How to prepare a talk

Before the mid-1990s talks were prepared around glass or plastic slides made from photographed drawings and charts. One after the other, slides were dropped into the light stream of a projector. Sometimes they got stuck.

How well I remember bundling my graphed charts and photos I had developed in the dark room and trudging up High Street from the UNSW School of Physiology & Pharmacology to the graphics shop in the Prince of Wales Hospital. And in Philadelphia, walking from the Univ Pennsylvania School of Physiology to the School of Biochemistry graphics shop, which was co-run by the coolest photographer and the coolest artist on the planet.

The many advantages of making slides in this manner included that the costs and efforts going into making them limited their number, and what was on the slides. We could not prepare the slides during the tea break before giving our talks. We had to know what we would say at least a month ahead of time. And no-one could steal our presentations and call them their own. Except for folks within screaming distance.

In the mid-1990s Microsoft Powerpoint became ubiquitous and with it an explosion of badly made presentations and talks that lasted an hour with the presenter reading slabs of prose off what we still call slides.

The professional medical writer has two tasks in preparing data for presentation to an audience: making the topic of the presentation as easy to follow as possible, and making the client or employer happy.

The best-made slide has a picture or a graphic with little or no words, and the presenter points out features in the graphic to the audience.

Unfortunately, that rarely suits the needs of the client or the presenter. If all the salient points are written on the slide, the presenter can fire up the computer and stand in front of the audience knowing that what needs to be said is on the slide. If the audience sleeps through the talk or is only present for a few minutes, the savvy presenter hands out printed copies of the slides to take away with them, or emails the electronic version.

Make sure before you prepare your slides that you understand the needs of your client, and of your audience. Once that is clear, prepare the content in a word file, checking each statement of data against its primary source and making sure that the source of each graphic or chart is acknowledged using the AMA Style Guide.

Once the content is finished, from title slide through conclusion slide and references slide, format it. If one slide looks like it will be too much information, split the data into 2 slides, or 3 slides. The standard is 1 slide 30 seconds to a minute. Make sure you do not have too many sub-bullet points, try not to have any sub-sub-bullet points. Now is the time to fix the way the words and the charts and graphs look; once you add content to the slides you have to fix font sizes, positioning, overall look, and this is far harder to do on your presentation itself rather than on the word document.

The next step is to prepare your presentation software. Set the heading, subheadings and text styles and formatting to the required font size and type, set the background and template of the slide.

Then you are ready to add content to each slide. Do so. It will look beautiful.

Download a presentation from MJoTA,

More descriptions of how to make a professional presentation click here

How to prepare a talk. SJ Dodgson MJoTA 2017 v11n1p0123

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The Medical Writing Institute is a boutique school for training health and life science professionals in the art of medical writing and editing. The Institute invites professionals whose need help with their manuscripts, presentations and documents to hire our certified medical writers. The director, Dr Susanna J Dodgson, has been teaching medical writing since 2004, and life sciences since the 1970s, and really wants health science information to be properly presented. Because inaccurate health information kills.