Case study: working with graduates from RSB on their Presentation Skills

Rachel Lambert Forsyth CBiol FRSB, Director of Membership and Professional Affairs at the Royal Society of Biology shares how a Presentation Skills Masterclass equipped their students with the tools and confidence to present their ideas, and enhance the value of their Accreditation Conference for attendees and students.

Background In 2018 we ran an inaugural Accreditation Conference. Aimed primarily at higher education bioscience academics, we also sought to involve students from each degree programme who had received accolades for their final year project. Last year we gave them the opportunity to present their Award-winning project for the first time, during the networking part of the event. The slot reserved for students was over lunch and they were asked to bring a poster presentation that could be displayed around the conference rooms. Delegates were encouraged to visit the posters and talk to the project winners over the lunch period.

Challenge To be honest last year’s conference, from the student’s perspective could have gone better. We didn’t get many students take up the opportunity to speak. And those that did felt as though they weren’t really part of the conference and found it hard to get the attention of those they were speaking to.

I felt this was a missed opportunity for us and the students. They have done some amazing work. And it’s work they know and love. And that makes it worth sharing. And where ever they go onto next, the practical value of presenting their work, to their confidence and future prospects was not in doubt.

It seemed only right to try again. But we’d need to do things differently to make it a success. We decided on a different format for the event. Rather than have the students present informally during the networking spaces in the conference, we wanted to ensure they had the attention of their audience.

And we wanted the audience to be able to more fully appreciate and be able to ask questions of the presenter.

We scheduled dedicated time in the programme and the plan was set to have the students present in pairs, two-minutes each with 5 minutes each for questions. And then moved on to the next table. Each student would present around 3 times. We called this part of the day “Top Project Speed Networking Presentations”.

We were seriously ramping up what we were asking the students to do. We believed they were more than capable. But we also believed they would be able to surpass themselves with the right kind of support.

As a professional body, we have a duty to support the professional development of all our members and providing dedicated support to early career biologists was an emerging theme of our new strategic plan. With this in mind, I proposed to the organising committee, our Accreditation Committee, an idea that would bring this to the presenters as part of the overall conference schedule.

In 2018, I attended a presentation Masterclass run by John. This was offered to me as I was scheduled to Chair a session at a conference in December 2018. I found the experience incredibly comforting and it built my confidence in advance of the session I was speaking in. I wanted to provide similar support to our young biologists but didn’t think it would be possible to arrange an advance session for them, what with the likely travel, and being in the midst of exams or new jobs.

I approached John with the suggestion and together we discussed potential options. We came to the conclusion that a short 2-hour Masterclass to hone their skills as a separate session to be held on the day of the conference would be the right approach to take.

Action John listened to the brief and then proposed the following: A series of 5 questions as part of a welcome email: to enable the students to start to think about their strengths as presenters and pin-point any areas that might require attention. A workbook to be sent out to presenters around 6 weeks beforehand: this would be a step-by step guide to preparing and practising for their presentations. A two-hour Masterclass on the day: This would take place from 11-1pm with the students due to start presenting at 2pm.

This was advertised to the students. We estimated we would get around 12 positive responses. In fact we received 21 requests to join the training. On the day 17 of our students showed up and took part in the training with 16 of these going to present.

Result On the day John brought the students into the room where they would be due to present to settle their nerves.

Then he led the group in a 2-hour session aimed at working with them on their personal confidence and polishing their performance. They had two opportunities to run through their sessions in between and ask each other questions.

The session was highly interactive and John was tuned in to the audience and tailored his style to suit them.

The work of our accreditation committee is powered by volunteers from across the academic and industrial community within the biosciences and supported by a professional team of staff in London. The addition of the speaker training was only possible due to their unwavering support of this programme over a period of more than a decade.

Feedback: From the delegates/attendees/students and the RSB

“Yesterday was really helpful – it made me a lot more confident for my presentation and it’ll certainly help me in the future too!”

“I would like to say a huge thank to John for his excellent masterclass in presentation skills.”

“The session was really helpful. I’m going to use what I’ve learn for when I present in a lab meeting in a couple of weeks time!”

“Thank you for adding me and for coaching us the other day. Your tips really helped!”

“I’ve heard lots of positive things about the masterclass so thank you very much for delivering that for us. The presentation session seemed to work really well in the afternoon – with an extra top project winner deciding that they did want to present after all!” Ellie Oakley MRSB Events Officer

“It was a pleasure to work with John. I heard a huge amount of positive feedback from the students throughout the afternoon. Rachel Lambert- Forsyth CBiol FRSB Director of Membership and Professional Affairs RSB

Would you like part of your community to be better equipped to handle speaking and presentations? Perhaps I can help. For an informal chat, get in touch here.

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