22 Oct 2009


Last month, we attended a scientific meeting in Taipei. My mentor was delighted when the work of our research assistant was chosen for oral presentation.

Since she was not a doctor by training and had never presented in such kind of meetings, the little girl was understandably terrified. We had to persuade and reassure her again and again before she agreed to present – at a price. As promised, we gave her training and rehearsals, and ran through her presentation slides repeatedly. At one session, she made me do the presentation and videotaped my performance.

This reminded me of my first presentation in Madrid. It is indeed scary when you think most of the audience are more knowledgeable than you and may make unexpected criticisms. However, my mentor taught me much about presenting a scientific work which I still find useful now. Most of the essentials are covered by books on speeches. Let me just highlight the more practical ones.

1. Do not read the title of your talk. The chairman would have done this during the introduction.
2. Put fewer words in the slides. Do not put things that you are not going to say. Otherwise, the audience would be busy reading the slides and ignore what you say.
3. The title of a slide reminds you what to say. Choose the words carefully.
4. Present the aims of the study clearly and deliver the answer point-by-point in the last conclusion slide. This indicates a clear mind.
5. The ‘thank you’ slide is useless. Say 'thank you' instead and stop at the last conclusion slide. Then the audience can digest the message and ask relevant questions.

So what happened in the end? Before the chairman could introduce her, the little girl ran up the stage, said 'thank you, chairman' (for what?), and began the well prepared presentation. Afterwards, the chairman asked two questions we had already prepared. We saw a confident smile and knew she was safe.

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