Tips for Making Effective Presentations

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<p>Presenting analysis and results isessential to any technological pro-ject,whetherinternaltoyour companyortotheprofessionalcommunity, such as in professionalsociety meetings, workshops, andconsortium meetings. To be effec-tive,thepresentationmustbe convincing, straightforward, artic-ulate,andsupportedwithclear,easy-to-digestslidesthatconveythe results credibly. Thecrucialobjectiveistoensure that your audience under-standsyourmessageclearlyandcompletely.Accomplishingthis,however, is not easy. Studies haveshownrepeatedlythatanaudi-encegenerallyunderstandsandremembers2530%ofwhattheyhear, but 6075% of what they see.NotedexplorationgeophysicistCarlSavitoftenremarkedthatapresentationissuccessfulif20%of the audience gets 20% of yourmessage. His words emphasize what you are up against whendeliveringpresentations.InanSEGpresentation,youonlyhave about 20 minutes to summarize a year or more of researchorstudyinawaythatyouraudiencecanabsorb.Thisisadaunting task unless you take great care in preparing and con-veying your message. Key to this effort is putting yourself in the shoes of youraudience,whoarehearingyourstoryforthefirsttime.Empathy for the audience is essential whether you are con-veying your information in a written paper or in an oral pre-sentation.Here,weoffersuggestionstoaidtheclarityandeffectiveness of oral presentations. We focus on two aspects:tips for the presentation style itself and tips on the quality andform of slides. Startsmart.First,avoidthetendencytotelleverylastneatthing you did in your project. Successful talks are usually thosethatconveynotjustresults,butalsoideas,concepts,andinsights. Be concise. Focus on the main points, and empha-sizethatthedetailsoftheprojectareinthewrittenpaper,expanded abstract, or project report. Professional success oftenreliesonyourabilitytostresstheimportantpointsofpre-sentations in the allotted time. When an audience assimilatesyour message, you gain credibility and respect. If you presentyour talk so that those who are not experts in the topic areacan understand it, then not only will the non-experts appre-ciate and understand the talk, you will find that those withexpertise will appreciate it as well. Anxiety before a presentationparticularly if you are newto the processis common. Relax: the audience is not judg-ing you. They are there because they truly want to hear whatyou have to say and are interested in your message.Itsallrighttobeexcitedandenthusiasticinfact,itspreferable!Someoftheleastinterestingpresentationsaregiven by individuals who have been in front of an audienceso often that they come across as disinterested. Keep in mindthat your talk is not atravelogue, but a presen-tation of scientific analysiswithinterestingresultsthathave implications for beneficialapplications (e.g., finding oil and gasto provide energy for society, methodsforhazardouswasteremediation,identification and warning of naturaleventstopreventdisasters,etc.)Itshelpful to imagine that you are shar-ing with a colleague, who is a friend,what you have learned in yourproject. Alwaysrehearseyourtalksothatyouknowexactly how long it will takeand can deliver it clearly and con-cisely.Rehearsingalsohelpsyoupolish your delivery. Ask a trusted colleague or two to watchyour rehearsal and offer constructive criticism. It helps if yourrehearsal audience is made up of individuals who are famil-iar with the material as well as those for whom the messageis new. Avoidusingexpressionssuchaswenextsee, we see here that, next, Ill show you, then, I did. Theylack warmth and separate you from your audience. It is moreeffectivetousestraightforward,declarativesentencesthatinvite your audience into the presentation. Ideally, you wantyouraudiencetothinkthattheythemselveshavevirtuallycome up with (or could come up with) the ideas you are con-veying. This is not as strange as it might seem. Astute mem-bers of your audience who really get the thread of what youare presenting are also thinking ahead and drawing conclu-sions. That is when you have succeeded in capturing the atten-tion of the audience. Tips for making effective presentationsMICHAEL A. PAYNE, ExxonMobil, Houston, USAKEN LARNER, Colorado School of Mines, Golden, USAMARCH 2008 THE LEADING EDGE 423Presentations: Key points to remember Rehearseyourtalkwithcolleagueswhocanofferadetailed, constructive critique The purpose of a presentation is to convey ideas, concepts, and results,not how a project was conducted Explain complex ideas in simple terms Make sure your audience understands the key points Communicate directly with your audience. Make eye contact with atleast one listener to gauge response and promote interaction Foreachslide,firstdescribewhatyouareshowing,thenmake observations and draw conclusions Speak at an appropriate pacenot too fast, not too slow Clearly list the assumptions and limitations of new technology andthe costs