Academic ≠ Boring: Presenting Your Research

Categories: Academic Writing Month, Presentation, Visuals, and Creativity, Tools and Resources, Writing and Editing

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November is Academic Writing Month #AcWriMo at Methodspace! This post was part of the 2017 #AcWriMo series. The theme of week five was: Publishing and Presenting.

presentationYou write about your ideas, research, and findings. But sometimes you also need to present your research. Presentations might include conferences or meetings of professional societies, in face-to-face or online settings. How can you approach such presentations with confidence, and communicate successfully?

Consider your audience:
Does your audience have an interest in your topic, or are you trying to introduce them to something new? Does your audience have background knowledge of key concepts and terminology? If your audience is unfamiliar with the topic, make sure to begin with the basics. If you are able to provide materials in advance of the meeting, you can create a handout to send or post. If not, begin with a brief overview, and show how your work is situated within the field, discipline, and/or scholarship.

Think about your purpose:

Are you trying to simply inform your audience about your research or findings, or do you want them to be prepared to do some kind of action? Do you want to provide evidence they can use to support planning or decision-making processes? Do you want this presentation to serve as a foundation for a collaborative effort? Do you want audience members to apply research findings? If so, target your content accordingly. You might want to minimize the academic details such as your research design and methods, and focus on the options your research uncovered.

Communicate visually:

Avoid death by PowerPoint! Use slides to show diagrams, mind maps, photographs or other visuals that will your audience understand your message conceptually. Illustrate relationships and show how the dots are connected between key points in your study. Make sure that any visual diagrams are presented in a clear way; keep in mind the fine print may not be readable to your audience in a big conference room. If the details are important, show a simplified diagram and post the detailed version online where interested audience members can download it.

In addition to learning from resources about visual communication and presentations, look at resources about visual research methods for data visualization to find new ways to share results. (See Methodspace posts about communicating research visually.)

If you do not have visual material to illustrate your presentation, consider giving it without slides.

Tell stories:

What stories would make your research experience relevant and meaningful to your audience? Use examples or cases to bring the issues you are discussing to life.

Tailor approach to setting:

Whether the setting is online or face-to-face, keep in mind that distractions are as close as the smart phone.  Plan to include some interactive options such as polls, or take questions during the presentation rather than at the end. If the setting is face-to-face, break up the presentation with a variety of activities, so you are not speaking the entire time. When the meeting is face-to-face, includes a small group or dyad exercise to engage audience members.

Here are a few resources that might help you design visually-interesting presentations:

Duarte, N. (2010). Resonate: Present visual stories that transform audiences. New York: Wiley. See resources on her blog.

Kendall, J., & Kendall, K. (2012). Storytelling as a qualitative method for IS research: Heralding the heroic and echoing the mythic. Australasian Journal of Information Systems, 17(2). doi:

Kirk, A. (2016). Data visualization: A handbook for data driven design. London: SAGE Publications. See Chapter 1.

Mitchell, C., Lange, N. D., & Moletsane, R. (2017). Participatory visual methodologies: Social change, community and policy. London: SAGE Publications.

Moezzi, M., Janda, K. B., & Rotmann, S. (2017). Using stories, narratives, and storytelling in energy and climate change research. Energy Research & Social Science, 31(Supplement C), 1-10. doi: Open access.

Reynolds, G. (2008). Presentation Zen: Simple ideas on presentation design and delivery. Berkeley: New Riders. See resources on his website.

Rooney, T., Lawlor, K., & Rohan, E. (2016). Telling tales: Storytelling as a methodological approach in research. The Electronic Journal of Business Research Methods, 14(2), 147-156. Open access.

Rose, G. (2016). Visual methodologies: An introduction to researching with visual materials (4th Ed.). London: SAGE Publications. See Chapter 1.

Sibbet, D. (2010). Visual meetings. New York: Wiley. See resources on his website.

Sibbet, D. (2013). Visual leaders: New tools for visioning, management, & organization change. Hoboken: Wiley.

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