For guidelines on planning and designing a slideshow presentation, see our article on Slideshow Design.

It’s tempting to spend all your time preparing for a presentation by working on the slides, but the slides are only a visual aid for the presentation. The point of a presentation is to have a presenter! Otherwise you could just make beautiful slides, print them out, and have the audience read them.

Keep your credibility and the audience’s attention by avoiding technical and procedural problems. Make sure that you can get the projector turned on, that your computer will show the slides, that you have your favorite slide clicker, that the slides look good under this lighting, etc. Try to get to the presentation venue the day before. Figure out where you’ll stand, how to get your computer and the project synched up, and so on.

When actually presenting, stand still, face the audience, and keep gestures to a minimum. Laser pointers are distracting and hard to use. It’s better to make the important parts of the slide stand out on their own. Never turn your back to the audience. If you have clean, simple slides, this should happen automatically. Remember: this talk is about your and your audience, not about the slides.

Before presenting, prepare for the question and answer part of the talk. Figure out what questions you are likely to get and prepare yourself to answer them. Prepare backup slides that are more technical and that address a specific point. When you hear a question, wait patiently until the questioner has finished speaking. Then repeat the question and take a breath before answering. This timing will allow other audience members to understand the question and will give you some time to formulate a cogent, coherent response. It is also alright to answer “I don’t know” to a question rather than bluff your way through a response.

Finally, avoid cliche phrases particularly at the beginning and end of the presentation. You want to start and end strong so that the audience remembers your key message. Phrases like, “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen” or “I guess that’s the end of the talk,” will weaken your delivery. Additionally, if you must make acknowledgements to people or funding sources, it is better to be specific with their contributions rather than giving general thanks and to ensure that only those who actually need to be thanked are thanked. For example, “My labmate Joe was responsible for collecting calorimetry data with me, and my co-author Alice provided the original idea and direction for this problem, which I then carried forth.”