Tips for Presenting Research on Zoom
As an integral part of academic life, the research presentation is something we are all exposed to at some point in our careers - whether we like it or not. As life scientists, presenting research is an essential way to not only show-off our latest, most impressive data, it’s also an opportunity to carry ourselves with confidence at the human interface of peer review. Despite top-notch presentation skills being a key part of any academic job, many researchers feel understandably anxious when it comes to having all eyes on them and their data.
For even the most experienced scientist, delivering a research-focused presentation can feel like a challenge; not least because presenting with confidence takes years of practice, perseverance and skill. Firstly, there are aspects of design: what colour scheme and font style should you choose? That’s a whole science in itself. Secondly, you need a confident idea of what you want to say, maintaining an appropriate tone and pace, whilst keeping your audience in mind at all times. Finally, you need to have mastered a few aspects of presentation technique - and this is the part which is made all the more challenging when presenting research on Zoom.
What's all the hype about Zoom?
Zoom is a cloud-based conferencing software which allows multiple users to virtually meet via video link, allowing ideas to be shared in a face-to-face manner which would be otherwise impossible under current COVID-19 travel restriction rules. Presenting research from your work-from-home office might not offer the same sense of academic wonderlust as travelling to an esteemed international conference, however video link meetings remain the best option in the absence of safe travel, as they still offer the same important opportunities for networking and discussion.
It was not so long ago that Skype was the go-to application for video conferencing within the academic workplace; however, after the announcement of lockdown back in March 2020, Zoom quickly became the virtual meeting software of choice within many institutes and universities. In order to understand how Zoom overtook Skype as the go-to application for video conferencing, we have to look back into our recent history, before the COVID-19 pandemic, back when Zoom was purchased by Microsoft in May 2011.
When Microsoft first acquired Skype, they set about major user-experience redesigns; some of their new features included Instagram-like ‘stories’ and their own version of ‘emojis’. These features, whilst amusing, don’t offer a lot to professional video conferencing. When combined with a dip in Skype’s usual quality of service, the app quickly lost favour with their professional, paying clientele. At this point, Zoom was quick to take over the market as a free-to-download, easy-to-use alternative to its predecessor - perfect for academic usage.
Presenting research remains paramount
Despite the virtualization of our scientific meetings, the importance of sharing real, original data remains. Now, perhaps more than ever before, presenting your research to a captive audience is essential if you want to advocate for your own subfield of science. With much of the world’s attention focusing on the impact of COVID-19, standing up to justify your work is an important way to gain the attention of potential collaborators, policymakers and sponsors - reminding them that your work must not fall by the wayside in terms of either funding or support. Making this sort of impression with your research presentation (whether it be on Zoom or in-person) could also help secure your next academic position; in a time when opportunities are sparse and job security is uncertain, investing in creating a good online presentation is more than worth the time it takes to make one.
Exactly how to deliver a strong and impressive research presentation very much depends upon both the nature of your work and the nature of your audience; however, a few key cornerstones of success remain the same. Here are a some tips to remember when delivering an impressive research presentation, specifically tailored to the experience of presenting your research on Zoom:
1. Prepare For Confidence
Rehearsing your presentation is a great way to prepare, but did you know that you can also prepare mentally by envisaging your success? Sports psychologists have been training athletes by using this technique for years, but research suggests that success visualization can work for academics too. Psychologists now believe that imagination alone can trigger the same mental response as achievement itself, preparing the brain and increasing your chances of a successful presentation. Preparing for confidence is even more important when presenting online, as it can be all the more difficult to draw assurance from ‘reading the room’ when audience cameras can be turned off.
2. Your Webcam Is Your Stage
When presenting your research on Zoom, it’s important to remember that your webcam is your stage and you should ensure your setup looks correct. Lighting is key when using the sort of resolution picture offered by most laptop/PC webcams so try to position yourself in a well-lit space. You should also make sure that you’re able to sit up straight comfortably, as a good body posture has been linked to feelings of confidence.
3. Run a Tech Check
Begin your presentation with confidence by having already completed a technical check on your webcam and microphone. Once you’ve checked the audio/visual software on your own device, it’s always worth asking the audience if they can see and hear you as you begin, just in case there is a connection problem which needs to be addressed.
4. Look Prepared, Be Prepared
You want to appear professional and prepared with a clean and tidy background in your webcam view. Try to find a neutral space, avoiding patterned wallpaper and keeping any unnecessary distractions (such as pets) out of the way.
5. Speak Slowly And Clearly
When presenting your work, it’s always important to speak confidently and clearly, however the technical challenges of an online presentation make this all the more important. Should there be any lag in the connection speed, speaking slowly and clearly will maximise the chances of being heard and understood by your audience - it will also make you appear more at ease and help you remember all that you’ve rehearsed.
6. Make Zoom Your Friend
As well as mimicking an in-person meeting, it’s worth acknowledging the features within Zoom which are supplementary to real life. Firstly, the chat function is a great way for audience members to ask their questions as your speech unfolds, giving you a chance to consider your responses even before your presentation is over. Additionally, the option to record your presentation can be extremely useful, not only to share with interested audience members, but also to inform your own learning curve helping you make future presentations better.
Is Zoom the future for scientific presentations?
The COVID-19 pandemic has driven much of our lives online, and for many of us the workplace may never return to ‘normal’. In light of this, and alongside the recent success of Zoom, one has to wonder whether video conferencing will remain commonplace for those of us presenting scientific research. Whilst there are many exciting advancements in the near future of video conferencing (such as improved audio/visual capability, or even virtual reality), it’s hard to imagine that science will remain truly remote in the wake of COVID-19. Though we may continue to use Zoom in the place of some international travel, regular group meetings will likely resume in-person, due to a shared need for life scientists to be present on site anyway for their laboratory-based work.
Whether Zoom remains a temporary measure or whether it’s here to stay, presenting research online is something we have to make do with for now. Whether you're a PhD student, post-doc or principle investigator, the tips within this post will help you on your way to a confident and successful research presentation on Zoom. With a little practice and perseverance, who knows what opportunities a strong presentation might lead to?
If you feel your work has been affected by the social distancing measures of the COVID-19 lockdown, check out The Life Scientists’ Guide To Working Remotely, for more tips and advice.
Sophie has recently submitted her PhD thesis to the Quadrum Institute, Norwich, UK and is a passionate science writer and communicator. She is a member of The Nutrition Society and the Biochemical Society.
You can connect with Sophie online in the following places:
- Instagram: @theinfraredrum
- Twitter: @infraredrum
- On her blog: theinfraredrum.wordpress.com
- YouTube channel: InfraRedRum
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