Organizing and Presenting Your Talk

Essential Points:

  1. Your talk must be persuasive.
  2. You must present your data quickly.
  3. Your talk must be well organized.
  4. You should use stress reduction techniques to increase your public speaking effectiveness.

How to organize a conference presentation:

1. Remember when preparing your talk that

  • Your goal is to persuade your audience of the value of your scientific work. Therefore your talk should contain convincing rhetorical elements (logos, ethos, pathos).
  • You have only a few minutes to tell your audience about your work. You must be very selective in choosing what to present!
  • It pays to frame your talk with an introduction that tells them what you will tell ‘em and a conclusion that tells them what you told ‘em. (See story p. 100 of P & K)
  • Conference participants will be suffering from “conference fatigue.” Therefore, they will be most likely to recall the introducing and/or concluding sections best.
  • Your audience is likely to be rather specialized. Be sure your talk addresses them appropriately (not too basic but not over their heads).

2. Gather together the data and graphics for your talk.

  • Evaluate your graphics for effectiveness.
  • Choose no more than 10 graphics for a 20 minute presentation. You may need to add or eliminate later when you practice and time your talk.

3. Decide which method of oral presentation you feel most comfortable using. Each method has advantages and disadvantages. Possibilities are

  • Memorizing
  • Reading
  • Speaking extemporaneously.

4. Prepare notes for your talk.

  • Double or triple space (unless using note cards).
  • Use a large typeface (18 point?)
  • Put your notes in a notebook or folder so they will stay together.
  • Note interfaces with slides or transparencies.
  • Include a credits slide at the end that acknowledges your collaborators.

5. Load your slides into a carousel for presentation. Check to make sure they aren’t backwards or upside down!

6. Be sure your talk is clear.

  • State your gap in the literature, research question, and take-home message succinctly in the introduction. Repeat the take-home message in the conclusion.
  • Outline your talk early and reference the outlined elements throughout the talk to provide markers for the audience.
  • Be sure the graphics you have chosen support points you’re trying to make.

7. Practice your talk out loud beforehand at least once! Practice the speech exactly as you will present it, operating a slide or overhead projector as you go. You want to be comfortable with the mechanical devices so problems won’t upset you!


  • Be sure to look at your slides as each one comes up on the screen. The slide could be backwards or out of focus.
  • Even if you are confident enough to give your talk without notes, take at least a written outline with you to the podium.
  • It’s not a bad idea to memorize the first line or two (but no more!) of your talk in addition to using notes; this will help you get started and increase your confidence. You can also establish eye contact with a friendly face in the audience during the first moment or two.
  • Try to tell a story or anecdote to spice up your talk; people remember stories told to illustrate a point, and they’ll probably remember your point along with the story!
  • Try to anticipate questions from the audience and come prepared with an extra slide or two if you think they will help illustrate a point.

Stress Reduction During Presentations (See Overcoming Presentation Stress)

Your first goal in managing stress is to take control of it. “The key is to learn to manage its negative effects and channel the resulting energy to improve your presentation.” (Warlum, p. 5).

  • Identify the source of your stress. What exactly are you afraid of?
  • Ask yourself “what is the worst thing that can happen to me?” This will help put the presentation in perspective.
  • Don’t dwell on your fears. Focus instead on the presentation and your desire to communicate well with your audience.
  • Rehearse your success in your imagination (see scenario p. 5-6 Warlum).
  • Fear of the unknown is frequently a part of presentation stress. To alleviate this fear, familiarize yourself with all aspects of your talk (audience, environment, topic).
  • Rehearse your talk with a receptive audience (significant other, child, even the dog!). This allows you to practice making eye contact.
  • Think of your presentation as a dialogue with individuals who happen to be gathered together in a group.
  • Right before the talk, imagine yourself in a soothing situation (at the beach lying on warm sand, floating in a still lake, etc.). Practice deep breathing, flex-and-relax, or other stress reduction techniques to help you relax.
  • If the conference doesn’t provide water at the podium (most do), bring your own water bottle. Don’t eat or drink dairy products before public speaking.
  • Think positively! You are the expert here, and you are likely to succeed!

“If, at the end of your presentation, you’ve informed your audience adequately, explained a situation clearly, or persuaded your audience effectively, you have succeeded.” (Warlum)