[by Jeff Radel, University of Kansas Medical Center]
Visual Aids | Design Concepts | How to Give a Bad Talk | Useful Links
Ten simple rules for making good oral presentations (video)
Before preparing the presentation determine:
1. The type of talk you will be expected to give. Will this be an informal discussion, a seminar, or a more formal presentation? Different talks have different purposes; the intent of a conference presentation is not the same as a presentation at a job interview. When in doubt, ask for guidance from your host.
2. The composition of the audience. Will you be speaking to a general audience or specialists? How many people will attend?
3. The time allotted for the talk. The longer the talk, the more freedom you will have to explore the topic. A short talk needs to be clear and concise.
4. Expectations concerning content. Is there a specific
purpose for having you give a talk? Clarify expectations and address them
during the presentation. Will you be presenting novel concepts to
this audience, or building upon their prior knowledge? Either way, make
sure you cover the basics clearly, and early in the talk, to avoid losing
Once you have a general idea of what you want to say, you'll have to decide how to say it. It is essential that your talk be well-organized and that your points be presented logically and unambiguously. To do so may require much preparation. Start early! Here are a few pointers:
1. Start preparing well in advance by thinking through what needs to be said.
2. Develop a clear statement of the topic and its importance.
3. Arrange material in a logical sequence. This process may be easier if you use index cards to organize your talk, with one idea per card.
4. Presentation software (such as PowerPoint) is, of course, widely used for oral presentations. PowerPoint is a good tool for organizing your presentation & is useful for creating slides for your presentation (but see PowerPoint: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly & Summary of the Annoying PowerPoint Survey & Gettysburg Address & Making PowerPoint slides).
5. Determine transition elements which will help your audience to follow the link from one topic to the next. These should be logical, and may be presented by posing a question, or explaining your own discovery of the link's existence.
6. Run through the talk once, early. Go back and re-think the sequencing. Discard non-essential elements.
7. Attempt to identify problems or questions the audience may have and address them in the talk, before the audience has a chance to think of these things themselves.
8. Proof-read your slides! Do so while there is plenty of time to re-print any visual aids with errors.
9. The most important preparation factor is to REHEARSE! You may want to videotape yourself and watch the results with a critical eye. It may be a painful and humbling experience, but the results will be worth it.
10. Try the presentation in front of a few colleagues. Ask for feedback, then act on that information. Depending on the audience expected for your presentation, you might want to select those who know a little about your topic, and not those who know a lot. This will focus your attention on attempting to explain why you did what you did in simple terms, rather than encouraging attention to details only specialists care about.
11. If you start preparing early, you'll have plenty of time
to refine the presentation based on your colleagues' feedback.
Keeping these elements in mind as you prepare and practice the presentation will reduce the amount of re-working you'll have to do as it evolves, and will result in a streamlined, effective end product.
1. Rate: The optimal rate for a scientific talk is about 100 words per minute. Any faster and the audience can't absorb the additional information. Use pauses and repeat critical information.
2. Opening: The opening should catch the interest and attention of the audience immediately, while avoiding trite filler phrases (Thank you for having me . . .) and technical jargon.
3. Transitions: The link between successive elements of the talk should be planned carefully. You should make the relation between successive elements clear to the audience.
4. Conclusion: Summarize the main concepts you've discussed, and how your work relates to issues you've raised. Signal that the summary is beginning ("In summary, ..."), but don't begin the summary too soon or else the audience will start to leave before you finish!
5. Length: Don't run over! Ever! Shorten your talk
by removing details, concepts, and information, not by eliminating words.
If it becomes absolutely essential to supply details, supplement your presentation
with a handout. Make about 10% more handouts than you think you'll need.
Always leave time for a few questions at the end of the talk.
Practice makes perfect
Practice is the most important factor in making a good presentation. No matter how busy you are, make time for at least a few practice runs. The effects of practice will be apparent, and a poorly presented talk reflects upon both you and your attitude towards the material and audience.
Practice the talk a few times to see how it flows. After that,
seek outside feedback to make sure you are on the right track. Finally,
practice all parts of the talk equally. If you always start at the beginning
and work until you run into problems, the beginning of the talk will be
great, but the final part of the talk may suffer.
Hints for efficient practice
Breath slowly and deeply; project your voice. Practice making eye contact with your imaginary audience, but don't single out one individual. Avoid looking at your notes when you don't need to.
