Giving a ‘big’ presentation on my research

So I’m in the process of sorting out my filing system on my computer and I came across some text that I had written for a previous blog that I was co-author on.As it still seems to be relevant I’ll post it here.Bear in mind that this was written approximately 18 months ago.It’s also makes a change to be posting about  something other than apps (but new post on this soon).

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Not a strategy I employed to ease nervesGiven that I’m now approaching the end of my third year of my PhD research in the area of speech and language therapy, I’ve reached the point where I actually have interesting and somewhat conclusive things to tell people. That’s why I was very excited when I had an abstract for a presentation accepted for a therapy symposium organised by the British Aphasiology Society which coincidentally was being held this year at Newcastle University.

I’ve given presentations about aspects of my research before but mostly at postgraduate research conferences where the audience consisted of people who were perhaps more interested in the linguistic aspects of my work rather than the applications in a speech therapy context.

Adding to this the fact that the audience was going to be much larger than at previous presentations and that I’d be talking for much longer than I previous had there was naturally a fair amount of anxiety as the day of the talk came closer.

I’d already done a lot of the background work to the presentation as it naturally overlapped with my PhD content, which I am also currently writing up.However, the challenge was to suitably focus on a relatively narrow area which would allow the audience (made up mostly of practicing speech and language therapists) to take something useful from.I started thinking in earnest about the content of my talk around 6 weeks before the actual date and wrote individual PowerPoint slides as the ideas came to me until eventually I had a fairly substantial amount of information in a fairly disorganised PowerPoint presentation.At this stage I found it really useful to revisit my original abstract to see what people would be expecting from my talk.By doing this I had found I could really structure and focus my slides so that I wouldn’t be taking my audience in directions that they weren’t expecting and that I wasn’t originally intending.

So after much work around structure and content and around one week before my presentation day I finally had something that I was fairly pleased with.This was when I had the chance to have a practice run through with members of my research group in my school.This was undoubtedly the most useful aspect of my preparation as other people have different ways of seeing things.So things that I had missed were instantly picked up on by other people.This included things like background knowledge that I had perhaps taken for granted in my audience, areas where I was going into too much unnecessary detail, and even things which immediately become obvious once they are pointed out such as typos and the size of the text.

So now I had another fairly long list of things to tweak and again my presentation came closer and closer to the ‘final version’.Over the following week I probably had another 4 or 5 practice run throughs on my own where gradually the changes became fewer and fewer but involved small things like re-ordering my slides as I found new, more interesting, and more logical ways to introduce and link together different ideas.

So it was now the day of the talk and I was the second speaker on the first day of the symposium, which to be honest, was a relief as I was early enough to not give me lots of time to get excessively worried about it.However, surprisingly, despite the size of the audience I wasn’t feeling as anxious as perhaps I was expecting.After being introduced, the most difficult part of the talk was actually those first couple of sentences which I hadn’t really prepared; just that tiny lead in to introduce myself and to hopefully make a good impression.Anyway, the next 50 minutes of me talking went by pretty quickly and surprisingly I’d managed to say everything that I wanted to without running out of time.Then followed the questions, of which there were three that could be asked in the time available.Despite the unpredictable nature of the questions I managed to answer them reasonably well but from my perspective they actually gave me lots of new ideas that I could explore when I come to incorporate aspects of my presentation into my PhD and in articles that I aim to submit to journals.

Following my talk and into the second day of the symposium I received lots of compliments from people on the content and clarity of my talk and also requests for my presentation slides.Again, I also had lots of suggestions and constructive comments on areas which I perhaps hadn’t considered so far which again can help me think about the implications and interpretation of my research.

So to summarise; I think my main points are that despite the amount of work and stress that can go into what I would call a fairly ‘big’ presentation and pushing myself outside of my comfort zone, I think the benefits have been huge.I’ve got lots of new ideas and more opportunities to present my ideas and research to others and to get my ideas ‘out there’ which I think is one the main points of research in any field.In terms of given the presentation itself I think my three key points are:

  1. Start preparation early
  2. Practice
  3. Get feedback.

If you do these things then you’ll have enough confidence in your own ability to say what you want meaning you can be confident in how you are saying it.

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About chrissp1980
Currently a lecturer in speech pathology in North Queensland, Australia. I'm lecturing in acquired disorders of speech and language and also attempting to enthuse students in conducting clinically-relevant projects using principles of Evidence-Based Practice. Wish me luck!

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