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Dr. Christopher Tran

How to Pick a Project, Perfect Your Pitch and Polish Your Presentation

By Martha Ortega Santos, MSc Candidate and TMED 801 Student

On December 1st, the Department of Medicine welcomed awarded clinician educator Dr. Christopher Tran, MD, FRCPC, MMEd, from the University of Ottawa. Dr. Tran’s interactive lecture was on how to select a motivating research project, create a captivating pitch, and incorporate practical ideas into presentations to maintain audience attention.

In medical education, lectures are the most common teaching method.1 Despite this, there is no standard and often great variability across instructors’ styles.2 As such, Dr. Tran set out to share helpful advice to improve engagement during presentations. Dr. Tran began his talk by introducing himself and utilizing the exact tools, tips, and tricks he would later go on to explain. He set the stage for the presentation by knowing himself and the audience, keeping the slides simple, being his authentic, confident self, and setting clear expectations for participant interaction. This sensible advice of clean, interactive, and visual-based slides is echoed by various sources evaluating the efficacy of presentation styles.3-5All these carefully thought-out presentation components fostered a sense of belonging between the speaker and the audience, ensuring participation. From here, he launched into how to pick a project. 

His advice on choosing a research topic is simple. You are known for your strengths, not your weaknesses. So, pick a research project in a stream you are knowledgeable in, and then find something within that area that annoys you. He reasons you are more likely to see the project through if you have a solid foundation and a vested motivation. Dr. Tran referenced his work on eConsults citing that two things annoyed him: long wait times to see a specialist and poor written communication between physicians. Consequently, he selected a project aimed at improving both challenges.

Communicating the value of your research to various audiences is equally as important as picking a research project. Dr. Tran provided a concise formula to do so: problem, gap, hook.6 Elaborating that to have a compelling pitch one must identify a problem, establish a gap, and articulate a hook to convince the audience of the reality of the problem and the sense of urgency in implementing the project. In his example, the problem identified was the challenges in ambulatory care—long wait times and poor communication. The gap was established as limited training in effective communication for consultation letters that could lead to potential patient compromise, delayed diagnosis, and inadequate follow-up. The solution to this problem was asynchronous communication between healthcare professionals using a secure web-based platform. The hook of this research project was to assess the quality of eConsults and provide feedback or training to the specialists to promote reflective practice. To read more about this research click here: and

Dr. Tran then segued into presentation tips that he finds useful, including tailoring presentations towards specific audiences, keeping slides straightforward—minimal text, relevant visuals/animations—, being familiar with the slideware and presentation room, and practicing beforehand. In support of this advice, research shows that multimedia presentations—text, animations, illustrations, and videos—promote attention, engagement, and retention.9-10Conversely, reading text verbatim off slides or using irrelevant images and unnecessary effects decreases learning.11 Dr. Tran also gave a brief introduction to graphic design to discuss white space, typography, accessibility, and contrast to enhance slide clarity. Lastly, he demonstrated various PowerPoint features to creatively incorporate into presentations to maintain engagement including triggers, animations, and transitions to visually show the connections between concepts.

Following this informative and engaging talk, the TMED801 students had a facilitated discussion with Dr. Tran where they had the opportunity to ask questions on the importance of effective communication between researchers, clinicians, patients, and the general public. Concluding with a candid conversation on Dr. Tran’s career path and the decisions that lead him to where he is today. Dr. Tran spoke on the value of medical educators being well-versed in presentations, giving the example that if an instructor is nonchalant, cavalier, or inappropriate when teaching this could impress upon students certain attitudes that negatively impact the care they will give in the future. Notably, Dr. Tran spoke openly about how often we have certain directions that don’t pan out for us, but the alternative options can be just as fruitful if we learn to adapt.

I would like to conclude with a gracious thank you to Dr. Tran for a welcoming, informative, and crucial lecture that will surely help all who were present improve their presentation skills, project pitches, and ability to select the right research for them.


  1. Brown G, Atkins M. (1988). Effective Teaching in Higher Education. Routledge.
  2. Zhornitskiy A, Nguyen A, Kaunitz JD. (2020). PowerPoint to the People: The Four Secrets to Delivering a Great Medical Talk. Dig Dis Sci, 65: 1892-1894.
  3. Daniel M, Fowler R, Merritt C, Raukar N, Sutton E, Allen G, Clyne B. (2017). Creating effective and engaging presentations. The Clinical Teacher 15(3):191-196.
  4. Hyll M, Schvarcz R, Manninen K. (2019). Exploring how medical students learn with the help of a digital presentation: a qualitative study. BMC Medical Education, 19:210.
  5. Mayer RE. (2014). Introduction to multimedia learning. In: Mayer RE, editor. The Cambridge handbook of multimedia learning. 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press, 1–24.
  6. Lingard L. (2015). Joining a conversation: the problem/gap/hook heuristic. Perspect Med Educ, 4(5):252-253.
  7. Tran C, Archibald D, Humphrey-Murto S, Liddy C, Keely E. (2019). What makes a high-quality electronic consultation (eConsult)? A nominal group study. J Telemed Telecare, 26(4):239-247.
  8. Tran C, Archibald D, Humphrey-Murto S, Wood TJ, Dudek N, Liddy C, Keely E. (2021). eConsult Specialist Quality of Response (eSQUARE): A novel tool to measure specialist correspondence via electronic consultation. J Telemed Telecare, 28(4):280-290.
  9. Lackmann S, Leger PM, Charland P, Aube C, Talbot J. (The Influence of Video Format on Engagement and Performance in Online Learning. Brain Sci, 11(2)L128.
  10. Tani M, Manuguerra M, Khan S. (2022). Can videos affect learning outcomes? Evidence from an actual learning environment. Educ Technol Res Dev, 70:1675-1693.
  11. Penciner R. (2013). Does PowerPoint enhance learning? CJEM 15(2):109-112.