You have some really exciting data, you’re going to show it off to everyone at the next conference, but you know that by the time you stand up, your audience will have sat through presentation after presentation after presentation. How are you going to make your presentation stand out? How are you going to present your data in such a way that your audience is and stays engaged? Follow the tips below to make your presentation the one that people remember.

  • Limit the bullet points

Ok so this tip will come up in any “improve your presentation” search, but that is because it is true. Your audience can read faster than you can talk – they will have read the slide up on the screen and be kicking their heels, waiting for you to finish and move to the next one. They will probably not be listening.

I appreciate, it’s all very well for me to say “Get rid of the bullet points,” but it doesn’t always seem that easy, especially not in a research-heavy presentation. This is where tip 2 can help…

  • Replace text with visuals

Rather than having text to, for example, explain a method, why not use visuals (with limited text) to explain your message? Now, at this point, I feel I should point out that I am not saying you need to draw stuff! You don’t need to (and I really can’t). Pictures released under Creative Commons licenses and free icons are your friends here.

Obviously you won’t be able to replace every word, but if you have, for example, one set of mice being given a placebo treatment and another set of mice the trial treatment, when you discuss the methods you could use an icon of a syringe in black for the placebo and in blue for the trial treatment. You could then bring these icons back in at the results stage to show which bar chart/line belongs to which group. It will be much easier for the audience to comprehend quickly, compared to having a complicated legend, and it will help link the two sections together. And speaking of linking sections…

  • Tell a story

Your data is exciting, but if you just put a screenshot of your latest paper up, your audience is probably not going to share your enthusiasm. Tell a story with your presentation. It doesn’t have to be the exact process you took to get to your conclusions, we all know serendipity has a part to play in research, but make a logical story that reveals your results stage by stage. You want the audience to be keen to learn more. You want them to be asking, “and then what?”

How can you do this in terms of the technical side of building the presentation? Read on…

  • Animate your graphs and charts

This links back to what I said earlier about not just using exactly the same figures that you’re using for your paper. Redesign them. Make sure the font is large enough for the audience to read. Make sure the audience can understand which data belongs to which group quickly – if they are reading a long legend, they probably aren’t listening to you. Once the graphs and charts look great, animate them. You want the audience to only be able to see the bit of the story you are talking about, don’t give them a sneak preview of your next section!

If you’ve never animated a chart in PowerPoint before, a basic animation is pretty simple to do. In PowerPoint 2016, click on your chart -> click the “Animations” tab -> choose the animation you want, e.g. wipe -> click the “Effect Options” blue arrow (next to the animation options) – > select “by series”/”by category” etc. depending on what works best for your data -> Ta Da! (If you want to be even fancier and have your bars wipe in to a certain level and then grow or shrink check out this link.)

Credit: BrightCarbon

  • Don’t ignore the finishing touches

As well as telling a story with your words and animations, don’t forget the other visual clues you are giving your audience and make sure they are consistent. If you are talking about variables A, B and C, make sure A is represented by the same color throughout, (likewise for B and C). Where possible, always lay out the variables in the same order on your charts. These things may sound like tiny points, and when you are finishing your presentation the morning you are due to give it, they can be easy things to ignore. However, all of these little things help the audience consolidate what you are telling them, keeping them engaged and listening, rather than ignoring you while they figure out what your chart is showing.

So there you have it, 5 simple tips to help you create an engaging scientific research presentation that gives your data the exposure it deserves.

Dr Emma Trantham gained her PhD in Clinical Veterinary Science from the University of Bristol. From there she moved to BrightCarbon where she now works with scientific companies, helping them create visual presentations and eLearning materials that deliver visible results.