Your words will probably be different each time you practice, but try to stick to the general outline of your notes. Don't attempt to memorize your text; use your notes only as reference points to keep you on track. Think about the ideas, and your words will follow naturally. Speak slowly and clearly, and use gestures.
A tape recorder or videotape are useful tools. Look for variation in speed or tone, or for distracting fillers like 'um's (and 'er's, 'like's and 'you know's). Avoid distracting mannerisms, e.g., don't pace or adjust your clothing. Make sure you are speaking to your audience, not to the floor, ceiling, or, especially, the projection screen.
What you say should be readily understandable by the audience.
Pay attention to diction; speak clearly and distinctly. Listen carefully
to the words you use, not to what you think you are saying. Are these the
best words for making your point? Are they unambiguous? Avoid using jargon
A prepared series of notes can be useful. Keep in mind that notes may not even be needed for the final talk.
Begin by determining the underlying message of the talk, then decide on the minimum essential material needed to support that message. Write out the talk and practice it once or twice. If needed, reorganize the material, rephrase statements, and highlight key phrases.
Run through the talk again with a pencil and paper nearby. Refer only to the key phrases to recall the talk's content. If you run into problems, jot down the problem with the pencil and paper, then continue. When finished, review your notes and comments. Rework the talk by incorporating your comments, removing unneeded words (or entire sections), and include comments or symbols to remind yourself of upcoming items (e.g., a slide, a joke, or an important item).
Run through the talk again, writing comments as you go. You may
want to transcribe the keywords onto index cards. Write out the first few
sentences of your introduction only. If necessary, you can use these sentences
as a springboard to get into the rest of the talk. Otherwise, the cards
should contain only the key words and reminders you've developed for this
talk. Use a subdued color of card instead of a conspicuous white card;
they will be less distracting for the audience during the real talk.
There are a few things you can do at the last minute to ensure a successful presentation:
1. Before the day begins, or last thing the night before, run through your talk once more.
2. If possible, check out the room you'll use for the presentation. If you need specialized equipment, make sure it is available. Determine who will be controlling equipment for you. If the room is large (or your voice small), use a microphone. Try it out before the audience arrives. If using a laser pointer, make sure it works.
3. Don't wait until the very last minute to make
that run to the bathroom, and remember to check your appearance.
The Moment of Truth
So you are sitting there, about to be introduced. Now what?
1. Take several deep breaths as you are being introduced. Visualize your rehearsed opening statement; don't improvise at the last moment.
2. State your objectives at start of your talk, then restate them again at the end of the talk. In between, discuss how your material relates to these objectives.
3. Choose a natural, moderate rate of speech and use automatic gestures. Don't speak in a monotone voice.Vary pitch and volume as appropriate.
4. Monitor your behavior, and avoid habitual behaviors (e.g., pacing).
5. Laser pointers are wonderful pointing devices, but remember not to point them at the audience. They are best used by flashing the pointer on and off, so that the place you are indicating is illuminated briefly. Don't swirl the laser around and around one place on the projection screen, or sweep it from place to place across the screen. This may be distracting for the audience, and they will end up watching the pointer and not listening to what you are saying.
6. Enthusiasm for your topic is contagious, but don't overdo it.
7. If appropriate, converse with your audience. Involve them in the process of the presentation by posing questions and making eye contact.
8. Keep an eye on your time, and don't run over your limit. Ever.
9. Be prepared for interruptions (e.g., late arrivals).
10. If you must turn down the room lights, don't turn them off entirely.
11. Don't apologize for any aspect of your presentation. This should be your very best effort; if you have to apologize, you haven't done your job properly.
12. Never turn your back on an audience. Always maintain eye contact with your audience
13. Strive to have a prepared and memorable summary. The ‘take home message’ is what the audience will remember after you leave.
14. Give others credit where due. This can be done early
in the talk or later in the talk. If planned for later in the talk, don't
forget to acknowledge these people's efforts (even if you have to skip
a statement or two to remain on time).
