BrainWaves: The Neuroscience Graduate Program Newsletter

Lab Presentation Survival Guide

Author: Leanne Monteiro

Today’s the day: your first lab presentation. You have created your slides, tested the animations, and as long as the internet connection is stable, everything should go smoothly. However, several worries are likely still rushing through your mind: “What about that one lab member with an inevitably challenging question? What if someone interrupts me? What if I forget what I’m talking about?!”.

It’s okay. We have all been there, and we know it’s a scary thing. As a result, we’ve compiled some tried and tested words of wisdom within your new "Lab Presentation Survival Guide".

1.No one expects you to present a breakthrough

It might be daunting presenting to your lab members, but no one’s waiting for you to deliver a ground-breaking study (not yet anyway!). Your research question will evolve bit-by-bit and right now you are just building the foundation. Your lab members understand this. Relax. You’ve got this!

2.Interruptions are a chance to clarify things

Rather than panicking when you see the dreaded hand go up mid-way through your talk, see it as a chance to explain something you already know. Most interruptions are just to clarify minor points. It’s because the listener is interested and they want to hear from you. That’s a good thing. They also may be delivering valuable feedback or suggestions that will save you time in the long run! 

3.  Slow and steady wins the race

It’s natural for your nerves to make you want to race through your slides. Don’t give in to them! Talk through each slide at a leisurely pace – even at a pace you feel is too slow. It will come across much more clearly and sound thoughtful. It’s also a chance for you be very clear on what you are saying rather than possibly stumbling over concepts. Maybe even use the Zoom whiteboard to sketch out an idea you are trying to explain!

4.  Less is more

Don’t pack your slides with text as you’ll only end up reading them off word-for-word. Have a title, a sentence or two, and then some interesting data that you can discuss. No one wants to read a whole slide – they want to hear your interpretation of the results. Including images to help explain or summarize concepts can also be very valuable. Check out BioRender for a quick and easy way to create graphics you can add!

5.  Even negative results are results

Don’t feel the need to only include successful experimental data. You are going to have your fair share of failed experiments and lab meetings are often a great place to show that data and come up with solutions as a group. Your lab members want to help you!

6.  Everyone hates PowerPoint

It’s going to happen so just accept it now: PowerPoint will freeze, fail to load a slide or just plain crash. That’s okay – we expect it to happen at some point. No one will blame you. Just apologize, lament about Microsoft, and pick up where you left off. It’s almost over by now anyway.

7. “Any questions?”

Try not to wince when you say this as there will inevitably be questions. But remember, no one is trying to trip you up; instead, they are trying to understand your methodology and ultimately make it better. If you do not know a term, a reference, or the question in general, just say so. There is no shame in not knowing something. However, if you try to pretend you know something, you will likely fall short and end up looking silly. Your lab members are the experts at this point, so feel free to ask for their input even on their question: “That’s a great question but I’m not sure how I’d go about investigating that. What do you think would work best?” is a perfectly acceptable answer.

Even though lab presentations – and especially your first one – can seem terrifying, no one is out to get you. It’s a chance to troubleshoot, to discuss ideas, and hopefully, focus the direction of your work. Think of your lab meetings as brainstorming sessions rather than interrogations!