Presenting on your research is an invaluable way to make connections with other scholars in your field of study and communicate to others why your research is important. However, it can often seem like a daunting challenge. It can be quite difficult to figure out how exactly to organize the discussion of your topic and to determine how much information to include so that your audience understands your research. Luckily, the following steps provide a guideline to help you turn a research project in any area of study into a compelling presentation.
Step 1: Know Your Audience
The sort of presentation that you would give to a group of experts in your field is quite different from one that you would give in front of a general audience. If your audience is likely to be very knowledgeable about your topic, you can spend less time explaining the background and instead quickly jump into the technical details, but if you’re presenting for a general audience, you’ll want to spend more time making sure the audience understands the background. Think about the setting of your presentation. Is it an academic conference for other researchers in your field? Or is it something more general and open to everyone? Most of you reading this will probably be presenting at William & Mary’s Summer Research Showcase, and this falls into the latter category.
Step 2: Motivate Your Research
One of the first things you do in your presentation should be answering the question of “so what?” Here you will lay out the goals of your research and explain how it is relevant to the real world. In particular, make sure you can explain why people who aren’t scholars in your field should care about the question you’re trying to answer. This is especially important if you are presenting in front of an audience who are not experts in your field. Try to give some specific examples of why your research is important.
Step 3: Give Some Background Information
After you introduce your topic and its “so what” you’ll want to give background information about your area of study. You also may want to include a literature review of research in your field by other scholars. Without the context of this information, it will be difficult for your audience to understand why you are doing the specific investigation that you are presenting about. This overview of your topic should strike a balance between being broad enough that your audience understands the context of your research, but narrow enough that the background information doesn’t feel redundant. How you strike this balance will also depend on your audience’s level of expertise, so make sure you continue to keep that in mind!
Step 4: Craft an Effective Research Question
Most likely if you’ve already done your research, you’ll already have written out a research question somewhere, such as in a grant proposal. However, as you’re making a presentation it’s good to remind yourself about what makes an effective research question. First of all, make sure that it is focused, not too broad or too narrow. It should also be concise; you want your research question to summarize the purpose of your research in only a sentence or two. Overall, your research question should give your audience a quick snapshot of the information that is to come later on in your presentation.
Step 5: Explain Your Research Methods
Now that you’ve given the audience the background context and your research question, you can begin to go into more detail about the specifics of your research. If your research was an experiment, describe the experimental design. Explain the methods that you used to collect your data as well as the model that you used to analyze the data. You may also want to include challenges that you faced during the research, and any changes that you had to make to your original research plan in order to overcome those challenges.
Step 6: Display Your Findings
This should naturally follow from your discussion of your research methods. If you do any sort of statistical analysis, this is where you’ll want to include it. This section is also where visual displays can be most helpful, so you’ll want to include graphs and charts if they’re applicable to your research. Make sure that all of your visuals show your data clearly and concisely, labeling everything so that your audience knows what they’re looking at. If your visuals are effective, you’ll hardly need to include words on this section of the presentation at all, although you will want to explain verbally the data in your visuals.
Step 7: Discuss your Results and Draw Conclusions
Here you will use the findings that you showed your audience from the previous step to answer your research question. Or, if you aren’t quite able to answer your research question yet, discuss what you have found so far and what future research could be done to fully answer the question. In this section, you’ll also want to make reference to your “so what” and the research goals that you outlined at the beginning of your presentation.
Step 8: References and Acknowledgements
Although you’re done with the content of your presentation, you can’t forget to cite your sources. Use the format (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.) preferred in your field of study and be consistent, using the same format throughout. And finally, make sure that you thank your advisor, the source of your funding, and anybody else who helped you out during your research.
As always, thanks for reading! If you have any questions about presenting on your research, applying for research grants, or anything scholarship related, please stop by the PSA office from 9am to 5pm Mondays through Fridays.