Presenting Your Research

As a research student, the ability to speak formally about research becomes increasingly important. You may give presentations in a class, at an ACAP seminar or research day, or at external seminars and conferences. You will be expected to speak about your research confidently and succinctly, so it's worth investing time to develop your presentation skills.

Audience expectations
The first consideration in preparing for any oral presentation of your research is to determine who is in your audience. Is it composed of other research students and staff who are familiar with your topic? Or are the people in your audience unfamiliar with your research area?

You must also consider what they are expecting. For example, if you are presenting your research proposal, your audience will be expecting you to:

  • Articulate a research problem and research questions (and, in some cases, a tentative hypothesis)
  • Demonstrate your knowledge of previous research on the topic and your understanding of the ‘gaps’
  • Explain the methods you propose to use and justify why you have chosen these methods

If you are presenting the findings of your research, your audience will also be expecting you to:

  • Communicate your results clearly and succinctly
  • Discuss your results in light of the literature
  • Highlight the significance of your study and the theoretical, empirical and/or practical implications of  your findings

Hooking your audience
Another area for consideration is how to 'hook' your audience. You may be used to thinking about the topic that you will investigate in 'content' terms; for instance, 'memory' or 'emotion regulation'. However, describing the topic of your research in these terms will not necessarily communicate its importance or relevance to an audience. To hook an audience, it is better to focus on the specific problem or need that your project will address. The worth and application of your research project will then be obvious, and no-one will need to ask: 'why would you do that?''

Using visual aids
Most presentations require some visual aids, such as a PowerPoint, Prezi, poster or handout. Well thought out visual aids can enhance your presentation and can help capture the audience's attention. Always ensure your visual aids are relevant, easy to read/see, well conceptualised and well formatted. Visual aids should be written using academic English with correct APA referencing. Here are some tips for using PowerPoint:

  • Avoid having too many words on each slide as people will tend to read rather than listen. Use slides for key messages, quotes, examples, simple diagrams/charts and images. Aim to use one slide for every 1-2 minutes of talk.
  • Use a maximum 10 lines of text per slide, and aim for five or six lines where possible.
  • Use size 32 to 36 font for headings and size 18 to 28 for the body text.
  • Choose a professional design and colours. The templates under the ‘Design’ tab in PowerPoint contain some good options.
  • Avoid using animations, sound effects, flashy graphics and distracting backgrounds; this detracts from what you are saying.

Handling question time
Question time is the opportunity for audience members to clarify issues or gain more information from your knowledge on the topic. You won't be able to give every detail of your research project in your presentation, so question time allows you to expand on points that were not completely developed.

There are different types of questions that may be asked. Some questions may indicate a gap or point of confusion in your talk, such as 'What is the relationship between...?' . Others will ask you to expand on a particular point or explain something in more detail, such as 'Could you say more about...?' . Some questions are asked because the listener missed a point or wants to check his/her understanding, such as 'What technique did you propose to use for...?'