I spent the first few weeks of July preparing for a presentation I was giving at the 2016 Design Management Institute conference. The event, one of the key design conferences in the academic calendar, was focused on:
‘Partnerships between academia, industry and government are becoming the new normal; collaboration and knowledge-transfer are creating inflection points capable of changing the course of companies, industries, economies and governments. The 2016 dmi:Academic Design Management Conference (ADMC16) will facilitate a diverse, rich, and provocative dialog between academic researchers and design practitioners in industry; the goal being to surface opportunities for new connection, combination, cooperation and collision.’
The papers were submitted months prior and subject to a double-blind review process. Once accepted, in a way you feel assured that you’ve written something that people might be interested in (even if it’s just the review panel). But despite this quiet confidence, it’s always nerve wracking converting your paper into a presentation. The twenty minute allocation is such a short period of time. How do you condense a 7.5k word count into a tight time frame? How do you decide what is interesting or important? What do your audience want to hear?
The National Center for Voice and Speech state that the average rate for an English speaker (in the US) is around 150 words per minute. So if I was to read out my whole paper (and I’ve actually, painfully, seen someone do this at an academic conference) then I would need 50 minutes. So far too long, but I also don’t speak the same language that I write. English for both yes, but the style, flow and indeed content can be so different. I tend to use complex sentences in my writing and while I think they read well, when spoken aloud they are far too long and complicated. Simpler sentences are required for speaking. Similarly, the punctuation in my paper does not translate straight into the pauses and intonation required in speech. It takes time and careful crafting to make the shift from text to script. Add in to the mix that I am Scottish, I speak fast by nature (indeed the Scots/Doric dialect I grew up with has an even faster rate of words per minute). Even so, I couldn’t fit the whole paper into twenty minutes, even if I wanted to.
So how to craft a presentation form a paper. For me, I always start with breaking down the time allocated:
1 Min: Introduction to Me
- Introduce myself and my institution
- Say thanks for opportunity to present
3 Mins: Introduction to paper
- Introduce my paper title
- Provide a concise overview of the wider context of my research
- Clearly state the ‘Why’ my research is of important
- Try to make a link between my work and some of the other papers or the keynote speeches, it never hurts to contextualise my work within the conference
3 Mins: Key finding One
- Present the first main finding. There are spaces for only three main findings in my presentation design and choosing which to present can be tricky, especially if there are more than three. The three findings have to work together, to tell the story of the research in summary form so as tempting as it is to choose the most interesting bits, please make sure they work well together. It can also be hard to leave some things out but remember, the audience can always be referred back to the paper if they want to find out more. Present the first finding and deliver a short discussion around what that finding means to the research. Again, not too much detail, This section only has three minutes.
3 Mins: Key Finding Two
- Another main finding (as above)
3 Mins: Key Finding Three
- Another main finding (as above)
2 mins: Overall Conclusions
- Share the main conclusions drawn. Ideally I’d like to highlight these as themes and present a couple of sentences to describe them. The conclusions should link directly to the three key findings, please don’t introduce anything brand new at this stage and nothing too heavy either. The audience have been patiently listening for a while now, keep them interested and keen to find out more.
1 Min: What’s Next?
- Share the future plans for the research and illustrate where I would like to develop/test/explore it further. This is the opportunity to pique the interest of other researchers so make links to particular research interest areas and suggest opportunities for future collaboration.
- Say thank you (well, they have sat for nearly twenty minutes now) and then open up the floor for questions.
Smile. And then breathe!
Eagle-eyed readers will notice that this timeline falls just short of the twenty-minute slot. I like to give myself a bit of room for manoeuver. It’s more than likely that presentations will run over and you might find yourself delivering in a shorter allocation than planned. When presenting, I usually fall towards a more spontaneous and unplanned approach. I like to respond to the audience and can quickly adapt my presentation if I think it’s not going down as well as I hoped. I really need the few minutes for flexibility to account for this.
Notes, Props and Presentation Slides
A final note on notes. I do write notes, usually abbreviated themes from my paper but more often than not, I end up abandoning them after the first couple of minutes. I think it’s a comfort thing. I try to use my slides as prompts instead, generally I’ll have a new slide for each of the sections above. One slide for the introduction, one for context, one for key finding one, two etc. These work to keep me on track and give me something to talk to. Do make some kind of notes though (headings or the like) as technical issues do arise and you might find yourself unexpectedly presenting without slides .
On the subject of slides, beware of putting a timer the slides and having them change automatically. It might work for some people but not for me, I learned the hard way. In preparing for my first ever presentation as a PhD student (at a summer school conference in Estonia), I thought that by auto-timing my slides to change, I would be more likely to stay on track and on time. This failed miserably. I talked slower than anticipated (hadn’t accounted for the 99% non-native English-speaking audience who, through the week prior, had struggled to understand anything of my Scottish accent) and my slides sprinted ahead. As a result, ‘Any questions?’ popped up on the screen behind me as I introduced my first research finding. I wished the ground would open up and swallow me whole. So slides yes, but auto-timer, no.
I also like to have a prop. This is usually a pen but might be the projector clicker or something around that size. I like to move, swing my arms around, point and gesture (one day I expect to see a meme of me presenting to music, something akin to interpretive dance) but I also like to have a token object in my hand to ground me. On reflection, I wonder whether my prop is a subconscious desire for a large G&T in hand to calm my nerves. Also, I also don’t particularly like being stuck behind a lectern, I feel restricted and you’ll commonly see me step to the side of it as I speak, waving my hands around widely. The only downside is that any photos of me presenting have the look of a wild 90’s raver. Note to self, must work on my refined academic presentation pose.