Often, the second half of the semester calls for students to present their research findings in class, or in front of professors/advisers evaluating independent work. Presentations are a different kind of assignment than, say, fifteen-page research papers — and they require a different set of skills. At this time last year, I found myself facing a new and unexpected presentation project: My fall writing seminar professor had asked me to revisit my final research paper and present it at the Quin Morton ‘36 Conference.
Now called the Mary W. George Freshmen Research Conference, this event is an opportunity for freshmen to share their writing seminar research with a wider audience through ten-minute presentations. I encountered many challenges while breaking down my paper—a feminist perspective on evaluations of sexuality in films— into slides and bullet points. However, I also learned a lot about presentations through the process. While this year’s participants are gearing up for the conference in early April, students presenting at Princeton Research Day are in the midst of similar preparation. In light of these upcoming events, and since many students will have to present their research as spring semester comes to a close, I have decided to offer some advice on research presentations. Below I throw in my two (three) cents on the topic.
#1 Don’t present your paper
In a sense, this is a less graphic way of expressing Bennett’s kill your children advice. Chances are, you’ll have to cut out information from your paper or research notes in order to give a presentation in the time allotted. For the Quin Morton ’36 Conference, I had to turn a ten-page paper into a ten-minute presentation, which involved omitting about sixty percent of my material.
Often, achieving this level of concision means getting rid of seemingly integral information. For example, I used two theoretical lenses in my writing seminar paper but completely omitted one of them from my presentation. The omitted lens, a theoretical analysis of artistic evaluations like movie reviews and ratings, had been a focus of my paper. However, taking time to explain it would distract the audience from my other lens, a feminist perspective on cinematic sexuality. I decided that the audience could intuitively understand the implications of the artistic evaluations without me taking time to explain it. This allowed me to manage my time and concentrate more fully on my second lens. I realized that sometimes being clear in a presentation can actually involve minimizing explanations.
#2 Consider your audience
The main goal of a research presentation is to constantly keep your audience engaged. This means taking into consideration who your audience is and what interests them. In some ways, this piece of advice is connected to tip number one since the audience for your presentation might differ from your paper’s readers. For writing seminar, my readers were my professor and my classmates, who presumably had some interest in and prior knowledge of the information at hand. However, for the conference, my audience primarily consisted of writing seminar faculty and other students with little knowledge of my topic. Furthermore, the writing professors were particularly interested in my research process and what I had gotten out of it, instead of just the topic at hand. Considering these expectations ultimately helped me gear my presentation towards my audience in a novel and engaging way.
#3 Use the presentation to your advantage
This suggestion is somewhat reminiscent of the clichéd final tip to “have fun,” but I think that it is particularly pertinent for research presentations. Use this experience to delve further into the parts of your research that you find most interesting. If you are passionate about your presentation, the audience will undoubtedly enjoy it. Presentations can also be an excellent opportunity to reflect on your research process.
Stepping back and looking at my R3 revealed both strengths and weaknesses that I would not have considered before. For instance, I realized that the writing I did later on in my research phase was clearer and more convincing than my first analyses. Reflecting on my research in preparation for the conference allowed me to notice this aspect of my process, among others, and consider it when taking on future research projects. Thus, presenting is not only about sharing your findings with others; it is often a unique opportunity to learn about yourself as a researcher and writer.
The Mary W. George Freshmen Research Conference will take place on Friday, April 8, 2016 and is open to the public. If you are interested in attending, you can find more information here. Princeton Research Day will take place on Thursday, May 5, 2016 and is also open to the public. For more information, you can visit the PRD website.
—Emma Kaeser, Social Sciences Correspondent