The question period often is the part of the talk which influences the audience the most. After all, you've had time to practice the rest of the talk. This is the part of the presentation where your ability to interact with the audience will be evaluated. Since you can't always predict the what you'll be asked, how can you prepare for the questioning? Here are a few guidelines:
1. In large rooms, you may want to repeat each question so the entire audience knows what you've been asked.
2. Before you answer, take a moment to reflect on the question. By not rushing to give an answer, you show a degree of respect for the questioner, and you give yourself time to be sure you are answering the question that actually was asked. If you are unsure, restate the question or ask for a clarification.
3. Above all, wait for the questioner to finish asking the question before you begin your answer! The only exception is when it becomes necessary to break in on a vague, rambling question; this is your show, and you have only a limited time to make your presentation. It is essential, however, that you break in tactfully. Say something like "So, are you asking ....?" This will focus the question and give you a place to begin an answer. Remember that your ability to interact with an audience also is being evaluated.
4. If a question is asked during the talk, and it will clarify an ambiguity, answer it immediately.
5. If you can't answer a question, just say so. Don't
apologize. You may offer to research an answer, then get back to the
questioner later, suggest resources which would help the questioner to
address the question themselves, or ask for suggestions from the audience.
Visual Aids (See Rate Your Presentation Slides - a pdf document + Ten Secrets For Using PowerPoint Effectively)
Be sure that the title will be interpreted by the audience the way you intend it to be, and check for spelling errors! One of the early visuals is often used to break the ice, warming the audience up and getting you over the jitters (but if that's not your style, don't bother - nothing is more awkward that watching someone tell a joke when they don't possess that talent). Using an icebreaker is fine, but don't overuse cartoons. You'll want to avoid appearing shallow or superficial. Screen the contents and implications of each cartoon carefully, too.
Another common use of a visual is to introduce or acknowledge
collaborators. Consider placing this near the beginning of the talk. That
way it will only take a few seconds early on when you feel there is plenty
of time - and it won't get lost at the end of the talk when you may feel
constrained for time. Collaborators can be listed by name and affiliation,
but a more effective way to acknowledge these folks is a collage of candid
photos with names attached. If one or more of the collaborators is in the
audience, this can be great fun, and can serve as an icebreaker (thereby
eliminating one more slide - the cartoon).
A Word About Timing
Keep the following points in mind as you sit down to begin to create your visuals:
Four Important Design Concepts
Pay attention to these four concepts as you create slides:
1) Make it BIG
2) Keep it Simple
3) Make it Clear
4) Be Consistent
Make it BIG!
Naturally, you'd like everyone in the audience to be able to actually
see the visual you plan to use. This is complicated by not always knowing
the size of the audience you'll speak to, or the size of the room you'll
use. As a rule of thumb, if it looks right on the computer screen, it's
probably too small. If it looks big, it's still too small. Here’s a hint for those using some type of graphics software. Simply
expand the visual until it takes up the full screen. Then move back until
you are about 6 feet away from the screen. Anything you can see or read
easily should be about the right size. And, what about when you actually
get the slides back from the developer? Ideally, of course, you'd like
to try the slides in a large lecture hall. However, you can also try this:
once you have the slides in your hands, simply grab one by the corner and
hold it at arm's length. Squint a bit, and try to see what it says. Even
better, shuffle the slides first, then try this out - if you can sort the
slides according to your presentation outline then you are doing well for
both sizing and organization. Be critical of your work, since you can count
on having at least one critic in any audience. Be certain that the visuals
you plan to use actually illustrate the concepts you plan to present and
Keep it SIMPLE!
Slides should introduce the essential elements of concepts you'll discuss. The audience ought be able to get the point of the visual within the first 4 or 5 seconds after it appears. If you must use text, use it sparingly. Spend more time explaining the slides instead of assuming that the text will explain it for you. As a rule:
1. Use no more than 6 lines of text per slide.
2. Use no more than 7 words per line of text.
3. Avoid using a number of text slides in a row during the presentation.
After a slide first appears, don't say anything for a few seconds -
allow the audience to absorb the information. Then, when you have their
undivided attention, expand upon what the slide has to say. For this approach
to be effective, you'll have to include only the most pertinent information
in each visual. You should limit the text on each slide and
restrict the contents of tables or graphs to include only the information
most pertinent to your topic. Although presenting data in tables can be
effective, limit the data you do present to that which is pertinent to
the topic at hand and, remember, a graph often is more effective. If you
present means, include estimates of variablility. Be prepared to discuss
the statistical assessment of your data and the implications.
