The Science Behind Presentations: Miscellaneous






The title should be short enough that anyone in the room can read it fast enough to be attracted to it, and "hooked." It should not be long, overly involved, or too detailed that the audience or viewer can’t understand what is going on at first glance.


It’s better to leave out the abstract altogether than to simply include an enlarged version of it on your poster. Often, the audience will have a copy of your abstract that is printed in the conference materials, so it is redundant and a waste of space and money to include it. It may be helpful to include an even briefer summary of the abstract in the space near the title. If that is the case, only expose what is relevant to the information presented on the poster.

Quick Delivery

The content should flow from left to right, in the way that someone would read a book. This is especially important while you are giving an informal talk to someone about your poster, and you only have 10-20 minutes to convey your point. During this time, it is crucial to introduce yourself fully, clearly state your conclusions and point out all relevant information. Rehearse on your own before you go out in public, especially because you will often have to modify the content of your presentation in accordance with the audience. You will come across as a good presenter when people can see how elegant you are at determining which information is important to emphasize, and which is only peripheral detail and extra facts. If there are no questions at the end, ask when people think of a particular idea or finding and see what thoughtful responses are triggered.

Poster Text

It should be large enough to read from a distance so anyone can start reading it even when they are 5-10 meters away. A good rule of thumb is that you should be able to read the text from your desktop / laptop screen at a distance of 8-10 feet.

Poster Organization and Order

The poster should be organized in such a way that it tells the story as effectively as using graphics alone. The abstract should convey the central idea within a few minutes of reading, without the person having to delve into the details of the methods and results. In particular, the abstract (if even included at all) should present each point that you plan on explaining in the poster and why it is relevant to a model day problem / issue that can be resolved. Poster organization is a fairly accurate representation of a speaker or presenter's academic acuity and focus. "It takes intelligence, even brilliance, to condense and focus information into a clear, simple presentation that will be read, and remembered. Ignorance and arrogance are shown in a crowded, complicated, hard-to-read poster."


It is beneficial to reduce the amount of text. Present bullet points centered on the left margin with capital and lowercase letters to make key phrases stand out. It is true that some scientists enjoy using all capital letters, but the majority of them don’t.

Common Mistakes

Never go over your time limit. Never go so long that you don’t have time for an info session. This is perhaps the most vital time for you and your audience to together learn what you skipped out on in your lecture, and what the audience needs to learn from it. The audience will almost always have questions. If you didn’t get the point across during lecture, then here is your chance to make up for it.

Never read your presentation. It makes it seem like you aren’t trying to actually focus on explaining the material, but passively regurgitating it.


You will need to time yourself before you actually present in order to gauge how much material should be omitted from your presentation, if necessary. Even the most prolific scientists have trouble speaking and conveying their ideas within a short period of time, so it takes practice no matter what stage you are at. Often you will find yourself running out of time. In that case, briefly pause and then explain a few of the remaining slides, but not in prolific detail. Then, skip to the last slide with your most important concluding statements. Even taking the time to explain to your audience that you are running out of time is detrimental to your presentation, as it will make you appear unprofessional and unprepared.

What happens when there is no data?

"The decision not to speak is sometimes more beneficial to a person's reputation than a lecture devoid of data." [References]

The presence of solid and convincing data in a lecture edifies an individual's reputation by establishing the credibility and work ethic involved in the time spent collecting that data. Results cannot be argued with, even if the interpretation of such data is incorrect or not completely examined in full scrutiny and detail.

Final Pointers

Using Text

The quality, quantity, and relevance of the text you use in your slides will make or break your presentation, either capturing the audience's attention and using it to your full advantage, or turning them away and causing them to either lose their attention or be confused. Text is usually effective in small, concise chunks rather than paragraphs - bullet points, hyphens, and numerical ordering of your key points will help to guide the audience through the results and conclusions of your data. The points you orally make should be concise in of themselves, which means that your text needs to be that much more concise. When using different fonts, try a serif font. Research has shown that people can read faster because of the serif, as it helps them to focus on only the current words, and the ones ahead. Also, keep in mind not to use all capital letters, as it usually makes it harder to read and differentiate between the most important points.

Visual Aids

Remember that the audience needs enough time to comprehend the subject you are presenting, meaning that you have to give each slide justice, not cheating your audience of information, but also not overwhelming them with every detail. ( [References]

In general, visual aids and graphics are most effective in the Results section of the presentation. You don't want to overwhelm your audience with visual information at the beginning, only to lose them and cause them to miss the results that you want to unveil. Also, beware the PowerPoint trap!

