How to Give a Great Research Abstract Presentation

by JT Stranix MD & Sammy Sinno MD

With Plastic Surgery The Meeting 2015 in only 2 short days, we wanted to share some tips for giving effective research presentations:

1. Arrive early. Get to the speaker room with plenty of time before your talk in order to avoid technical difficulties. If using videos, try to test them in the actual lecture hall during a break with the AV team. Scope out the lecture hall to get a lay of the land anAd plan how to distribute your attention across the audience when looking up from your notes.

2. Show enthusiasm for your topic! Excitement is contagious: If you don’t demonstrate passion for your research, the audience is almost certainly not going to get excited about it either. An occasional smile can be a powerful method of conveying confidence and enthusiasm.

3. Take a few deep breaths before you go onstage. It works. Being nervous is normal – especially for junior presenters and the audience expects you to be nervous. Focus on not talking too fast, nerves tend to speed us up on the podium too much. If you’ve practiced and kept things simple – you’ll be just fine.

4. Make a strong first impression. The first 90 seconds of your talk are extremely important. The audience wants to like you and will give you a couple of slides to engage them. Don’t lose their interest with superfluous background information and please don’t simply read off your title/institution with your first slide.

5. Stay under your allotted time limit. Your audience has a limited attention span, especially when sitting through multiple talks in sequence. It is better to have them wanting more of you, than feeling like they’ve had enough.

6. Don’t read your slides. Plastic surgeons are a highly educated group that can read just fine. Slide reading is one of the most efficient ways to lose audience interest and gives the impression that you don’t really understand your topic. Your slides should complement your speech, not script it. If the audience can take away just as much by reading your slide, you become superfluous.

7. Emphasize data with clean visuals. Use images and figures to illustrate your data instead of listing it out, and if including tables of data – highlight the important findings so the audience doesn’t have to search the entire table. Avoid bullet points when possible, and keep slides simple – don’t jam a bunch of data into slides. Only show the relevant data you need to make your point. Simple explanations coupled with simple graphics make an excellent presentation.

8. Practice your talk. Your presentation should never be the first time you are giving your speech. Multiple practice runs makes you more comfortable with the material, ensures you stay under your time limit, and allows you to fine tune your content and delivery. Review your presentation with your senior author as they may have insights on points to emphasize or possible questions that will be asked. Rehearse in front of non-plastic surgeons as well, because your talk should be concise and clear enough for them to understand. Practicing in front of a mirror can also be helpful, as this may be even more uncomfortable for you than going in front of an actual audience.

9. Good body language is paramount. Project your voice, stand up straight, dress conservatively, and make eye contact. Don’t sway side to side – keep your lower body still, and don’t turn your back to the audience. Find a couple of friendly looking people in different areas of the audience and make eye contact with them as you speak. Looking up and making eye contact is an incredibly powerful method of developing stage presence. Again, an occasional smile goes a very long way as well.

10. Avoid um’s, clicks, sighs, and other nonverbal additions. One good suggestion is to take a deep breath in every time you feel an “um” coming on. This forces you to slow your talk down which helps, and also avoids these unwanted and distracting sounds.

11. Always be courteous, gracious, and professional. When the audience gives you comments or asks questions, always thank them for their input, even if they are being difficult. “That’s a great question,” or “I’m glad you asked that,” or “I really appreciate your comments,” are courteous statements that also buy you a few moments to collect your thoughts prior to responding. Don’t get defensive and certainly don’t pretend to know something you don’t. Remember, presenting at regional/national meetings establishes your reputation among your peers – always remain cool, gracious, and professional.

12. Have fun! You’ve worked hard to get your research accepted and it is an honor to be chosen to present it to your peers. Put your nerves aside and remember how excited you were when you found out your work was accepted.

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