Knowing how to give a good presentation and present your ideas effectively is crucial to your success as a graduate student. You should take advantage of any opportunity to present your work because presenting your work (a) helps you cohere your ideas, (b) helps you develop and improve the methods you use to communicate your ideas, (c) allows you to receive feedback about your ideas, and (d) allows you to network with people who are interested in your ideas. When you have an opportunity to present your ideas, you can use the following tips to hone your presentation skills.
Know your audience and your communication goals.
When giving a research presentation, you are not presenting your ideas to show off to your audience; you are presenting your ideas to advertise your work, to enlighten your audience about a particular topic, and to further academic discussion about that topic. To do this effectively, you must tailor your presentation to your audience’s lowest level of knowledge about your topic. After considering your audience’s level of knowledge about your topic, you must determine the most essential piece of information that your audience needs to glean from your presentation, and you should organize your presentation around that information. To give a good presentation you should use specific examples to emphasize the underlying, essential information that you want your audience to remember from your presentation.
Engage your audience.
You have approximately 2 minutes to engage your audience in your presentation before your audience starts to lose interest. You should cut to the chase about your topic and eliminate any fluff that you might be tempted to use as filler to bulk up your presentation.
Practice your presentation.
You should practice and polish your presentation the night before the main event so that your presentation is fresh in your mind. If there is a time limit for your presentation, you should practice your presentation so that you stay within your time limit; going over time limits can make audiences lose interest and forget what they have already heard. Additionally, you should attend other presentations and take note both of what the presenters did that was good and of what the presenters did that you would do differently to improve your own presentation skills.
Prepare for questions.
Questions about your presentation are a good thing; questions indicate that your audience was paying attention during your presentation and was engaged in your topic. Make sure that you have backup information ready for the question-and-answer portion of your presentation. If you notice that you are getting short on time during your presentation, truncate the material that you are presenting to save time for questions and answers because you should take advantage of any opportunity to interact with your audience about your topic.
Present your topic enthusiastically.
The more enthusiastic you are during your presentation, the more your audience will take interest in and will be engaged with your topic. If you are presenting orally, you should speak loudly and clearly; you should try to project your voice to the back of the room so that everyone can hear you. Record your presentation so that you can listen to it later; this will help you hear if you need to speak more loudly, clearly, or enthusiastically.
What is one piece of advice for graduate students that we are most commonly asked for? How to stand out from other students and make themselves the most marketable of the group. There is no doubt about it: competition is intense and stakes are high in graduate school. Increased competition and stakes will follow you after graduate school as you apply for jobs, especially because you will have to compete not only with your own peers and classmates but also with other recent graduates who may not have found jobs yet. So what advice for graduate students do we suggest? Well, you cannot avoid the competition even if you would like to, but you can use the following suggestions to improve your chances of beating the competition before, during, and after graduate school:
Don’t let perfectionism hinder you.
Being a perfectionist has probably helped you accomplish your goals thus far. However, being a perfectionist can become a liability if you allow it to take up too much of your valuable time. That’s not to say that you should abandon all of your attention to detail and desire to do things correctly, but you should learn to create balance between the things that you can and cannot change in your life.
Keep pace with trends.
It is important that you keep track of trends before, during, and after graduate school to remain competitive. To be as competitive as possible, you will need to follow several different kinds of trends, including (but not limited to) the following: employment trends, industry trends, research trends, university and academic trends, etc. To keep up with these trends, you can research career placement statistics and university fact sheets, and you can read trade publications and talk with other people in your field.
Don’t rely on high grades and test scores.
Relying on high grades and test scores to beat your competition is unwise because high scores do not always make you a shoo-in for college admissions or postgraduate employment. Instead of relying on high grades and test scores, you should first evaluate yourself for your own strengths and weaknesses. You can ask willing undergraduate professors who know you well to help you identify your strengths and weaknesses. You should learn how to highlight your strengths on resumes, statements of purpose, etc. You should work on improving weaknesses that you can improve and discover tools to help you compensate for weaknesses that you can’t improve. You can use your strengths and weaknesses to help you determine a clear sense of direction, which can distinguish you from other students or recent graduates who don’t know which way to go next.
Whether you are applying for college admission or postgraduate employment in an academic job [link to article “Cardinal sins of interviewing for academic jobs”] or other, you should submit your application as early as possible. Whoever is reading applications is more likely to respond positively to applications at the top of a giant pile than to applications at the bottom.
Ultimately, our advice for graduate students is that your success in beating the competition depends both on your motivation to develop necessary skills to beat your competition and on your enthusiasm for the path that you have chosen.