Communications Toolkit for Academics

Presentations

Strategies and Tips for Success

Know Your Audience

As an academic, you know how to make a presentation that will effectively communicate to your peers. But a presentation to funders, policy makers, your administrative staff, or to the general public at a science festival requires a different presentation style.

Creating a message box for a presentation will help you identify what’s important to your audience. Knowing and understanding more about the background and makeup of your audience can be one of the biggest keys to a successful presentation. It allows you to properly tailor your presentation to maximize the possibility of your audience engaging with the material you present.

  • Research your audience in advance. This can be accomplished through speaking to the organizer or sponsor of the event and by doing your own background research on the event and its typical participants.
  • Interact with the audience early in the presentation. This allows you to gauge the interest, mood, knowledge level, and nature of the audience in order to tailor your delivery and content accordingly.
  • Anticipate questions. Knowing the makeup and knowledge level of your audience will allow you to prepare for questions they may raise or resistance to your message you might encounter. Will you need to build their knowledge base on the topic from the ground up, or will they have specific questions about the minutia of your research?

Establish interest first

  • Find your hook 
    The first few minutes of a presentation can be the most important. Just like in writing, grabbing the audience’s attention with a “hook” can help establish interest in your material from the start.
  • Get to the point 
    Depending on the audience, it is generally best to avoid spending a long time talking about your personal background, professional history, and previous research. Get to the point: why should this group care about what you are going to present?
  • Establish rapport 
    Find a way to relate to audience members and find common ground by establishing rapport and building a captive audience from the beginning.
  • Stay engaged 
    Make eye contact and smile. Body language and enthusiasm play an important role in keeping the interest of an audience.

Keep it Short and Simple

  • Simplicity is relative to the makeup of your audience, but in general avoid overly complicated jargon, industry speak, and obscure acronyms. While tailoring your presentation to your audience, aim to appeal to the broadest possible demographic without oversimplifying.
  • It is best to finish with the audience wanting more, than for them to be restless because your presentation ran long. Finish a few minutes early to allow time for questions so you can elaborate on topics you covered.  

PowerPoint

MSU maintains a website where official PowerPoint templates can be downloaded, along with official letterheads, business card formats, logos, and other items that are consistent with the university’s brand.

Prezi

As an alternative to the oft-used (and perhaps overused) PowerPoint, Prezi is a cloud-based presentation software. Different presentation products are offered at different levels of pricing. Different pricing levels allow varying amounts of storage, privacy, offline work, training and product support.

TED Talks

TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conferences are a series of talks given with an educational emphasis in front of a live audience at events scheduled across the country and around the world. All talks are viewable for free at TED.com. TEDx events are an extension of TED, hosted by independent organizers who have been approved by TED curators. Speakers are generally not paid to present at TED events.

Presentation Resources:

A number of organizations and websites offer helpful tips on improving presentations and public speaking ability.

Presentations
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