Learning to give an effective research talk with Charlesworth Knowledge

Early in my career I picked up a great tip for giving effective public talks which is really useful, for example, when giving academic conference presentations. Indeed, I recently heard a variant of this advice repeated in an interview with a well-known US preacher: first, tell your audience what you are going to talk about, then give your talk, and then tell the audience again what you’ve just told them. You can do this easily with slides.


This is exactly the same advice that my PhD supervisor gave me when I was first learning how to put together an effective talk: start of with a ‘outline’ slide that tells the audience what you are going to say, then say it (in the main body of the presentation), and then repeat a variant of your contents slide again at the end of your talk. This is called ‘reinforcing a message’ and it’s actually a standard teaching technique: people need to know what to expect from a lesson, or talk, and research has shown that learning is most effective when key outcomes are repeated more than once.


We teach effective research presentation skills in our Charlesworth Knowledge workshops, which can be booked via institutions. For sure, one of the most daunting prospects you’ll likely face as an early-career researcher will be your first big conference presentation: how to manage, and be as impressive as possible, in front of a room full of people. I always find these experiences to be even more nerve-wracking when presenting in front of people from my home university; it’s harder when you know the people in the audience.


My advice is to develop a structure for your presentations as early as possible. Once you know, for example, that you are scheduled to give a 15-minute talk at a research meeting the key both for being effective and controlling your nerves is to start planning, at least in your head. How many slides? What sort of content? Who will be in the audience? Does your time slot include time for questions? These are all critical questions to start asking yourself as far in advance of the event as possible.


Breaking this down, work on the basis of delivering one slide per minute (on average), not including your Title (at the start) and Acknowledgements (last slide). This means that a 15-minute presentation should not really include more than 17 slides to ensure you have time to talk about everything, that you don’t overrun on time, or have to rush. How much specific detail to include will depend on your audience, so it’s also well worth learning something about this beforehand; are you going to be delivering to a room full of subject area specialists or will your audience need more background information? You’ll need to tailor your slides accordingly.


At Charlesworth Knowledge, we offer a range of training workshops and other online materials to help you design and deliver effective research presentations. Practise, practise, practise, and as the preacher said: “tell ‘em what you’re gonna say, then say it, and then say it again”. So true.


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