Be mindful of the font size so that it will be visible to those viewing your presentation. It is generally recommended to avoid any font sizes smaller than 18 pt on a poster or PowerPoint. For posters or PowerPoints, consider the color scheme of your presentation. It should be clear and easy to read. Be cautious using graphics behind your text as it can affect the ability to read your text.

Be concise. Whether you are presenting a poster or a PowerPoint for an oral presentation you have limited time and space for your material. Oral presentations usually require summarizing a lengthy research project into a 15-30 minute presentation. Posters only have so much space for text. You do not have to include everything. Ask yourself: what is the most important information? Think about how to summarize or abbreviate those points. People often use bullet points on PowerPoints and posters rather than full sentences to maximize the amount of content they can to cover. Also, sometimes a good chart or visual can be substituted for written explanation.

Consider the audience. The audience you are presenting to affects what you include and how you say it. The public may be more interested in applications or outcomes o your work than they nuances of how you did it. Experts in your field might also be interested to hear about the methodologies you used as well as the finings. The level of jargon you might use for presenting to experts might be very different then if you were presenting to a community group or an undergraduate class.

Practice. Know your presentation. Know your material. Think about the questions you might be asked and prepare to respond to them. You should be able to do your presentation without constantly looking at your poster, notes, or PowerPoint slides.

Presenting Your Work

Be present. Not only should you be physically present at your presentation, you should be mentally present. You may have many other things on your mind, but during your presentation try to focus only on that. People can tell if you do not really want to be there and they may be less willing to interact with you because you seem less engaged with the content or less interested in talking with them.

Make your work understandable. You undoubtedly know your research better than anyone, however it is often difficult for people to explain their work to people who are not experts in their field. Even others in your field may not know all the terms or acronyms. Explain any terms or acronyms that might be unclear to some people. Use metaphors or examples to help make your research understandable to those who have not been in the lab with you. Pictures and images can often help explain complex processes.

Listen and respond. At poster sessions, your presentation is more of a conversation. Listen carefully to what they say and respond appropriately. Repeat a question if need be to make sure you understood what they asked. There may be questions after an oral presentation and the same advice holds true here. Presentations are not just about you talking, but also listening to the responses from attendees.

Be prepared to follow up. Some people bring business cards when they present. This allows them and you to continue to stay in touch if there is a question you need to follow up on. If you have a great conversation with someone, don't be afraid to reach out to them afterwards.

After You Present

After you finish presenting your work at a conference or publishing your work, you are not necessarily done with that project. First, you might consider how else you might share that work. For example, if you presented a poster you might think about how you could share that work in a research article or share it at another conference. Maybe it would be useful to share that work in a public forum for non-experts. For instance, local schools and community groups might be interested in hearing more about your work. While it is important to share your work with others in the field, it is also important that the public at large knows about your work. If the public does not know or understand your work then they may see little value in it. The public can advocate for your work or help you apply your work outside academia.

The second thing you can do after a presentation is think about where to take your research next. Perhaps someone posed a question that impacts your future research directions. After your present, spend some time to make a note of those ideas and if or how you might be able to implement them. Presentations should not be a one-sided affair. In discussing your work, you may find new insights into the work often from the same people you are presenting your work to.