PowerPoint Pitfalls


Tables can be difficult to use because you will often want to include more information than you think the audience can understand. Although some sources have indicated that 3 rows and 4 columns is a maximum, I argue that humans can actually navigate pretty quickly through large amounts of data, while mentally organizing, selecting and processing the important information, while filtering out the not-so-important information.


While you consider which type of graph to use, remember how to address the audience's needs in terms of what information they really need to take home from you presentation. There are multiple types of graphs that you have at your fingertips, three of which are the standard line graph, the bar graph, and the pie chart. Bar graphs are excellent at comparing two sets of data, for example, two patients who are suffering from the similar illness and are taking two different drugs. The graph may be comparing which drug is more effective, in terms of patient recovery time and minimization of side effects. If you are going to use bar graphs, apply the principle of "less is more", a.k.a don't include two many colors or variables. It may take some creativity to think about how to organize and even split up chunks of data, when it would normally all fit together on one graph. This process of splicing and optimizing layout will most definitely involve consideration of the type of data you are presenting, how the data should be read, and how much of it you really want to reveal to your audience.

Other types of graphs are useful, namely the line graph and pie graph. The line graph will allow you to present your data that is changing over time, which a pie graph will allow you to see the data as a representative or part of the whole sample size.


You want to use images as frequently, if not more frequently, than you use text. Images grab the audience's attention and refocus the purpose of the point you are trying to discuss. Also, they provide a breath of fresh air among a jungle of text, and create a memorable experience for whoever is listening and watching your presentation. Carefully choose the photos that are high in contrast, and it is the generally the case that in a dark room, light image will work more effectively for you.

While you want to avoid doing anything that will distract your audience, it's important to remember that the good scientist is interesting to listen to because his or her ideas stick in a manner that is memorable and gives the audience the opportunity to see how the research of subject matter may apply to their own lives in some way. According to "The 4 Cardinal Rules of Terrific PowerPoint Presentations," ( an emphasis on simplicity and images over long blocks of text are generally preferred. Powerpoint does not replace you or act as a substitute for your responsibility to speak and convey a sense of involvement and engagement with the topic. if you are able to "wow" the audience with something new or unexpected, they will remember you and will most likely recall what you were talking about.

General Guidelines - to be Considered

1. Use 1-2 slides per minute
* Going too fast will confound your audience, while going too slow will make them wonder if you will finish in time.

2. Use 4-5 points per slide
* Again, research has indicated that for the average person, only 4-5 pieces of information can be successfully comprehended at the same time

Information Processing Stages

The reason this second rule should be adhered to is because the human short term memory system is only really designed (in the average individual) to hold a small amount of information. This is most likely because we can only handle a few things at the time, and that we are only really capable of carrying out a few actions at a time. What is most important to remember is that the design, layout, and accessories of your slides or whatever medium you use cannot take precedence over your ability to speak extemporaneously on the topic. Powerpoint, or any other presentation software, is primarily designed to provide you with a tool to present your ideas, and to keep the audience attentive and eager to hear what you have to say.

Perhaps the most useful and powerful advantage of PPT is the pacing assistance it provides. It may seem helpful at first to use power point, especially when nervousness starts to creep in. However, it is possible to convert that nervousness into creative, powerful energy that can be used to capture the audience


Major Points in Condensed form (What a good presentation consists of )

1. a well researched, well studied hypothesis
2. indication of experimental data that was obtained by using a readily accepted set of methods
3. tells a story with beginning, middle, and end -> indicates a clear progression of ideas
4. had results that make sense, in accordance with the predicted outcome
5. visual are graphically sound and follow the rules of visual excellence and quality graphical design
6. includes a discussion that leaves room for audience questions and input
7. include citations that reveal agreement in the results and topics for further study
8. presentation is clearly structured and has clear boundaries between methods, data, interpretation, and discussion
9. conclusion has a "clincher statement" that leaves the audience interested and sums up the whole presentation

More Information

Useful Links Regarding Presentations

Presentation Zen (blog):

TED Talks:



Design Resources

Slide Share - A site for sharing presentations that could help inspire your design:

Online tools for creating color themes:

Mac → PC Problems with PowerPoint:

Sample Presentation

Our Presentation on "Scientific and Technical Speaking"

Scientific Presentations and Public Speaking Basics


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Rincon, Caesar. Feb 4th, 2010. When the Scientist Presents. "Buy your way out of troublesome questions."

Paradis, James G. Zimmerman, Muriel L. p 221. "The MIT Guide to Science and Engineering Communication." The MIT Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1997.

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Special Section: The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Edward R. Tufte.