Office of Undergraduate Research Undergraduate research will set you apart.

Presentation Preparation


Preparing an effective oral presentation for scholarly meetings or conferences can be a challenging process. However, by doing so, you will gain crucial experience through the process of planning your presentation and communicating your findings. This experience will serve as a foundation for future scholarly presentations. As soon as your abstract or conference proposal is accepted, seek out information about presentation time requirements, format rules, and competition/judging for your venue, as different conferences may have different requirements. Take advantage of the information below to help guide you in the process of preparing for your presentation.

1. Know Your Audience

One size does not fit all! Consider your audience and purpose. Understand who you will be addressing—experts in your field will have a higher level of understanding than a general audience. You may be able to use technical language if your audience is well-versed in your topic. If you have a general audience, minimize technical language. Either way, be careful to not overuse technical jargon and acronyms. Your goal is to inform your audience, not to overwhelm.

2. Organize Your Thoughts

As you prepare your talk, begin by creating a thesis statement and an outline. Then think about how you can make effective transitions between sections. Effective transitions help to link the points while enabling your audience to better follow your presentation. Reduced to its simplest structure, your talk must have a beginning, middle, and end. You will at least:

  1. Introduce your research problem or research question and why it matters.
  2. Describe the methodology utilized or how you approached your research.
  3. Articulate what you found out and what it means.
  4. Conclude with a summary of your main points while emphasizing the significance of your research.
3. Use Strong Content

Your presentation is an opportunity for you to summarize your attempts to solve a problem or to answer a research question. You are not obligated to share everything that you have learned about your topic; instead, focus on addressing just a few major points throughout your presentation.

4. Consider Visual Aids

Consider what you want your visual aids to achieve and then choose which type of visual aid to use. Presentation software, such as PowerPoint™ or Prezi™ can help convey key information. However, it is important to use these tools effectively. Only produce slides that are necessary to improve your communication with the audience. 
In designing your slides, keep in mind the following suggestions:

  • Be sure each slide is readable; use large text that can be read at the back of the presentation room
  • Keep it simple. Do not use more than 2-3 font styles per slide.
  • Ensure that your slides are not “too busy.”
    • Use fonts that are easy to read.
    • Avoid clutter or unneeded information (avoid too much detail.)
  • Minimize slides (ex: for a 10 minute talk, use no more than 10 slides.)
  • Use phrases and not complete sentences.
  • Limit each slide to one or two main points or observations.
  • Keep any graphs simple. Your audience should be able to easily understand their features with little explanation.
5. Have a Strong Finish

As you plan the end of your talk, carefully select one or two concluding sentences that embody the importance of your research.

  • What is the key impact of your research?
  • Answer the “so what?” question.
  • What is the significance of your findings?
  • Did you discover something that has not yet been discussed or reviewed?
6. Practice!

Practice giving your presentation by yourself and to others and time yourself to make sure you can stay within the presentation limits. If you go over your time, you may be forced to skip vital parts of your talk, such as your conclusions or summary of your main findings. Worse, you may convey a sense that you are unprepared!

Last modified: November 15, 2016