Hampshire College

Merle Bruno
Hampshire College
CSC 308-A

The emphasis on "slides" in parts of this article is a bit archaic, but there are still many nuggets of advice that can be applied to the newer technologies.


  • Use lots of slides. A rule of thumb is, one slide for each 10 seconds of time allotted for your talk. If you don't have enough, borrow the rest from the previous speaker or run through the tray again.

  • Make sure each slide has plenty of information--even if it isn't really necessary for your presentation. It's always good for people to learn as much as possible. Complex tables comparing your results with all the other work that has even been done in the field with a dozen unnecessary units and at least 100 entries is a must, but equations, especially those that have 15 terms and 20 variables are almost as good. A high density of detailed and marginally relevant data usually pre-empts penetrating questions from the audience.

  • Use small print. Anyone who has not had the foresight to either sit in the front row or bring a pair of binoculars is probably not going to understand the talk anyway.
  • Use figures and tables directly from published articles. This will help you achieve goals 2 and 3 and minimize the amount of preparation for the talk. If you haven't published the work, use illustrations from an old publication. Only a few people in the audience will notice anyway.


  • Most of the rules for slides apply also for Power Point presentations. So review these carefully. Don't be put off by the jokes about Power Point Poisoning. People who say that are just jealous that you've got such a slick presentation.

  • Don't bother to check with the conference organizers about their projection facilities. If you don't have the right adaptor to connect your lap top to the projector or if your floppy disk doesn't fit into any of the computers in the room, you can always get the audience to gather round your computer or you can just tell them how fabulous the slides would look if only they could see them.

  • Be sure to use all the bells and whistles. Have your titles appear in an explosion of color in the middle. Each point should alternate coming in from the left and right with screeching tire sounds. Use elegant or playful backgrounds, changing them from slide to slide for variety.

    • All this will help distract the audience from the information you are presenting, so they'll be too confused to ask any questions.

    • What's more, they won't remember anything except the screeching tires afterwards, and they'll think it's their fault for not paying attention. They'll tell you they enjoyed the talk and they won't ask any uncomfortable questions.

  • Use vibrant colors for the background that make the text color shimmer. Visual illusions and after images that cause the data to disappear if you look at the screen for more than 3 seconds can completely distract people from the fact that it was impossible to draw any conclusions from your data.

  • Scan in lots of photos. They'll be impressed with the resolution of your scanner. You can fill a lot of time showing the instruments you used and scenes of the lab and a few of your colleagues or experimental animals. This will make your colleagues feel good, even if they didn't do much to help (they'll try harder next time).
  • Don't organize your talk in advance. It is usually best not to even think about it until your name has been announced by the session chair. Above all, don't write the talk out; it may fall into enemy hands.
  • Never, ever rehearse--even quietly . Talks are best when they arise spontaneously and in random order. Leave it as an exercise for the audience to reassemble your thoughts properly and make some sense out of what you say.
  • Discuss each slide in complete detail, especially those parts irrelevant to the main point of your talk. If you suspect that there is anyone in the audience who is not asleep, return to a previous slide and discuss it again.
  • Face the projection screen, mumble, and talk as low as possible, especially while making important points . An alternate strategy is to speak very slowly, leave every other sentence uncompleted, and punctuate each thought with "ahh," "uhh," "ok" or something equally informative.
  • Wave the light pointer around the room. Or at least move the beam rapidly along the slide image in small circles. If this is done properly, it will make at least 50% of the people in the first three rows leave the room with nauseous headaches before your question period.
  • Lastly, be certain to use every second of the time allotted to you and at least half, if not all, of the next speaker's time. This avoids foolish and annoying questions and forces the chairperson to ride herd on the following speakers. Remember, the rest of the speakers don't have anything important to say anyway. If they had, they would have been signed times earlier than yours.


  • Don't bother to introduce your topic. Everyone should remember exactly what you said your paper would be on when we went around the room last month. You remember the details of all the other students' projects, right?

  • If you use slides, don't try them out ahead of time. Even if the words or graphs come up backwards or upside town, you can tell the audience what they should be seeing. Try to get a big fingerprint on at least one slide. That's how the audience knows it isn't a pre-packaged talk.

  • Avoid using any visual aids to introduce the system you are working on or your experimental design. It will take longer for you to just talk about it, and there will be lots of simple questions for you to answer like, "where did you get those rat livers"? That should fill up most of the time you are allotted, so you won't have to answer embarrassing questions about why the results are opposite from what you expected.

  • Don't use graphs or tables to display your results. Any ninny should be able to remember which subjects are in your control and experimental groups and what their characteristics are.

