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Giving the Oral Presentation

The final step in the research process is the presentation. In order to ensure a successful presentation, this article will cover the following concluding steps:

  • What to wear.
  • Preparing on site.
  • Delivering the presentation.
  • Answering questions.
  • Anticipating the unexpected.

What you wear when making your presentation will affect your audience. This does not mean you need to go out and purchase an entirely new wardrobe, but consider the following suggestions:

  • Look professional.

Wear a suit or equivalent attire that fits well, is clean, and has been recently pressed. Make sure your shoes are shined and appear well cared for (no sneakers or deck shoes). If you are traveling to the meeting, do not wear your presentation clothes but protect them in a travel bag. Under no circumstances should you wear a white lab coat, surgical scrubs, or have a stethoscope protruding from your pocket.

  • Dress as well as the audience.

People listen more carefully to someone they assume is from the same social, educational, and economic level as they are, and your clothing will label you as "belonging." If you make an error, err on the side of dressing more formally than your audience, not less formally.

  • Dress comfortably.

Not only should your clothes be comfortable but they should also make you feel confident. Confidence is an asset when making the presentation.

Experienced presenters have common habits that make them successful. These habits are borne out of previous presentation fiascos that can be avoided if you follow a few simple rules. We strongly recommend that you:

  • Arrive early.

Get to the presentation room early. This will allow you to get your emotions under control and mentally image a successful presentation. If you are nervous, reduce your anxiety by talking with the other speakers or moderator. In fact, it is a good idea to introduce yourself to the moderator and make sure he/she can pronounce your name. If you must clear up some administrative details (presenter is different than the first author, providing a correcting your current affiliation or title), showing up early will give you the opportunity to set the record straight.

  • Set up and try out the audiovisual equipment.

Stand at the podium and become familiar with all of the equipment. Satisfy yourself that you can adjust or attach the microphone, that you know how to turn it on and off, and that you can adjust the volume. Set up your visuals and practice going through them; are they in the correct order and right side up? Can you go backward as well as forward? Do they project well, or will you have to adjust the focal length or lighting? Can you locate and properly use the pointer? Determine if all of the equipment is present; if it is not, send a room aid or staff person to locate it.

  • Designate an assistant.

It is always a good idea to have a colleague in the room. This person can distribute handouts, dim the lights, and turn on the projector. This may be a necessity if the meeting staff does not provide these services. Also, during the presentation, your colleague can bring problems to your attention. For example, you may not be speaking loudly enough or advancing the visuals in time with your presentation. Your colleague can also take notes regarding your presentation for later feedback and keep a record of the questions that were asked after the presentation.

  • Observe the audience.

If you are not the first to present, observe how the audience is responding to the other presenters. Use this information to modify your presentation to fit the mood and interests of the audience.

We cannot overemphasize the importance of excellent delivery skills. Poor attention to this detail can reduce the effectiveness and seeming importance of even the best studies. Delivery skills are presented in the article "Preparing the Oral Presentation." For added emphasis, a few major points are highlighted below:

  • Know your material, do not read it.
  • Always face the audience.
  • Speak loudly and clearly.
  • Show enthusiasm and emotion.
  • Avoid speaking too rapidly.
  • Make effective use of dramatic pauses.
  • Change your voice pitch and inflection to emphasize important points.
  • Summarize at transition points (after introduction, methods, and results).
  • Make a firm closing (the audience needs to know when you are done).
  • Thank the audience for their attention.

In most scientific meetings, the presentation is followed by 5 minutes of questions and answers. For some, this can be the most terrifying part of the presentation. The typical concern is, "What if they ask a question I don't know the answer to?" That may happen, but considering the amount of background work you performed for this presentation, it is not likely. Here are some suggestions to make the question period go more smoothly:

  • Listen to the questions carefully.
  • Answer only what was asked, and answer concisely so that others can ask a question.
  • If the questioner is not using a microphone, restate the question. Chances are that the rest of the audience did not hear the question.
  • If the question is complex or you do not understand it, have the questioner restate the question.
  • If a restatement of the question does not help you, it is your prerogative to restate it. You might say, "I think that what you are asking is…."
  • If a question seems particularly aggressive or awkward, be polite in your response. The audience will naturally side with you if you are seen as respectful and dignified.
  • Don't embroil yourself in a debate during the question period. If controversy continues to exist after you have politely answered the question, invite the questioner to meet with you after your presentation.
  • Finally, if you don't know the answer to the question, compliment the questioner for his or her good question, admit you don't know the answer, and go on to the next question.

Finally, a good rule to remember is "anything that can go wrong will go wrong," and this is particularly true when making a presentation. The following are some points on anticipating the unexpected:

  • Have a backup plan.

Anticipate the events that could have a negative impact on your presentation. Such disasters might include a microphone malfunction, burnt-out projector bulb, and total power failure. Devise a backup plan for each catastrophe. No visuals? Have a handout ready. No lights to read your notes? Have a penlight in your pocket. No microphone? Consider leaving the podium and coming closer to the audience to speak. All of these things can and do happen, but by using these strategies, you can triumph over a potential disaster.

  • Keep calm.

If the problem is easily correctable, explain to the audience what is happening and have it fixed. This will enhance your reputation for professionalism and increase the audience's confidence in you. When the problem is rectified, continue where you left off. The audience will be very sympathetic with your plight, and as long as you remain calm, polite, and dignified you will have them on your side.

  • Don't take the situation too seriously.

The presentation may seem important, but in the grand scheme of things it isn't. People will admire you even more for your ability to remain cool "under fire."

Use The Oral Presentation Checklist to assist you in giving the oral presentation.

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