5 Presentation Skills to Hone When Sharing Data With Your Team

Being a strong water lab manager requires more than simply keeping the business afloat. But this shouldn't come as a surprise: After all, you've likely already been through the rounds of public speaking engagements that come with the territory. And without sharp presentation skills, speaking to the general public about the importance of water testing, or addressing peers at conferences, can be daunting.

But where these skills become especially critical is when you're sharing important data with your leadership team. Conveying dense testing information is crucial, but even an audience of water lab professionals can tune out if they're bored. Here are five tips for becoming a better storyteller during these key internal presentations.

1. Consider Your Audience

You're immersed in the daily management of the lab, but remember that your audience may not share the same level of expertise. For example, the person in charge of your lab's finances, while essential to the business, might not be familiar with all the acronyms used at the bench. The information you're sharing relates to everyone, so make sure that everyone can understand it. Keep the jargon at bay, and when in doubt, keep it simple.

Even if your audience is already familiar with the topic, you should never start a presentation with specific details. Instead, Chemistry World advises taking a big-picture approach and opening with a broad overview of why the data matters, instead of regurgitating numbers and figures.

2. Practice for Perfection

Resist the temptation to create a script, as you could wind up sounding unnatural; but do take time to outline the points you want to drive home.

Creating PowerPoint slides is one way to make your presentation more engaging and arrange the order and pacing of your talk. These can be tedious to create, but as with most things, the more you use the software, the easier it becomes. Take some time to run through your slides before presenting; you can even record yourself to pinpoint habits in your speech patterns. Listen for common public speaking pitfalls, such as saying "um" or "like" too often.

Keep your presentation authoritative but conversational, and check your body language — do you have a relaxed stance? By evaluating how you'll come off to your audience, you gain an opportunity to tighten up the language and ultimately deliver a stronger speech.

3. Use Simple Visual Aids

When you're presenting data, don't feel like you need to fill every second with words. Including visual aids in your talk can help you keep the audience engaged, give them a chance to absorb the information, and provide crucial pauses for you to catch your breath and field questions.

Charts, graphs, and diagrams should be as crisp and colorful as possible to help distill meaning from large amounts of data. While PowerPoint can be a useful tool to guide your presentation, don't use it as a crutch. Edit your slides so they each include only a few words. If you do have slides with words, Nature advises enlarging the font and limiting each sentence to one line.

Speak clearly and let the slides provide additional context. "Slides should be clear, uncluttered, and readable. Use diagrams rather than text," says Jacquie Robson, an associate professor of teaching at Durham University, in an interview with Chemistry World.

4. Make Eye Contact

Don't spend the entirety of your presentation staring at your cue cards, visual aids, or, worse, your feet. Be sure to look up at your audience from time to time. This not only shows that you have confidence in the material, but it also helps you identify who you're losing in the crowd. Remember, the point of the meeting isn't to run through each number and every data point on your slides, it's to convey what the data means for your lab. So make sure you're connecting with your team.

Before you begin, explain that the slides will be shared in a follow-up email, so your listeners can sit back and absorb what you're saying. Also keep in mind that while visual aids are important, don't let them steal the show or detract from the bigger conclusion you want to draw.

5. Invite Questions

Open the floor for questions at the end of your presentation. Involving your audience in this way helps to foster a sense of community and gives you a moment to breathe. Plus, if you're sharing new data, additional feedback from the team can help you find fresh ways to interpret the information.

Anticipate the types of questions they're likely to ask so you're less likely to be caught off guard. If you don't have the answer, don't panic: Simply pause and tell the truth. Responding to a curveball query with, "Great question. I hadn't thought about that," is authentic and shows respect for the inquirer. Tell them you'll follow up after the presentation by either emailing the team or swinging by their desk, based on the nature of the question — and be sure to prioritize it when you go back to daily business.

Presenting to anyone, especially your lab's leadership team, can be nerve-wracking. But with a little bit of practice and these presentation tips in hand, you'll be able to relay data to your colleagues in a smooth, compelling, and easy-to-digest way.

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Kelly McSweeney
Science and Technology Writer
Armed with a master's degree in writing and a decade of professional work in scientific publishing, Kelly McSweeney writes about science and technology innovations. She translates complicated topics into stories that capture the curiosity of everyone from casual readers to technical experts. Kelly has degrees from Emerson College and the University of Vermont, and has worked on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics publications at Wiley, In Compliance magazine, and Pearson. Her articles about the latest research are published by ZDNet, Northrop Grumman, and Wiley.