Go the Distance: Tips for Presenting your Research

The Mary W. George Freshman Research Conference is held every semester for freshman to present on their R3 research.

This past week I was invited to speak at the Mary W. George Freshman Research Conference. This conference is an opportunity for students to share their R3–the final open-ended research paper for Freshman Writing Seminar students– with a wider audience. But how do you go about converting a 10 to 15-page paper into just a 10-minute talk? How do you condense the intricacies of a month’s worth of research and analysis into just 10 short minutes?

This was the challenge I faced when I was first offered the opportunity to present my R3. On top of that, since I took my Writing Seminar last spring, I hadn’t even read the paper in over five months. But with guidance from my writing seminar professor and the Writing Center, I learned how to adapt such a detailed, academic argument for a more popular audience. Ultimately, through the process, I realized that this gap in time actually helped rather than hurt my development of an accessible presentation.

I met with my professor to discuss how to begin the process of writing my presentation. He suggested that, of course, the first thing that I needed to do was to reread my paper and remind myself of the nuances of my argument. But this was not supposed to be a passive exercise. As I read, I was to look for five main components that I would structure my presentation around: background, research question, method and data, analysis, and conclusions. These sections were particularly important since they provided insight into both the progression of my argument throughout the paper and also my progression through the research process.

I found that I was able to identify these parts of my essay much more easily because I was so far removed from the research and writing process itself—I could no longer remember the nuances of all of my sources, let alone my sources themselves. I was able to look at my own writing almost from an outsider’s perspective and pick out the points that were most essential to my understanding—or relearning—of my argument. If you are lucky enough to have the same distance as I did, this can be a really enlightening process to strip down a line of argument.

My ability to create some distance from my research in order to better pull out the most relevant components to share with others was primarily circumstantial—it just so happened that there was quite a bit of time between my spring R3 deadline and the conference this fall. But there are many other ways—besides time—to help create this distance and better prepare your research for presentation. For example, have a friend read your paper and pick out five to ten sentences that they believe encapsulate your argument best. Then using those sentences as a base, you can begin condensing a complex piece of writing into a clear and concise presentation.

This stripped-down line of argument along with the most salient and representative pieces of evidence formed the majority of the first draft of my presentation. In the next stage of editing and polishing, it was again incredibly rewarding to get an “outsiders” perspective. In the days leading up to the conference, I practiced my presentation for friends who were unfamiliar with my R3 research. I asked them to identify places in the presentation where they felt confused and where they felt like I went too in depth or did not provide enough context. Again, these are things that are sometimes hard to recognize on your own when you yourself as so familiar with your subject.

Whenever you are planning to present your research to a wider audience, fresh eyes are always your biggest asset—whether those eyes are your own after spending time away from your research, or they are the eyes of others. Strip your research down to its most basic level, and use others to help tease out what the most interesting and relevant aspects are to share.

— Ellie Breitfeld, Natural Sciences Correspondent