Presentation Tips: A Page From Teaching

July 10, 2018

Presenting at a conference has many challenges. As a presenter, you need to succinctly deliver a presentation that touches on 1 or 2 takeaways and covers the diverse viewpoints in the room. The audience chose to attend your presentation with the intention to learn about--and use--the information you share.

So how do you increase learning when presenting at a conference? Below are 4 ways to improve the learning experience for your audience when delivering a presentation:  

Know Your Audience  

Start by doing some research about your audience by talking to meeting organizers and past attendees about who they are. During your presentation, you can take a quick sampling of your crowd’s demographics by a show of hands or live polling. Who’s in your audience? What’s their career stage or research focus? What are their work challenges and opportunities? You can even ask your audience how familiar they are with your topic. This can help you gauge how deeply to explain the content in your talk.

Backward Design: Start With the End in Mind  

The process of starting with the end in mind, identifying clear takeaways and subsequently, aligning your presentation with supporting evidence or experiences to emphasize each takeaway is called backward design. The backward design approach includes:

  1. Jot down the takeaways you want your audience to know.

  2. Prioritize your takeaway list and think about the time and evidence needed to grasp the understanding for each takeaway.

  3. Make sure each takeaway is clear, presented early and repeated a few times.

  4. Try to eliminate any part of the talk that detracts from the key messages.  

Engage Your Audience   

One major challenge of presenting at a conference is engaging the audience and ensuring the audience has learned the content. One way to tackle the challenge is to use active learning methods. For example, consider presenting your data and polling the audience before sharing the results. After sharing, ask the audience what they would do next and why. Ask them to work in groups so they share their opinions with others and then solicit views from the audience. Use encouraging language and inviting gestures to uncover diverse views. This approach ensures that everyone is doing something with the information, not just passively listening to you.  

Allow Time for Reflection  

Leave some time at the end of your talk to encourage everyone to think about how they would use the information in their own workspace. Some questions to get these ideas flowing include:

  • Are there key findings or concepts to share with others?  

  • Are there steps or methods to implement to minimize redundancies or maximize efficiencies?

  • Is there anyone to contact after the meeting for advice or collaborations?

Taking 1-2 minutes for reflection helps to retain information for future use.

Knowing your audience and allowing time for them to engage with your information coupled with clear takeaways, improves learning for you and the audience at meetings. Learn how to make your presentations more engaging and inclusive by watching our teaching webinars.      

Author: Amy Chang

Amy Chang
Amy L. Chang is the education director of the American Society for Microbiology. She is active in the advancement of students, educators and researchers as well as in diversity in science and medicine. She is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.