Reader question: I was pleased to receive an invitation to present at a national conference in the exact area on which I focus my research. But as the presentation gets closer and closer, my anxiety is steadily increasing. Do you have suggestions or any tips for making a successful research presentation? How can I control my anxiety and still engage the audience and deliver the thoughtful comments necessary to make my presentation an effective one?
Expert comments: While many of us receive such news with joy, it never takes long for reality to set in! All too soon we will be alone in front of hundreds, if not thousands, of other experts in our field, presenting the results of our research. What can we do in the days and weeks prior to the event to prepare for a presentation at a large, national or international meeting?
After the initial euphoria subsides, recognize first that you are the expert in your research. “That, along with a few simple steps involving preparation, will help to calm your anxiety and will provide a framework for the presentation preparation,” says Rick Parmely, expert coach in public speaking. What are those simple steps?
First, preparation is the key to all successful national presentations. Ask yourself some questions: How much data do I need to present? Who is the target audience and what do they know about my research? What essential facts do I want to present, and what is the most effective way to present those facts? Where is the presentation room, how is it set up, and do I need to provide any collateral, such as hard copies or hand-outs, an electronic copy of my presentation, or a projector and pointer? Where is check in? “Getting these basic pre-event logistics handled are the first steps toward lowering your stress level,” assures Parmely.
Second, practice. It cannot be overstated that “repetition is the mother of retention.” That is a rule for successful and fluent presenters. Practice by yourself, then get an audience to listen to you – family or colleagues can do much for your confidence and can assist by pointing out what is clear and what might be improved.
Third, punctuality will promote a calm heart, and give you time to “decompress” prior to your presentation. Arrive early at the facility and find the check-in location for your session. Let the organizers know you are there, and then take a small break to gather your thoughts and settle your nerves. Review your notes. Locate your outline, backup drive or memory card, and laser pointer. Use this time to recall things you may have forgotten.
Mr. Parmely also suggests that you may find it helpful to analyze other facets of the presentation: the use of stories to frame your topic, your timing, slide content, and theme. “Attention to the most relevant features of every presentation, once determined, can boost your self-confidence and mitigate anxiety,” he notes.
Yes, presentations to national audiences of scientists can be intimidating. But by preparing early, practicing in advance of the event, being punctual in timing, and using well-thought out stories, you assure yourself of success. And be much calmer the day of the event as well!
Expert comments provided by Rick Parmely