Wednesday, April 20, 2011

How to Give a Fabulous Academic Presentation: Five Tips to Follow

One of the easiest ways to stand out at an academic conference is to give a fantastic presentation. If you have ever been to an academic conference, you should be able to see my point. The majority of presentations at conferences are not very good. This makes it fairly easy for you to be impressive.

In this post, I will discuss a few simple techniques that can make your presentation stand out. It does take time to make a good presentation. However, it is well worth the investment.

Tip #1: Use PowerPoint Judiciously

These days, most good presentations make some use of visuals. The extent to which you should use visuals will vary a lot depending on your field. Nevertheless, there are a few basic things you should know if you will be using PowerPoint or another method of showing visuals.

  • Never use less than 24 point font. If you use smaller font, people will not be able to see your information and you will have too much information on the slide.
  • Use bullet points. PowerPoint slides do not need full sentences, and should never have a paragraph full of information.
  • Use images effectively. You should have as little text as possible on the slide. One way to accomplish this is to have images on each slide, accompanied by a small amount of text.
  • Never put your presentation on the slides and read from the slides.
  • Do not have too many slides. Definitely do not have more than one slide per minute of presentation.

Tip #2: There is a formula to academic presentations. Use it.

Once you have become an expert at giving fabulous presentations, you can deviate from the formula. However, if you are a newbie, you need to follow the formula. Again, this will vary by the field. However, I will give an example from my field – sociology – to give you an idea as to what the format should look like.

  • Introduction/Overview/Hook
  • Theoretical Framework/Research Question
  • Methodology/Case Selection
  • Background/Literature Review
  • Discussion of Data/Results
  • Analysis
  • Conclusion

Tip #3: The audience wants to hear about your research. Tell them.

One of the most common mistakes I see in people giving presentations is that they present only information I already know. This usually happens when they spend nearly all of the presentation going over the existing literature and giving background information on their particular case. You need only to discuss the literature with which you are directly engaging and contributing. Your background information should only include what is absolutely necessary. If you are giving a 15-minute presentation, by the 6th minute, you need to be discussing your data or case study.

Tip #4: Practice. Practice. Practice.

You need to practice your presentation in full before you deliver it. You might feel silly delivering your presentation to your cat or your toddler, but you need to do it and do it again. You need to practice to ensure that your presentation fits within the time parameters. Practicing also makes it flow better. You can’t practice too many times.

Tip #5: Keep To Your Time Limit

If you have ten minutes to present, prepare ten minutes of material. No more. Even if you only have seven minutes, you need to finish within the allotted time. If you will be reading, a general rule of thumb is two minutes per typed, double-spaced page. For a fifteen minute talk, you should have no more than 7 double-spaced pages of material.

Good luck!


  1. Thanks for sharing your info. I really appreciate your efforts and I will be waiting for your further write ups thanks once again.

  2. What a fabulous post this has been.I am grateful to you and expect more number of posts like this.

  3. thank you for sharing this info. it's a great help for me as a first timer :)

  4. Use a prop for effect and be aware of um's and ah's. Toastmasters is very helpful.

  5. very good information thank you for sharing

  6. Tip #3, "If you are giving a 15-minute presentation, by the 6th minute, you need to be discussing your data or case study" it's a great advice to me. I'll keep in mind.

    Thank you for your post.

  7. Love this. Shared it on my blog for my graduate capstone class. :)

  8. Thanks a lot! Your advices are absolutely great! :-)

  9. Good tips. Is it ok to use comic pictures in a PhD presentation in literature?

  10. YES - thank you for this. My pet peeve with most presentations at academic conferences is the inordinate amount of time spent on background / previous studies, followed by skipping (*skipping*!!!) slides on the actual data because of lost time. So frustrating when you want to see / hear what is *new*. I can look up the existing lit myself, thanks! :)

  11. Very convincing and logical.....thanks a lot

  12. Tanya,

    Thanks for the concise and helpful post. I was googling for some tips to help me prepare to present at my first conference here in a couple weeks. This will be a big help!


  13. hi Tanya,
    I am Nazia. Your tips are very informative. I will be starting off with my PhD from August. But before that i will have to do a presentation on my choice of project. i wanted to know as to how the format should be. Can it be same as what you've mentioned in your 2nd tip?. please help me in this regard.


  14. Hello Tanya,

    Thank you for your truly helpful post. It helps even if one is after her PhD... I guess it would have made my life easier if I would have seen your post during my PhD... but it is never too later for that. Hence, I still feel like a newbie. So thank you!
    I also come from social sciences. In the presentation structure which you presented above, you point out the back ground part and literature review only after the methodology section. I guess this couples with the notion expressed in tip #3 (the audience want to hear what I did). Yet I am used to the format of presenting the back ground first. I guess it is also my pitfall as many times I get "stuck" there.
    I wanted to ask if this is the logic behind the order you present, and if you have any tips on how to "switch" smoothly from the methods part into the background without stopping the flow of the presentation? Additionally, does this fit the APA presentation standards?
    Another question I have is what will you recommend in order to present a back ground in a very specified area of research, to an audience who is not very familiar with the concept?
    Thank you in advance for any good advice,
    Kind wishes (from Sweden)

    1. Esthi,
      It is perfectly fine to switch around the background, lit review, and methods - depending on what you want to highlight.

      The background is always tricky - but you can present a lot of info in one minute if you are selective. When I presented on Peru, I always told people a few basic facts - Peru is in South America, African slaves were brought over in the 1700s, and today, Afro-Peruvians make up about 6% of the population. That was all they really needed to know in order to understand why I was talking about Afro-Peruvians.

      As for transitions, don't worry about them. You can just move on.

      And, yes, this likely works for APA.

  15. HI Tanya,

    Thanks for your great post .I note that you suggest to keep power point slides in bullet form and not use excessive amounts of text. Would you include in this presentations based on qualitative research, which is typically based on text heavy forms of data? If so, what would you suggest is the best way to present raw qualitative data to an audience?

    Many Thanks

    1. Dear Shane,
      I think it is okay to put interview quotes on slides. However, you don't want to overdo it and want to make sure to use large font. In some cases, it can be appropriate to read a couple of quotes.

  16. Excellent points to live by and reminders as we plan and present for colleagues and students. Prezi is another presentation software program that is a step up,bundling concepts and paths through a topic in a more visually exciting way.

  17. Prezi makes me dizzy! Use it wisely...that's my tip.

    I also like to throw in a joke or two to wake people up after the intro and somewhere in the middle/end. I've gotten really good feedback doing that. Even if it is a really lame joke, people sit up straighter afterward.

    However, nothing is better than a presenter who clearly likes their topic, and isn't bored by it or sounds rehearsed.

  18. I've always had a problem with making everything funny. Like if I didn't have at least one joke in my presentation at college, I felt really bad, I don't know. But next month I have a conference and I'll try to follow this "guide" and do my best. Thanks!

  19. Thank you very much for sharing the tip...I will try to follow the tip in my presentation.

  20. Thanks so much. I've been fretting about how to start and this certainly gives me a great and easy place to begin.

  21. just amazing post it is. I believe anyone following your guidelines will get high reward as presenter. I also have been in academic writing and know what is helpful and this is what your post perfectly stated. Research is the key and can make you avoid some tough questions along with the layout of your presentation.

  22. Thanks so much for this! This has been very helpful and will help me keep my focus on what is important when I give a presentation this August.

  23. hello, thank you for the formula

    can you suggest some of the most important key points to consider for the analysis and conclusion thank you

  24. Excellents conseils et très utiles. Merci pour tout Madame la Professeure.