Presenting research in a medical conference can seemingly be a daunting task for many medical students and junior doctors. Medical conferences are, after all, attended by experts and specialists from the various fields which can be unnerving for the naïve presenter. However, for most doctors, who have an interest in research, delivering presentations in conferences is often inevitable. Here I present my top tips to consider when preparing an oral presentation at a medical conference.
Know your audience
Access the conference website and advertisements to gauge any details about who may be present in the audience. This may include: medical students, junior doctors, specialty trainees, consultants, keynote speakers and other allied health stakeholders in research, education and workforce development. Knowing your audience will influence the style and format of your presentation to ensure that it is appropriate.
Keep it relevant
Bear in mind that there will be multiple presenters at the conference, and it will quickly become tedious for audience members to sit through multiple successive talks. To maintain the audiences’ engagement with your presentation, try and minimise the amount of written information in your slides by documenting the most pertinent facts and data that you wish to highlight. You can then verbally expand on these points by using the slide as a guide rather than an autocue. One of the ways that you can avoid overwhelming the audience is through adopting the 5 x 5 x 5 rule. This involves using: no more than 5 words in a line, 5 lines per slide and no more than 5 text heavy slides in a row. You can complement this further by alternating between slides with information and images. Graphs and flowcharts are a great way of conveying methodology used in audits and research which is far more palatable compared to reading chunks of information. Other general tips include: keeping the font style, size and PowerPoint design theme consistent throughout the presentation.
Practice, practice, practice
Rehearse your presentation either by yourself or with colleagues to polish the fluency and rhythm of your speech. It can be helpful to record yourself so that when you play the video back, you can be mindful of how often you use fillers such as ‘um’ and ‘like’ and can therefore make a conscious effort to remove them from your speech. In doing so, you will consolidate what you know about your topic and become more familiar with the information you are presenting. PowerPoint presentation has a function that can support you with rehearsing your timings; this can be accessed by selecting the ‘slideshow’ tab and selecting ‘Rehearse Timings’. When constructing your presentation, aim to bear the time limit in mind so that you can avoid getting carried away and adding excess detail. Remember, that the audience will have a copy of the abstract book where they can access further information about your research, so avoid spending too much time on aspects such as methodology, and instead consider spending more time reflecting on the results of your work and the impact and implications of the research on your practice or guidelines. Going over the allocated time limit may be considered to be poor etiquette, and the panel could ask you to quickly end the presentation. This can be unsettling especially if it interrupts your flow. Therefore, practising beforehand will allow you to succinctly summarise the main points that you wish to convey and ultimately appear more confident in your delivery.
Anticipate the questions that might be asked
One of the benefits of recording yourself, is that you can watch yourself back as though you are a third person. In doing so, you can begin to contemplate and anticipate questions that the audience members may be interested to ask. Commonly, this may be regarding current guidelines on the topic you have chosen, the impact of your research on local practice, or further questions on the methodology of your research. Don’t be afraid to say ‘I don’t know’, or accept the limitations in your work. Medical students will most definitely be treated sympathetically by audience members and gently challenged to develop their presenting skills.
Presenting skills are for life, the more you do, the easier it will get. It would be beneficial for you to reflect on each presentation you deliver so that you can identify a new area to develop each time. With time, you will become more confident and competent in presenting your original research at various conferences.