My most senior graduate student participated in a research competition late last week, and as part of this competition she was invited to give a ten minute presentation of her work. This was EXCITING for us both, and was a little scary for me-… you see, DrMrA is the undisputed champion mentor for public speaking- his students always win the research competition. He didn’t have one apply this year- so it fell to me to uphold the A family graduate-student-10-minute-talk honor.
My student was informed that she was invited to present only 1 week prior to the competition- and she teaches 1 and 1/2 days per week … she has 3 kids…. and add to that that she is working feverishly to do several not-totally-straight-forward experiments for a manuscript we have in revision- all somewhat time sensitive. Now throw on preparing for the 10 minute talk. This schedule is not for the faint of heart- but, as I always tell my students- it’s a lesson in just gritting your teeth and getting it done. The big events in life just don’t happen in a vacuum- there is always a child throwing up, a husband out of town, AND a manuscript to revise…
So how did we prep for the talk? My student started preparing her slides on the weekend prior to the presentation. I got the slides on Monday- and we did a little back and forth to adjust the content of the slides. Giving 10 minute talks is, I think, a different animal than giving a 45 or 50 minute presentation. You really CAN NOT afford extraneous information in a ten minute talk, that you might indulge in in a longer presentation. Let me say that again- if you are going out to give a 10 minute talk- you must pare out anything and everything that don’t speak to your main point. This means that your introductory remarks have to be cut down to the point that you lead your listener where you want them to go without distracting them with even a couple of unrelated images or sentences.
If you are giving a 10 minute talk, think carefully about this when you prepare your slides. There’s a problem with too many slides, but there is also a problem with extraneous or too much information on a single slide. I recall myself writing on my student’s draft slides- ‘why are you bringing this up here- is this REALLY critical information at this point in your talk??‘ Do not, I repeat, do not- just cut the figures from a paper and paste them into powerpoint. I’ve made that point here before, but from some of the presentations I’ve seen lately- a few people could use a reminder. Figures in a paper, are formatted for the paper- those 5 panel figures- nope, no way, no how- not in a 10 minute talk- unless you are planning to spend 5 minutes on that single slide. When you are making your slides you have to figure out which panels are essential to your point, and which you can do without covering and still make your point well. And do us old people a favor by making your font large and in bold please!
A second point about your slides. Even though you only have 10 minutes, and you know that you only get a very limited number of slides- resist the temptation to cut out your ‘tell-them-what-you-are-going-to-tell-them’ and your ‘conclusions/model’ slides, in favor of more data. Don’t do it, don’t go there no way, no how. These slides are an essential part of a great presentation, even in the 10 minute talk.
Once you have a great set of slides- you must chose the words that you will say carefully. You already know (if you follow this blog) that you will NOT be reading off of slides or notes- so I’m not going to go on about that ad nauseam. What I do want to mention is that you don’t need to make yourself sound smarter or your data sound cooler by dressing it up in the most complex possible verbiage. We’re not listening to see who can use the most complicated vocabulary, this is not the GRE- we are listening to hear you coherently describe your important question, approach, result and conclusion in an easily understandable way. Keep jargon to a minimum (and I mean an absolute minimum) and keep it simple!
Finally- practice out loud. 10 minutes is a short, short window. Put your words and slides together and practice for someone with experience. You must reduce the amount of bumbling around in your words and the amount of time spent hesitating to choose your words- in a 10 minute talk you just don’t have time for these little foibles. I listen to my trainees practice talks- slide-by-slide, and it is usually a bloodbath on the first round… and this takes way more than 10 minutes. I admit it, I’m picky and particular, and I want each and every public presentation of data to be the best that it can be. Get over your ego and let somebody give you a really detailed critique, help you with your transitions, and help you cut out unnecessary statements and material.
Anyway- there you have it, my quick guide to the 10 minute talk. I’m sure Comrade Physioprof will have some valuable insight on this topic as well, and I’m looking forward to hearing it.
Oh, and FYI…. she won first place in the research competition…