A scientific presentation at BBTS Conference

Think of the best scientific presentation you have watched. It captured your interest as soon as it began, asked a question pertinent to your specific needs and proceeded to succinctly answer that question leaving you with a purpose to change your practice. As a presenter at BBTS, this will not happen if you simply read out your scientific paper; it was designed for a different medium.


A presentation is made of three parts: the story (p1), the supportive media (p2) and its delivery (p3). The value of the whole is the product of the three parts. Each part requires specific attention, in the order given below.


Close the laptop and get a pencil and paper. No, really. If you skip this you will make a poorer presentation.


Consider the audience– With reference to your topic, where are the audience at the beginning and where do you want them to be at the end of the presentation? BE SPECIFIC. Write down in ONE sentence what change you want to see in your audience using specific action words. Do not simply say “learn more about”, “understand” or variations, write what you want to achieve. This can be considered a “need”. If your message has no specific value for this audience, give up now.

Write an elevator pitch for your whole story that will leave the audience asking, “tell me more?” Imagine meeting someone at the conference who asks if you’re speaking. This is your chance to persuade them to come to listen to your talk over all the others, grabbing their interest, their attention or even their disagreement. How can you engage them? You won’t actually use this in your presentation but it gets you into the idea of persuasion, the whole purpose of a presentation.

Now you can begin to write the presentation. Consider how you addressed the audience need by your research. What did you do? This is not a complex routemap but specific highlights on the journey. The precise details are in the research paper. It is not about replicating the experiment but allowing the audience the travel with you from their starting point and answering their need by your work.

“Oh but this is a boring topic,” you say. It is only boring if you deliver it in that way. Make the audience care. This is the most important presentation. Make it relevant, make it challenging, make it controversial. Make the audience have an opinion. Then answer those with your presentation.

WRITE out your story, step by step. Not word by word though. You should now be able to see your story as a series of steps. These are NOT slides.

Now, consider if this is in any way memorable. How could you make this presentation stand out from all the others in the session and the meeting? After all, this IS an important topic. Is there an analogy that would challenge? Is there a quote that fits? Is there a recent film, an advert, a bad joke? This is not to minimise the work or patronise the audience but give them a hook to which they might return. Consider a simple glass slipper. This is essential as an attention grabber and will win or lose the challenge. It is NOT the title slide of the abstract. From this the presentation may be re-written or even re-structured but importantly it now allows the first line to be written. “It was the worst of times, it was the best of times.”

And now, open the presentation software. (I know you didn’t pay attention to the very first step.)

Consider which of these steps would benefit from illustration. NOT every single one but a summary image for a few of these steps. The discussion regarding the bulletpoints and your script are elsewhere. This is about designing something to support your message. You want to illustrate, not annotate. If you chose an image make sure it is of good quality, appropriately sourced and without frame or title. And please, avoid cliches like the plague.

Data slides are a huge challenge in themselves. They need to be interpretable within 3 seconds as this is a presentation not the scientific paper. Think adverts. Importantly it is NOT up to the audience to interpret the data. Make it clear. And never consider apologising.  The red rectangle is never helpful, nor will a laser pointer be of value. Unless you are a Jedi Knight. And please, no pies! They are just fashion! They are really hard to interpret and 1:9 men are colourblind. Now, get rid of half of the slides. It’s illustrations, not a comic novel.

You now need to deliver this. You will need a stop watch. Stand up and deliver this OUT LOUD. It is mandatory that you finish at least 10% under time. My best advice is to aim for 75% of allotted time. If you don’t meet that in practise you will fail on the day. Start again from the very beginning and remove HALF of what you intend to say. Repeat the process until you regularly arrive within this 90% time. To over run is simply rude, it never adds value and always upsets both the chair and the audience. Never, ever ever overrun.

And now, with a complete presentation comes the most important part; practise. You won’t though which is always a disappointment. There will be no script because reading out is patronising and will fail. The audience will always value your presentation if you present it. They have no script to check and your practise will develop a delivery much much better than one read verbatim. Practise not just repetition but in front of real people, in a real auditorium and for real, not with a script in hand or the notes open. Elite performers practise. This is the pinnacle of your presentations so far, so practise again and again and again. Make changes if you need to but keep on practising.

There are lots of issues of stage fright and technical failure that can beset a presenter so consider them in advance. Everyone is nervous, it is how you deal with that that makes a difference. Carry spare copies of the presentation on a usb as well as backed up in the cloud. Arrive early at the conference, well in advance of your session, to allow you to get the feel for the place. At an interval meet the AV people and load your presentation. Insist on running through it from the stage with the slide changer so you are sure that everything works. Plan where to sit in the hall so that your route to the stage is clear. Find and introduce yourself to the Chair of the session. Sit in the audience to gauge the audience and how the previous speakers work. Make sure you applaud the previous speaker, it will relax you and physically help.

Stand up, smile and change your world with a great presentation.

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  1. Pingback: Rethinking Presentations – St George Anaesthesia Education

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