How to Present – Notes from ISEF 2008

At the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair this year, I’ve learned a lot about presentation techniques. Thanks to Patrick for giving me some great suggestions, such as:

  • Posture: stand with feet pointed toward judge, lean forward slightly
  • Hands: use generous hand gestures, in front of chest, not lower
  • Use visual bullets when making lists. Hold up fingers for each item.
  • Intonation: Use emphasis on key phrases, and be sure to pause between clauses and sentences. Give the listener time to absorb information, and possibly ask questions.
  • Don’t use filler words like “uh”, simply pause and glance back at board if you forget what to say.

Here are some other notes about the judging process at ISEF experience:

  • Some judges are not interested in hearing a presentation, and will instead like to ask you questions about the board. They have all already read the board. This can be difficult if there is background information that needs to be explained as part of your presentation.
  • Other judges may want a 2-minute summary of your work. This means you should state the key points: the purpose, hypothesis, conclusion. In my case, I also showed my demonstration.
  • Judges are assigned based on your sub-category selection, so choose carefully.
  • Recognize types of judges:
    • Grand awards judges have blue ribbons, and a second ribbon corresponding to their category. Computer Science judges had yellow ribbons. These judges are written on the red card that is placed at your project. They have strict 15 minute periods for each project, and there is a warning bell when there are a couple minutes left.
    • Special awards judges have red ribbons. Their organization is written on their badge. Special awards judges will not always have time to hear the full presentation.

Question and Answer: Questions about the technical details of your project are easy to answer, because you have already researched the field for many months. The trickier questions are more general, and they apply to almost all projects. For example:

  • What were some of the biggest challenges in your project, and how did you overcome them?
  • What was something surprising that you learned, that you weren’t expecting to?
  • What is the significance of your results?
  • How did you learn about this?
  • Why did you want to do this project? How did you come up with this idea?
  • How does your work compare to existing research?
  • What makes this project better than the other projects here?
  • What would you do differently if you did this again?
  • What else would you like to explore in this project?