5 top tips on how to make a successful presentation at a conference

Presenting work and results in front of an audience comes with the job of researcher. Even though the exercise is a good opportunity to increase the visibility of your project, it is daunting and difficult if you’re not well prepared. If you want to make giving presentations as valuable as possible for your career, feel free to take inspiration from our top tips, gathered thanks to Tonni Andersen (Denmark), Victor Cardenes Van den Eynde (Spain), Thomas Goudoulas (Greece) and Melis Serefoglu (Turkey).

Melis SerefogluVictor Cardenes Van den EyndeThomas GoudoulasTonni Andersen

Tonni Andersen received an Intra-European Fellowship for career development (IEF) and is currently working in Lausanne (Switzerland) on how plants take up and distribute nutrients at the molecular level.

Victor Cardenes Van den Eynde was also awarded an IEF, but for work on the project “New uses for X-ray Tomography in natural building stones: Characterisation, Pathologies and Restoration of historical and recent roofing slates” in Ghent (Belgium).

Thomas Goudoulas’ project focuses on innovative scientific exchanges in the field of designing and optimising distributed networks for efficient energy supply, management and use. He conducted research in Amman (Jordan), having received funding through the International Research Staff Exchange Scheme (IRSES).

Melis Serefoglu benefited from a Career Integration Grant (CIG) to work on a project which focused on microstructure evolution dynamics in eutectic materials in physics, in Paris (France) as well as in Istanbul (Turkey).


Tip 1: Prepare yourself: boost your confidence

Our Fellows recognise that they don’t always feel comfortable when they have to make a public presentation. Cardenes muses that his state of mind depends highly on how many times he has practised it. That’s why our first piece of advice on making a successful public presentation would be “Practice as much as you can in front of someone”, in the words of Goudoulas. This will ensure your speech runs smoothly. What’s more, it is also important to know your topic beyond your presentation so as to anticipate questions. With this in mind, Goudoulas recommends reviewing all the details of experimental technique, for instance. It will make you feel stronger in front of your audience. “Just have a good rehearsal” says Cardenes.


Tip 2: Find information about the audience

Knowing information about your audience (academic level, industrial partners, etc.) is crucial, to the extent that this will help you to structure your presentation. According to Andersen, if the people who are listening to you come from a field very different to yours, you have to “start much simpler than you would do” and to “ensure that your presentation is pedagogical and easy to follow”. On the other hand, if your audience has the same background as yours, an over-simplified presentation is bound to become a bit annoying. Andersen advises speakers to put themselves in the shoes of the people who will listen to you and to think about how they would like the presentation to be. And don’t forget to breathe deeply, as Serefoglu advises, especially if the audience appears to be larger than expected!


Tip 3: Tell a story – unveil the best part at the end

According to Andersen, a good presentation has to be structured like a story, even like a “fairy tale”. Here is the structure that he advises “Introduce the background, build up the problem slowly and in an easy-to-understand way, but with more and more tension. People will then feel the frustration. Then you can bring the release in the form of your solution to the problem. I find this structure to work well, because everybody is used to the structure of a fairy tale”. Goudoulas echoes this: “You have to gradually increase the interest, and never communicate the most important information at the beginning of your presentation.”


Tip 4: Catch the attention of your audience  

Make your presentation as interactive as you can by using slides. Goudoulas remembers his first presentation with amusement – he used transparent sheets at a time when presentations were performed without computers. What Serefoglu advises, when using slides, to show information little by little instead of displaying the whole content from the beginning, so as to keep the audience’s attention focused on what you are talking about. For Cardenes, having an object linked to the research that he can show to the audience also adds to a presentation. Andersen advises dropping in “teasers” about your results at the beginning of your presentation and then grabbing the attention of your audience by saying “I will try to convince you that…”. In this way, he explains, “people will feel provoked, and will make an effort to follow your talk in order to discuss”.


Tip 5: Boost your career: take any opportunity to present your work

All of our four Fellows agree that making presentations is a key component of a successful career. It is therefore crucial to practise as much as you can so as to improve your skills. You have to be prepared to answer questions, sometimes not even related to your topic, as Cardenes remembers when he talks about his first presentation “I had to answer one question which had nothing to do with my research”. Andersen concludes that practising will also benefit your personal development.