Do the research!

When preparing for a presentation, you often need to research facts and figures, as well as find quotes and opinions, before you draw your own conclusions (or to back up your own opinions).

It’s important to get the facts right. A friend recently told me about an experience he had giving a lecture. He mentioned a “fact” about some scientific research but during the Q&A period, a member of the audience challenged him on it. He wasn’t sure, which made him lose the authority he’d worked so hard to develop with the audience. When he looked it up later, he discovered that what he’d said wasn’t accurate. He’s determined not to have that happen again!

How do you research a topic? Where do you go? Of course, it depends on your topic, but the principle is the same: look for non-partisan, original sources of the highest caliber.

Look for academic sources

In the field of multimedia, for example, I look for academic sources. There’s a fair amount of research that’s been done in the field. In business, you can also look for academic research on marketing, human resources, productivity, and more.

Academic sources have a number of advantages:

  • They’re generally non-partisan; researchers are not supposed to advocate a point of view
  • They are respected
  • Published research is a primary resource; you’re getting the information first-hand
  • You can cite the exact source, page number and so on– that looks impressive!

Sometimes you can correspond with the authors of published research. Their e-mail addresses are often available on the Web site of their university and they may even welcome inquiries.

Find writers who do their research

You might not have the time or resources (such as subscriptions to the journals) to do all of your own research. In this case, you may want to rely on articles that others have written. If you do so, you need to carefully judge the credentials of the author and the thoroughness of the research.

Look for articles that include references, indicating that the author did the research you don’t have the time to do. Also, when you do a search on the Internet, go to Web sites that have reputable names.

For example, Adobe’s Web site has an article, “The value of multimedia in learning,” written by Patti Shank, Ph.D. I encourage you to read this article to see what makes a reputable source. Even if you don’t read the entire article, scroll down to read the References section at the end.

When you include certain words in a Google search, such as research, Google displays a section on scholarly articles.

google search

google search

Google has special search engines for scholarly articles and university sites. The university site search engine is for searching within the site of a specific university; you need to specify the university first.

Keep track of your sources

Write down and keep your sources, making them as complete as if you were creating a bibliography. This means you should include the the following:

  • author
  • the name of book or article
  • the date published
  • the journal or publisher
  • the place published (if a book)
  • the issue number (if a journal)
  • the page number
  • the URL, if any

Here’s an example of a full reference for a journal article:

Kafai, Y., C. Ching, and S. Marshall (1997). Children as designers of educational multimedia software. Computers Education, 29, (2/3), 117-126.

You don’t need to include the reference on your slides or in your verbal presentation. You need to keep it for back up in case your sources are challenged. However, you can, and should, certainly give attribution for what you say. Give credit where credit is due. So, you could say, for example,

“Mao Neo and Ken T. K. Neo, faculty at Multimedia University in Malaysia, say that multimedia is ‘the combination of various digital media types, such as text, images, sound, and video, into an integrated multisensory interactive application or presentation to convey a message or information to an audience.’ ” (This sentence is from the above-referenced article.)

Try to use recent references if possible, as they’ll be more pertinent and authoritative. Old research is often superseded by newer research.

Verify your sources

If a claim seems doubtful, try to find corroboration. Recently, I got a flyer in the mail from Prevention Magazine, which gets a certain level of trust from me. One part said,

“If you’d love to drop 10 to 20 pounds of fat faster than you ever believed possible, you must learn about Mother Nature’s greatest weight-reduction nutrient.

“It’s called chromium… For MDs helping their patients win the battle of the bulge, this all-natural, perfectly safe nutrient may be the greatest weight-reducer ever discovered…

“In one study at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, researchers found that women taking the right eweight-loss dosage and the right type of chromium saw a remarkable transofmation in their bodies. …they were 100% more successful in turning flab into lean, svelte body lines”

Sounds good, right? Sounds respectable and they quote some research. A search on chromium weight loss turned up “Chromium Picolinate and Weight Loss” from Vanderbilt University’s Web site. This article reviews the research done on chromium and weight loss, and finds that in study after study, it isn’t effective! A long list of references follows the article.

I’ve lost my trust in Prevention Magazine!

If you see a claim that you want to use, try to find it verify it from the original source. You may have heard the claim that 30 million PowerPoint presentations are given every day. Here’s a great article, “Dr Livingston I presume?” by Robert Befus, from the Visual Being blog, trying to track down the source of that statement.

Guess what? The author couldn’t find the source!

  • Microsoft said it came from Presentations Magazine
  • Presentations Magazine said it came from Geetesh Bajaj, owner of Indezine, com.
  • Geetesh said it came from an article by Ian Parker, “ABSOLUTE POWERPOINT: Can a software package edit our thoughts?”
  • In the article, Ian Parker attributes the statement to Microsoft.

Back where we started from!

Citing opinions

Opinions are different. Anyone has the right to an opinion, but whose opinion do you trust? Whose opinion do you want to put out there as authoritative? Therefore, look for the most well-known and respected sources for opinions.

Of course, you’re entitled to your own opinions. And in fact, a presentation is stronger when you have a point of view and have drawn a conclusion from your research. But make clear that the opinion is yours. Don’t pass it off as absolute fact. If you can cite respected third-party opinions, and bring the audience through your facts, data, and logic, you’ll be able to bring them around to agree with your opinion. That will be an impressive success!

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