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Communication competencies and skills are often considered of lower priority than technical ones by scientists and technical specialists. Yet they are critical to professional success. I was recently involved in organising a meeting concentrating on communication skills for the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) – professionals who specialise in the assessment and control of health hazards in the workplace. The first half concentrated on report writing and the BOHS guidance on report writing that was published last year and was led by one of it’s authors, Adrian Hirst of Manchester University. During the second half of the meeting I ran a session on presentation design.

  • Occupational hygienists have to make presentations in a number of different situations, Including:
  • Presenting results, conclusions and recommendations from surveys to management and workers
  • Talks on occupational hygiene to various types of audience
  • “Toolbox talks”
  • Presenting papers and keynotes at conferences

How the presentation is designed and delivered is important if you want to make an impact and a good impression. So it’s worth putting some effort into presentation design. For me the overriding principle is

never prepare and deliver a presentation that you wouldn’t want to sit through yourself!

Careful thought needs to be devoted to a number of key elements, illustrated in the following diagram

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The format of the presentation should be adapted to the type of situation and, very importantly, the particular audience. What’s appropriate for a meeting where results are presented to management or Safety Representatives is unlikely to be the same as if you were presenting the same results as a paper at a conference of your peers

Features of good presentations include:

  • Clear objectives
  • Well structured
  • An appropriate amount of content for time available
  • Content pitched at the right level for the audience)
  • Good materials – including well designed slides and handouts
  • Clear, interesting delivery

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The key steps in preparing to deliver a presentation are :

1. Define your objective – what you can realistically achieve in the time available. When doing this take into account

a. The audience – makeup, prior knowledge, what they want or need from you

b. The time available

2. Design your content – prepare an outline . It’s usually best to avoid using Powerpoint (or other presentation software) to do this. Use a pen and paper to sketch out your ideas and then tipdy them up and rearrange them if necessary.

3. Design your materials – prepare good quality slides and handouts. Think about their content and how they should look before you start typing

4. Practice and rehearse and then deliver

The standard of visual aids used during most presentations, particularly Powerpoint slides, is often quite poor. This is probably because little though is given to the design of the materials and insufficient time devoted to preparing them. We spent a major part of the workshop on slide design and I’ll be covering this in another post in the near future.

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