Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Becoming Skilled and Competent: The Essentials of Presentations

Submitted by Lori Conlan February 11, 2013

One of the most common forms of professional communication is the ‘Presentation.’  No matter what career you have – professor, researcher, science policy analyst, CEO of a company – chances are you will have to prepare and deliver professional presentations.  In fact, you probably give presentations regularly already – for lab meeting, at professional conferences, for your thesis proposal, or for your job interview.  However, no matter why you are giving your talk, the goal is the same: Communicating and sharing information with your audience.  Because of this, there are some simple principles that any talk should have – and you can use these are the building blocks of any presentation you prepare.

  1. Have a story:  Every talk has a story.  Just like any story – from a book or a movie – no one remembers every detail, but just the major events.  Your goal is to construct your presentation so that people leave remembering the major points.  Start by asking yourself, “What are the ‘major events’ your audience should know about your story?  If they have 5 minutes to summarize my talk, what is it I want them to be able to say?”
  2. Plan your TransitionsSuccessful presentations are about successful transitions.  Transitions occur throughout your talk.  There is a transition from your introduction to your first major point.  Another transition occurs when you move to the next point.  Transitions also occur from slide to slide.  If you understand the story you are trying to tell, then having smooth transitions is easier.  When you are practicing your talk, think about how you will lead your audience from one point to the other.  For example, once you complete your specific aims of your experiments, your audience should know (and you should too) that the next major point to discuss is the methods used, in only enough detail for them to understand what comes afterwards – highlights from the results.
  3. You are the Presentation, not the Slides: With Powerpoint and other presentation applications today, most people prepare slides to go with their talk.  While this is not a bad thing, the slides should not be the focus of your story.  Filling your slides with the verbatim text of your presentation bores your audience, invites them to read ahead (and by doing so, stop listening to you), and in the ends, makes them wonder why you could not have just written the talk and handed it to them before hand.  You are the presentation:  You tell the story, you decide what the important aspects to emphasize are, and you direct the audience’s attention to interesting features of graphs and figures.  Your slides are tools and landmarks that help you stay on track, and remind you what major point you wanted to make at that time.  Perhaps outline your story on a piece of paper, and then create your slides to help support your story.

Here is a recent videocast of a workshop that the OITE did on Talking Science: Designing and Delivering Successful Oral Presentations

No matter what type of talk you need to give, before you start, think first about your story, how you will transition from major point to major point (and from slide to slide), and do not rely upon you slides to tell your story.   With these basics you can create any great talk!

Understanding Emotional Intelligence: perhaps a secret to success?

Submitted by Lori Conlan February 19, 2013

Last week at the NIH, Daniel Goleman delivered a talk about Emotional Intelligence and how it influences leadership.  The premise of Emotional Intelligence is that understanding your emotions, the emotions of others, and how the two interact allows us to be more successful and happier.

Emotional Intelligence suggests that to be successful the following traits are important:

  • Self awareness:  being able to assess and understand your emotions and having self-confidence
  • Social awareness: having empathy, organizational awareness and service orientation
  • Self-management: having emotional self-control, adaptability, initiative and optimism
  • Relationship management: developing others, influence, providing inspiration, conflict management and teamwork

While that all seems well and good, we often hear that scientists lack these types of people skills.  The urban myth is that as long as you are smart enough you can succeed, without having to worry about how you interact with others.  But, there is no researcher that operates in a vacuum—especially today in the word of team science and collaboration. So, how do you become more aware about these topics, and use them to become more successful?

  1. Reflect on how you respond to stressors.  Are there particular things that you know are hot buttons for you?  In the topics that cause you stress, are there any similarities?  What happens?  Be detailed when you think of these; who is involved, what do you say (or not say), what is the outcome?  What do you wish you would have done or said?
  2. Practice different responses.  One way to get a better response is to practice it, even if it does not feel “right”.  Think about this as writing with your non-dominant hand.  It is possible, but it takes practice to make it legible.  Is there a time when you saw someone else handle a situation well, what can you take from that challenge you witnessed?   When you reflected on a situation did you see another response that would have been better?
  3. Understand the other person’s position.  This is not to say that you agree, but that you see the problem from their perspective.  How can you use that information to build a working relationship?
  4. Breath.  By focusing on your breath you can help reduce stress.  This is also called Mindfulness.

There is no passive solution to understanding these topics, you have to practice.  We teach techniques in OITE leadership and management courses.  Workplace Dynamics covers understanding yourself and others and our Management Bootcamp has a whole session on working with Emotional Intelligence.  We have even started to present these topics at national meetings such as Experimental Biology.

If you are an NIHer, you can Watch Daniel Goleman’s talk from last week.  If you want other information on Emotional Intelligence check out the book list on sites such as Amazon or from your local library. Research the topic, and learn to be more successful in science by embracing that people are part of our success.

You forgot your job packet email attachment-- What now?

Submitted by Lori Conlan February 25, 2013

You found an awesome job posting or graduate program, crafted the perfect curriculum vitae, and created a cover letter capable of convincing the staunchest of holdouts that you are a vital addition to their team. The only problem is you remembered to attach your resume after pressing send on your cover letter e-mail. Forgotten attachments happen to everyone, but the job application process is where you are supposed to distinguish yourself as a better candidate than everyone else. So – now what?

Unlike many career advice searches on the internet, there are not a lot of professional sites with comments on forgotten attachments. The obvious action requires you to send the forgotten materials; otherwise there is no chance for success. The real question remains: How do provide the missing information while saving face? Do you apologize for the mistake?

Do you try to act as if it never happened? The best route is to resend the same e-mail (with the attachment this time) with a comment in the title about the inclusion. Do not write a long, apologetic paragraph about forgetting the attachment. This reaction makes a big deal out of a common mistake and can make you seem insecure. At the same time you need to say something to differentiate the new e-mail from the old one so the hiring manager or principal investigator does not think you are spamming them. One postdoc recently forgot to attach their resume to a cold call e-mail and recovered by simply sending the same e-mail entitled “Employment inquiry at blah with attached resume”, and received a positive response.

For the most part, human resources and principal investigators tend to be pretty forgiving. Just keep in mind they are judging you at every interaction – this can be a time to show your ability to recover gracefully from a difficult situation. Mistakes made during the application process may come back to haunt you during the interview. Keep in mind that if you are being interviewed that the company/ principal investigator thinks you might be a good fit for them. Do not be the one to bring up a past mistake. Do not give them a reason to deny you the position. Only talk about a past error from your application process if they ask about it. Be prepared with an answer that puts you in a positive light, not something like you were too busy applying to their competitor and forgot the attachment to them.

Of course, the better strategy is to remember the attachment. Make a list of things, mentally or written down, that you always check before submitting any application. Some items to include can be; properly addressing the cover letter, attaching the required documentation, filling in the subject line, and using spell check (spell check will not reliably catch names).  Leave a comment with other items you think the email proof-reading list should include.