of applying it End your talk with definitive conclusions Finishyourtalkwithintheallottedtimeandallowtimefora question-and-answerperiod.Usethisopportunitytoclarifyyour message Downloaded 07/16/15 to Redistribution subject to SEG license or copyright; see Terms of Use at you give your presentation, communicate directly withyour audience. Its helpful to make repeated eye contact withatleastonememberoftheaudience;choosesomeonewhoseems particularly interested in your talk. You can use his orher responses to your words as a means of interacting withthe audience. Speak directly to your audience, not to the screen. Glanceatyourslidesonlyenoughtoensurethatyouareawareofwhat is being projected; then turn to the audience so that theycan hear you and you can maintain that all-important eye con-tact with them. Make sure you keep your presentation as atalk rather than allowing it to degenerate into an explanationof the slides. Starting with the introduction, invite your audi-ence with gestures and your tone of voice to participate in thepresentation with you. Draw them into your presentation, andtheywillbefocusedwithfascinationonyoureveryword. Speak at an appropriate pace during your talk. Most peo-ple do not hear and absorb as fast as a rapid speaker talks,particularlynowwhenthegeosciencecommunityisglobaland manymembers have different first languages. Relax, slowdown, speak clearly, and communicate. On the other hand,do not speak so slowly that the audience gets bored and tunesout. Use your voice for emphasis, varying the volume and thespeedofyourdelivery.Fortheessentialpoints,raiseyourvoice, slow down, and pause afterward to let the message sinkin. Its a story. Think of your talk as a story, complete with chap-ters. Imagine your story as a mountain range, associating theimportanceofthekeypointswiththeheightofthemoun-tains. Make sure your audience really understands the singlehighest peak, i.e., the main point. Then, make sure they geteach of the other key points in turn. In Colorado, Mt. Elbertwould be first, then the two or three next highestfourteeners(mountainswith14000+ftele-vation) and so on, without getting down to the13 000-ft peaks. All presenters accidentally leave somethingout that they intended to say in a talk. By focus-ing on the high peaks, you ensure your audi-ence will get the essential pointsthose that youreally want them to grasp. As long as the audienceunderstands these, it wont matter that other itemswere left unsaid. Remember, youre telling a storynot writingone. Therefore, avoid using intricate, carefully crafted sentencesasinwrittentext.Recognizethatinfriendlyspeech,wedonot typically speak in sentences, but in short phrases that con-vey the message concisely. Slidesgeneral guidelines. In recent years, PowerPoint andsimilar tools have revolutionized presentations, and it is easytoassumethatthequalityofslidesandpresentationshasgreatly improved. To the contrary, the general quality of bothhassuffered, perhaps in large part because of the ready avail-ability of these tools. It is so quick and easy to enter lots ofwords and pictures into slides that the message is buried. Slideswith too much detail overwhelm the listener and confuse themain point. It bears repeating: show only those slides that mosteffectively communicate your points (Figure 1No and Figure1Yes.)However, the medium is not the message. Visual aids shouldhelp, not dominate, the presentation. Consider two extremes forslide presentationsa presentation with no slides and one withso many slides that the speaker could never realistically getthrough them all. 424 THE LEADING EDGE MARCH 2008Figure 1No. Complete and lengthy sentences include unnecessarydetails and force the use of too-small fonts.Figure 1Yes. The conclusions are shown with succinctly worded bullets. Slides: Slides are your prompt about what to sayto the audience Keep slides simple Communicate one idea per slide Keep content sparse, and never use the wordthe on a slide A dark background with light-colored textor drawings works best visuallyUseabulletedformatforoutlineslides Repeattheoutlineslideatkeypointsthroughout the talk to remind the audienceof where you are in the talk Graphicslidesshouldcontainonlyenoughinformationtoconveythemessage,witharrows,boxes,etc.,thatdirectthe audiences attention to key points Downloaded 07/16/15 to Redistribution subject to SEG license or copyright; see Terms of Use at best approach is to aim for just enough slides to sup-portyourmessage.Showonlythoseslidesthatmosteffec-tively communicate your points and no more. Slides are visualaids that augment the talkthey are not the full report. Usethem to communicate the main ideas of the presentation andto help you, the speaker, flow smoothly through the talk byprompting you for what needs to be communicated (Figure2). Slide presentations often contain the logo of the presen-ters organization on every slide. We consider the logo to bespace-consumingnoninformation.Afterall,thespeakersorganization