Make it CLEAR!
If the information in the visual isn't easy to see or read, the
audience will be trying to figure it out instead of listening to what you
have to say. That's the first step towards loosing the attention of an
audience or confusing them. Consider
carefully as you choose a font for the text, you'll find that the larger
the text, the easier it is to see from the back of the room. On the other
hand, you'll be able to fit less text on each visual (that isn't necessarily
a bad thing). We tend to see most fonts printed in a 10 - 12 point size,
in textbooks and on computer screens. Larger text looks strange, and we
tend to overestimate how big text sizes larger than 18 point will actually
be when projected onto a screen. If the text looks big enough to be the
right size (18-24 point), it's probably too small. Make the text so large
that you feel it must be too big (36-48 point) - it will probably be just
about right. Also, a mixture of upper and lower case characters is easiest
DON"T USE ALL CAPS!!!
Color increases visual impact dramatically, and one of the most effective uses of color is to emphasize selected text. Select complementary colors to increase visibility, and avoid color clashes! Many folks experience some degree of color insensitivity (the most common form is a reduced sensitivity to reds and greens, in about 1 out of 10 males). If you use reds and greens, choose highly saturated colors instead of pastels, and use thicker lines (for instance, when showing different sets of data on a graph).
Your goal in all presentations is to educate and inform your audience. Make sure your presentation follows a logical sequence. Use transitions to help the audience understand how successive stages are related to each other, and to the big picture. One effective strategy is to begin and end the presentation with an identical pair of visuals that summarize the main points you hope to convey to the audience.
At the beginning, this summary gives the audience a notion of what to expect, and an idea of your logical outline. It also helps to break through the last minute jitters, and reminds you of the concepts you'll present. Don't deviate from your plan! At the end of the presentation, the summary provides a way to recapitulate the main points you've made. It provides the audience with the sense that you've come full circle, completing the story you had promised to tell. It also allows you to be sure you've covered all the points you'd planned to cover!
You should also be consistent in the use of formats. Don't switch
formats! Once you've selected a general 'look' of the presentation by deciding
on the color scheme, fonts, and so on, stick to it! Change distracts an
audience; your audience will pay more attention to a change in background
color than to what you will be saying.
1) Begin preparing your visuals early:
3) Practice the presentation. A lot.
How to Give a Bad Talk
David A. Patterson
Computer Science Division
University of California-Berkeley
Ten commandments (with annotations gleaned from Patterson's talk by Mark D. Hill):
I. Thou shalt not be neat
Why waste research time preparing slides? Ignore spelling, grammar and legibility. Who cares what 50 people think?
II. Thou shalt not waste space
Transparencies are expensive. If you can save five slides in each of four talks per year, you save $7.00/year!
III. Thou shalt not covet brevity
Do you want to continue the stereotype that
biologists can't write? Always use complete sentences, never just key
words. If possible, use whole paragraphs and read every word.
IV. Thou shalt cover thy naked slides
You need the suspense! Overlays are too flashy.
V. Thou shalt not write large
Be humble -- use a small font. Important people sit in front. Who cares about the riff-raff?
VI. Thou shalt not use color
Flagrant use of color indicates uncareful research. It's also unfair to emphasize some words over others.
VII. Thou shalt not illustrate
Confucius says ``A picture = 10K words,'' but
Dijkstra says ``Pictures are for weak minds.'' Who are you going to
believe? Wisdom from the ages or the person who first counted goto's?
VIII. Thou shalt not make eye contact
You should avert eyes to show respect. Blocking screen can also add mystery.
IX. Thou shalt not skip slides in a long talk
You prepared the slides; people came for your
whole talk; so just talk faster. Skip your summary and conclusions if
X. Thou shalt not practice
Why waste research time practicing a talk?
It could take several hours out of your two years of research. How can
appear spontaneous if you practice? If you do practice, argue with any suggestions you get and make sure your talk is
longer than the time you have to present it.
Commandment X is most important. Even if you break the other nine, this one can save you.
Designing Effective Oral Presentations
How to Give a Talk
Pacos' Top Ten Rules for Speaking Well
The Art of Communicating Effectively
The Top Ten Things You Can Do To Improve Your Next PowerPoint Presentation
Virtual Presentation Assistant
Back to BIO 801 syllabus