A lot has been written about giving a good presentation, so the first thing I’d advise you to do is a few interest searches to look for tips. I’d also suggest that you get chatting to other students in your department and see what the upgrade talk was like for them. We were very lucky this year at Sheffield because the PG Forum organised an upgrade evening, where 2nd and 3rd year PhDs talked us through their upgrade talks and what did and didn’t go well. Even though none of these guys are studying anything to do with my project, I still found this very helpful.
Another thing I’d suggest you do if possible is to go along to any upgrade-like talks that might be going on in your department, e.g. Masters students presenting their projects or potential new members of staff giving a talk to the department as part of their job interview. This will really help you to identify key dos and don’ts as well as getting you thinking about what does and doesn’t work in a powerpoint presentation.
This last point is key; so many presentations are just really badly formatted and hard to follow. Think confusing picture backgrounds and multi-coloured text, or big blocks of writing that you don’t have enough time to read, or mysterious graphs that are never explained. I’m sure you’ll have come across all of these powerpoint sins at some point!
I can’t stress enough that you should just pick a simple slide format and try to minimise the words and maximise the images. Also, including something to make you a bit more memorable (within reason) might be a good idea. For example, I explained my methodology in terms of a cocktail recipe. Just a suggestion!
Once you have your slides made and you’re happy with what you want to say then you need to do three more things:
1. Show it to your supervisor(s). You hear some horror stories of people making last minute changes without approval then facing an angry grilling by their supervisor in front of the whole department!
2. Rehearse it a couple of times to make sure you can get through it on time. No one likes talks that overrun into the tea break.
3. Do a trial-run in front of a couple of other PhDs. I ran through mine with two other icy guys, which was nice practice. They suggested some edits to my slides and asked me a few questions that I hadn’t thought about. Pick people who will ask hard questions – gives you time to work out some good answers before the real deal.
When it comes to the day of the talk, the best advice is to remember Douglas Adams and DON’T PANIC! Wear something you feel confident in, talk slowly and don’t be afraid to respond to questions with something like “That’s a really good question, I don’t know but I’d be interested to talk to you later about it”. No one expects you to have all the answers yet. You’re only just starting out after all!
Remember to think of this as a chance to communicate your research to the department and to start getting them excited about you and your project. So enjoy it and don’t be afraid of the questions, they’ll probably be interesting and useful. Good luck!
(p.s. the headline picture for this post comes from another wee Google image search)
To view more posts by Camilla Rootes please visit her website: www.rootes-on-ice.com