General GP Training

Making a successful presentation

Dr Mahibur Rahman

Giving presentations has become a routine part of any trainee’s life, and these can make a significant impression on those around you. Here is some guidance on how to do it well.

The difference between a poor presentation and a successful one lies mainly in the preparation. This takes time and work, but your efforts will be richly rewarded.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

Before you can begin to put the elements of your presentation in place, there are a few bits of key information that you need to gather:

  • What are you going to present? This sounds obvious, but the more information you can get on the scope of your presentation, the easier it is to prepare – “Managing malignant hypercalcaemia in a hospital setting” is very different from “Hypercalcaemia”.
  • Who is your audience? The content of your presentation will vary considerably depending on whether the audience consists of students, academics, consultants, or a mixture of doctors and nurses. Students probably won’t want to know about the latest trial chemotherapy regimes, while a group of consultant oncologists is unlikely to benefit from a talk on the basics of taking a cancer history. Likewise, an informal presentation to a group of four or five colleagues needs a different approach to a formal Grand Round slot in front of a hundred people.
  • How long is your presentation to be? 10 minutes or half an hour? What you can put over in each is very different.
  • Where are you going to present? If at all possible, go and see the venue – and always find out exactly what facilities are available. Assuming that PowerPoint is available on a laptop and just turning up with a CD or disk can become more than embarrassing when all they have is an overhead projector.

When you’ve done all the background, it’s time to look at the content. The best presentations are those that engage the audience, have a clear message and are well structured. There should be a clear beginning, middle and end.

Tell them what you’re going to tell them

The first part of your presentation should introduce the audience to yourself, the subject, and the format of the presentation. Start by telling them who you are, and what you are going to discuss. Let the audience know how you will present the material – a didactic lecture, an interactive discussion, a question and answer session. This helps in getting and holding their attention.

Tell it

The main content of the presentation should be delivered in a logical manner. For a research paper, this means going through the aims, methods, results and discussion. A case should follow the established history, examination, investigations, differential diagnosis and conclusions format. If using slides, keep them uncluttered. Avoid reading the slides word for word – the audience can read, and it is extremely dull to watch someone go through several paragraphs of small text of the screen. Learn your material so that you can display key points, and talk around these. Engage the audience, by putting questions or by canvassing opinions. This will help them stay alert and interested. Keep the content focused – trying to cover too many points often loses the listeners.

Asking the audience if they have questions is one way to bring some interactivity to the presentation. You must be ready to answer most of the questions yourself, but be prepared to divert any difficult ones to a member from your team, or open it up to the floor – seniors often love to provide answers when a colleague is stumped!

Tell them what you’ve told them

It is important to have a definite ending to your presentation – the best way to do this is to summarise what has been covered. It may be preferable to do this after the questions and answers, as it allows you to bring the audience back to the key messages. Discussions and debates from questions often go off on a tangent Research shows that the first and last parts of any presentation are the most likely to be remembered, so you may wish to leave the audience with a short “take home” message – one line or sentence that you want to stay with them.

Summary

In summary, preparation is the key to a good presentation; make sure you have done your research.¬† When giving the presentation, have a structured format with a clear start, middle and end.¬† Here are some dos and don’ts for presentations using Powerpoint (which most of you will be using).

5 Dos for preparing PowerPoint presentations

  • DO Use colour schemes that are easy to read: White text on Blue, Black on White
  • DO Use a large clear font: at least 28 point size is recommended
  • DO Keep slides uncluttered – no more than seven bullet points. Five is better
  • DO Use images appropriately: better to show an X-Ray than to describe it
  • DO Rehearse your presentation – aim for about 1 minute per slide

5 Don’ts for preparing PowerPoint presentations

  • DON’T use colours that clash- yellow text on green is out
  • DON’T use too many slides – running late or rushing both leave a bad impression
  • DON’T use sound unless absolutely necessary – many people find it irritating
  • DON’T use too much animation – people tire of it quickly
  • DON’T put large amounts of text on the screen and then read it out word for word

Further reading

Tay V , Preparing for presentations . Successful Learning Issue 3, Centre for Development of Teaching & Learning, 2000.

Feierman A , The Art of Communicating Effectively. Presenting Solutions.

This article was first published in February 2005 and is reproduced with the kind permission of Hospital Doctor, who retain the copyright.

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