If you’ve ever sat through an academic presentation, you know how quickly you can fall asleep, become bored, confused, or overwhelmed. If you’re given the task of presenting an academic topic, you know the challenges you face in keeping your audience engaged and interested. Applying the 10 tips below will help you overcome the obstacles academic presenters face:
- Use less text and even less numbers. We always recommend using visuals as opposed to text when giving a presentation; this advice particularly applies to academic topics because there is a great temptation to mix in a lot of words, numbers, or codes to inform the audience. This may work for speeches but with academic subjects you want to support and interpret words and numbers with visuals and not repeat them. Regardless of the subject being discussed, slides are intended to engage the audience with clear and colorful graphics, graphs, and tables—not as a teleprompter for the speaker. Even an audience of PhD students are like any other human being: highly visual.
- Avoid information overload. Whether presenting templates, words, graphs, or figures, the rule of thumb is K.I.S.S—keep it short and simple. Your audience can only take so much information. Divide the body of your presentation into the three main points you want the audience to recall and process and limit your diagrams to a maximum of seven components. Click here to find out how to create more powerful presentations.
- Employ nonverbal cues. Experienced presenters know that how something is presented can be more crucial than what is being presented. And presenting important academic material is no exception. Aside from using visual aids, engage the audience’s senses. Establish eye contact, vary your tone of voice, make the appropriate facial expressions and natural gestures, and convey a high level of energy and confidence—in most cases these are more important than the words you say. As long as these nonverbal cues are not distracting, your audience will stay interested and actually believe what you’re saying.
- Know your audience. Understand their learning style and knowledge level before giving your presentation including what information they need to know. Most guidelines recommend presenting the bigger picture first before drilling down the details but some actually learn faster the opposite way. Many academia professionals also make the mistake of establishing a rapport with a select group of people in the audience, such as those in the more advanced level, even if the majority of the listeners are unfamiliar with the subject at hand.
- Engage your audience. It’s important to check if your audience understands your message every now and then, especially for academic topics. Get your audience to participate by engaging them in a discussion rather than just talking to them.
- Employ humor, surprises, and practical examples. Just because an academic topic is serious and complex doesn’t mean you can’t do what presenters of other subjects do to keep their audience interested and awake like telling a joke or structuring your presentation as a unique story. Move beyond PowerPoint slides while speaking, especially when you need your audience to totally focus on the matter at hand.
- Go back to the basics. This is another common mistake in presenting academic matters. Many people have a tendency to use complex jargon to make them appear intellectual, credible, or sophisticated but this only makes your topic incomprehensible. Again, the presentation is for the audience so you want to inform the audience about a topic they don’t know, not simply inform them that you know something they don’t.
- Practice, practice, practice. There is truth to the saying “practice makes perfect.” Rehearse the presentation, including any jokes or stories, multiple times until it becomes so natural you no longer need a script and will only have to establish rapport with your audience come presentation day. Try recording your presentation to make a realistic assessment.
- End your presentation with a summary. Have your audience leave the room with a clear understanding of your message or what they have to do with a brief conclusion using large and readable fonts or graphics. When using fonts for technical matters, avoid using comic sans or fonts smaller than 28 points.
- Don’t make your presentation your handout. An academic presentation is a talk about an idea and not the paper itself; your presentation should support rather than document the paper. Hence, prepare a separate handout, if necessary, containing essential words and visuals for the audience.
Indeed, with the right techniques and approach, you can turn even the most boring topic into something interesting, useful, and exciting.
Do you have other ways to perk up your audience during an academic presentation? Let us know by commenting below.