In the last "Tip of the Week" I suggested that you write a one page (or less) essay describing all the points you plan to make in the presentation. Now it's time to see if you can describe that essay verbally, without slides. One preliminary task is to think through your target audience, and in particular, the least expert member of the audience you hope to reach (not everyone, but the least expert person you hope to reach).

Start by giving a one or two minute version to the person at the next lab bench. You will be surprised at how much he/she doesn't understand the first time you give it. Work that out and try it on someone at the lab next door. Keep working your way "down" toward the member of your target audience with the least knowledge of your material. If you want your talk to be understood by a recent biology graduate then you don't need to practice on an English major. However limiting your practice to a postdoc won't help you reach that recent graduate.

This approach will help you deal with the variation within individual audiences. Summarizing your essay for the least expert person will enable you to create a simple story and narrative, even if you add detail that only the true expert can understand.

Slide presentations divide a coherent topic into fragments (individual slides). This makes it difficult for the audience to follow and tends to make speakers think in separate one minute sound bites, rather than developing a coherent scientific argument.

One effective way to minimize these problems is to write a short essay before starting to make slides. The essay should describe the scientific problems, why it is important, the experimental technique, the results, the limitations, etc.. It should include all the points you want to "prove" in the presentation. This essay is your guide to what to include in the presentation, what not to include, and the order of the slides.

Next week's tip will discuss how to use this essay to make your oral presentation more comprehensible and compelling.