The first conference I presented my work at I was very nervous. It was the last talk of the day, I barely could touch the food at lunch, I was drinking way too much water and as a consequence I had to keep running to the bathroom. At the coffee break before my talk my PI took me aside and asked me to tell him my talk. I blanked even before I got to my name…
I still get a nervous thrill whenever I have to present, but it’s good and productive. There are many things to do to improve your speaking skills, and the top one is to practice. If it makes you uncomfortable to practice in front of other people, even more reason to do so. It’s better to have your first talks in a friendly environment than at a conference. So:
- Volunteer for group meetings, journal clubs or department meetings
- Good slides help make good talks
- Have one idea per slide, have good clear titles that are statements
- Stay at least one minute per slide
- Use presenter notes to remind you of key points — never start reading your presenter notes!
- Record yourself, look at your speaking pace. Work on adjusting it by either slowing down or speeding up.
- Make an effort to be present when you speak.
- Practice your timing.
- Practice, practice, practice
- Don’t learn your talk by heart — learn the key ideas for each slide.
Every talk you practice will make you better for any future talk. So the sooner you start, the easier it will be when you have high stakes at hands (like job talks). One last thing to be mindful of is your body language. Make sure you look at your audience most of the time instead of looking back to your slides.
Oh, and regarding my first talk… After I blanked my PI said: “it’s ok, it happens to everyone. Here is what I would say.” I listened to his words and realized that those are the things that were in my slides, I knew what he was talking about, it was my research. When I got up on stage to talk about my science it came out surprisingly good! There have been plenty other times that have not come up so good, but that’s for another time! Going to your first conference? Tell us about it below!