was listed in the program and given by the ses-sion chairman. Aprime example of how not to compose thecontent of a slide is given in Figure 3. This classic tongue-in-cheek slide (courtesy of Les Hatton) from a couple of decadesago takes the all-too-frequent practice of showing logos to anextreme, minimizing the area available for the content on theslide. Certainly, if you must use a logo on every slide, makesure that it is small and not ostentatious. Most often, the message in a geophysical presentation isbest conveyed by showing data. Figure 4-No is an exampleof how not to present data in a slide. The photo inserted inthe upper left gives a graphic example of an earthquake vic-tim that can elicit pathos in the audience. In a geophysical pre-sentation,however,pathosisntthepoint.Thisgraphicisadiversionfromthemessagecontainedinthedataandwilllikely draw the audience, even if momentarily, away from thedata and dilute the message. Additionally, it is not possible to read the information con-tained in the curve and bar graph, even for those at the front.The data figure in the slide is just too tiny. Figure 4-Yes showsallthatneedstobeconveyed.Notethatjustthebargraphcompletely fills the screen. The curve shown in Figure 4-No(whatever it shows since we cannot read it) is immaterial. Notealso that the title in Figure 4-Yes is not only briefer than thatin Figure 4-No, it is much more to the point. Since the wordcasualties by definition includes those injured, it is an inap-propriate title for the bar graph, which specifically lists onlylossoflifeinanumberofdevastatingearthquakes.Compare the information contained in the simplepresentation in Figure 4-Yes with that in the highlygraphicFigure4-No,withitspicturesque,butcontent-free background. Ensure that similar data shown on differentslides are displayed with the same scale so that theaudienceimmediatelygraspsthesignificanceofvariations in the data shown or compared in differ-ent slides. Figure5-Notakestheinsertionofgratuitous,entertaining, and distracting pictures to an extreme,in addition to offering a title that says little about whatthe numbers mean. How cute that a chimpanzee can be taughtto smoke! Any contemplation of that fact will detract the audi-ences attention away from the message. Then,thereisthediagramdepictingtheprogressofinfluenza in a bodys system. This is fascinating material in atalkaboutinfluenza,butdistractingforapresentationonearthquakehazards. Also,thefontismuchtoosmall.Withthe unnecessary photographs removed, Figure 5-Yes showsall the pertinent data, in large lettering and in descending orderof relative risk. The title of the slide indicates explicitly whatthenumbersmean.Thefigure,moreover,allowssufficientroom to show in a readable form the source of the data. Onanother note about this slide, the risk factors might be moreeffectivelyshownasabarorlinegraph.Therelativeriskswould then jump off the page visually for the audience. Figure 6 compares two slidesone with too much detail(Figure6-No)andone(Figure6-Yes)thatcontainsenoughinformation to engage the audience rather than diverting theirattention to determining what the slide means. Both slides con-tain the essential information. The title informs the audienceat a glance what the data represent. They see it and hear yousay it, and remember it. We took Figure 6No and improvedit for simplicity, clarity, and interpretability. Note the follow-ing differences between the two figures: 1)An informative slide title has been introduced to tell theaudience at a glance what the slide is conveying2)The velocity plot has been removed3)Thedistanceannotation,whichistoosmall,hasbeenremoved and replaced by a more readable scale bar, and4)Criticallyhelpfulannotations(PlanView,Profile,MonitorWell,andClearwaterReservoirSand)andthe key point of the slide (yields tighter clusters) havebeen inserted with acceptable font sizes.5)The velocity plot, which represents an independent idea,hasbeenmovedfromthisslide(Figure6-No)toalaterone (not shown here) as a standalone idea. In doing so, itcan be enlarged sufficiently so that the audience can seethe differences in the two velocity curves. Theseenhancementsresultintwosimpleslidesratherthan one complicated one. As a result, the data in Figure 6-MARCH 2008 THE LEADING EDGE 425Figure 2Yes. A succinctly worded outline listing major portions of atalk.Figure 3No, never. This exaggerated slide clearly overdoes the logoand reduces the data to an unreadable size.Downloaded 07/16/15 to Redistribution subject to SEG license or copyright; see Terms of Use at,allowing the speaker to convey the message more effectively.The annotations identify key points that the speaker needs tocoverandgreatlyaidunderstandingataglance.Now,thespeaker has no need for a laser pointer. There is even roomforthekeyconclusion(theneweventrelocationtechniqueyields tighter clusters). Text slides. Word slides should be used no more than nec-essary. Use them to help...</p>