What to say in a presentation?

You give a presentation because you would like your audience to remember a specific message. Therefore, you need to make sure that that message is very clear. In many presentations, it is quite difficult to understand what the message is that the speaker is trying to get across.
How do you determine as a speaker what you want to say in your presentation? In order to answer this question, you should know who you will be presenting for.
Know your audience well! There are all kinds of people that could be your audience. Think of experts versus laymen. A jury versus management. Students versus professors. Make sure to always adapt to your audience! Use more technical or more popularising terms, for example. Speak in a more theoretical or in a more practical way. Speak with confidence or rather with nuance.

What do we mean with ‘the message’ of the presentation? Your message is the core of your presentation. What should your audience remember and be able to pass onto others afterwards?

If you were only allowed to use one sentence to give your entire presentation, which sentence would that be? This is the first step in the preparation of your preparation. Express the message you want to get across in only one sentence and make sure that sentence is short and simple. Write it down, put it up on a wall and keep looking back to it when making your presentation. 

Being able to express yourself in only one sentence is a very valuable skill. It is an amazing combination of both synthesis and conviction. Try to summarize every article, every presentation or every class that you come across here at university by using only one sentence. This will not only help you to memorise and study but also to reproduce and finally present yourself. 


Now that you have determined what the message of your presentation is, the actual work begins. A onlineliner alone is of course not a complete presentation and especially in a scientific context, your presentation would become ridiculous very soon. You are a scientist. Your claims, findings and conclusions should be based on data, statistics and literature. These should definitely be an important part of your presentation! So what do you need to get your message across and how do you make sure that the jury believes what you are saying and that your audience understands your message at the same time? 

You never need it all

Think about what you really need to support your message. Always think back to your message and keep asking yourself: “Do I really need this part to get my message across?”

The subjects listed below could be part of your presentation. 

Broad context. What has led to your research? What is the broader situation?

Specific problem. What is the question you are trying to answer?

Literature review. Which problems have already been raised and tested in the literature?

Theories. Which theories form the basis of your research?

Societal relevance. Why should we be interested in your research?

Scientific relevance. Why should scientists be interested in your research?

Direct causes. What are the causes of the phenomenon you are studying?

Methodology. Which methods did you use in your research? How did you proceed?

Results. What are the results of your research ? What did you find?

Interpretation of data. What do your results mean? How could they be interpreted?

Limits. What could you have done to improve your research?

Future. What further research could be conducted into your topic?

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