Becoming a presenter with impact
As part of PLATO's training programme, the Centre for European Studies and Comparative Politics, Sciences Po Paris hosted a three-day training in giving scientific presentations. Focusing on presentation skills through intensive rehearsal early on in a doctorate quickly proved its value.
Philipp Lausberg during his final video-recorded presentation and Q&A session
Training in presentation skills
PLATO’s 15 PhD researchers met in Paris 12-14 November 2018 to learn the essentials of giving scientific presentations. The training focused on three distinct elements that are equally important for a great scientific presentation: the presenter, the slides and the Q&A session. Jean-Luc Lebrun of Scientific Reach, author of the book When The Scientist Presents, has trained scientists in communication skills for nearly two decades.
The training in presentation skills gave the PLATO PhD researchers an upper hand in effective communication, offering practical advice and contributing to them gaining self-awareness and confidence.
‘After all, you do want to become a presenter with impact’, Lebrun emphasized. ‘You want to create great moments for the audience, to get feedback and grow your networks, and not least, you want the audience to remember you and your research.’
Confidence, enthusiasm and body language
Through exercises and rehearsal, the PhDs put their learning into practice and worked to improve the delivery of presentations they had prepared in advance. Then each had to give a scientific presentation followed by a Q&A session. The PhDs were evaluated on all aspects, from their title and ‘hook’, body language and time management, to confidence and enthusiasm, their slides, and how they handled the questions from the audience.
During the rehearsals, the PhDs realized the importance of implicit aspects such as body language, time management and intonation. They received direct feedback on areas for improvement. ‘The way we were made aware of our own quirks, such as how we move around and how our bodies physically react to being on stage was an eye-opener’, Julien Bois from Berlin Graduate School for Transnational Studies said. ‘You could literally see how the form or approach of a presenter changes, which to some extent can be unconscious to the presenter himself,’ Jan Pesl from the University of Oslo added.
‘The training made me realize that the talk is more important than the slides’, Claire Godet said. She is Jan’s colleague at ARENA Centre for European Studies in Oslo.
Still, they understood that slide design and content are of the essence. It is important to avoid competing for attention with your slides and technical skills are key. ‘I realized how much the slides can get in your way. They can actually distract the audience’, Godet added.
Who can get you into trouble?
The training also made the PhDs familiar with the process of answering questions from a scientific audience. They learned a number of techniques that can be applied to master different situations.
There are several types in the audience who could get the presenter into trouble, Lebrun explained. ‘The long rambler’, ‘the serial Q&A killer’ and multiple or hostile questions are challenging in different ways. Ivana Skazlic from the Institute for Advanced Studies in Vienna, concluded: ‘One very useful advice was to focus and carefully listen when the question is asked and not to try to formulate an answer simultaneously. The technique of rephrasing the question provides you with enough time to give an answer’.
‘It was very useful to understand how you can react to different types of questions. This is certainly a skill that is transferrable to other settings in life as well,’ Philipp Lausberg from the University of Antwerp added. For Dominika Proszowska, University of Twente, the biggest take-away was that ‘you should be as ready for the Q&A as you are for your presentation’.