  • Never put units on graphs or tables. After all, everyone knows that 48 always means beats/min or is it beats/30 sec--oh well, it's probably age. The same goes for slide titles. If the audience has to work to figure out what the slide is about, they'll stay more in involved. This is called "active learning."

  • Talk fast. Isn't there some sort of rule that the faster you talk, the faster time moves? That way the talk will be over faster and you can go home. Reading directly from your notes helps you talk real fast (it also helps promote mumbling which was suggestion #4 in the last section). Moving those ideas quickly and quietly helps your audience start to think about which party they're going to tonight after "House." They'll be in a pretty good mood when you finish your talk.


If you think this advice is a bit risky, here are some strategies
suggested by Pratt and Ropes that you can rely on.

  • Slides must be well designed, simple and readable by everyone in the audience. It is worthwhile to use professional slide preparation services if available.

  • Use as few slides as are really needed and can be discussed in the time allotted. As a general rule, one slide for each 1 or 2 minutes of presentation is all that will be effective.

  • Devote each slide to a single fact, idea, or finding. Illustrate major points or trends, not detailed data. Do not show long or complicated formulas or equations. Each slide should remain on the screen at least 20 seconds.

  • Use the absolute minimum number of words in titles, subtitles, and captions. Remember that standard abbreviations are acceptable.

  • Make sure at least one slide is in upside down or sideways. This relieves the tension in the room :-)

  • A rule of thumb for the minimum height of readable lettering (size) is 3 mm on the finished slide. Do not make slides from illustrations or tables that were prepared for publication. They are rarely satisfactory. A good way to test your material is to stand away 1 foot for every inch of original copy width. If you can't read it from that distance, then your audience will not be able to react to it either when it is projected.

  • Color adds attractiveness, interest, and clarity to slide illustrations and should be used whenever possible. If you use color, remember that contrasting colors are easier to see.

  • Use 2" x 2" paper or plastic mounted slides, designated for a 35 mm slide projector. Be sure that they are clean and in good physical condition.

  • Critically examine every slide and try out the entire set under adverse light conditions before using them at a meeting. It is sometimes impossible to provide excellent light conditions at meetings.

    Mark a large positioning dot or make a notch in the lower left hand corner of each slide when it is made so that it may be read; rotate 180 degrees for loading into a carousel. Number every slide in proper sequence, and give them to the projectionist exactly as you wish them shown.

  • If flying to the meeting, hand carry slides on board so that they don't get lost if baggage goes astray.

  • An introductory and concluding slide can much improve the focus of your talk.
  • Do not use more than three or four vertical columns--six to eight horizontal lines. Any more and the information will not be readable.

  • Do not used ruled vertical or horizontal lines. They distract the eye and clutter the slide.

  • Whenever possible, present data by bar charts or graphs instead of tables


  • Generally, do not use more than one or two curves on one diagram; three to four are maximum, but only if well separated.

  • Label each curve. Avoid using symbols and legends if possible.


  • Write the talk out in advance so that your ideas are logically organized and your points clear. At the very least, write out a detailed outline. Cover only the essential main points and leave the details for your publication.

  • Rehearse. If possible, give your talk to one or two colleagues and ask them for suggestions. If the talk runs longer than the allotted time, eliminate the least essential material and rehearse again.

  • Speak slowly and clearly. Word choices should be simple. Use active words, short sentences. Words should enhance visual material.

  • Stay within your allotted time out of consideration for the other speakers and the audience.


  • Begin promptly and crisply. Don't waste 1-2 minutes shuffling through your cards (or finding your Power Point on the computer) while you work up the nerve to begin. Have a starting sentence worked out. Memorize that sentence and say it as soon as you get up to the podium. Once you hear your voice, you'll have started and everything else will flow.

    Chris Jarvis suggests that in addition to memorizing your first sentence, you write it on a card in case you get up in front of the audience and blank out for a second or two.

  • Look at your audience from time to time (especially when you start out with your memorized sentence). They're not waiting for you to make a mistake. They're either cheering you on or not even paying attention because they're thinking about the talk they are about to give.

  • If you are giving a joint presentation, rehearse with the other person so you don't leave something out.

  • Don't start out by apologizing for the weaknesses in your project or talk. Unless you are giving your Nobel Prize acceptance speech, most talks you give on your research will be a version of works in progress. Focus on a clear description of your question and the rationale behind your experimental design.

  • Speaking of the Nobel Prize, be sure to acknowledge sources of grants or other financial support. You might want more in the future, and showing appreciation for what you got this time lets the funders know you did something with it. It's also a good way to let other students know what sources of money might be available to them. Acknowledge funding sources in the abstract or paper you write too.

  • Show your data in a form that can be followed easily.

    • If the data support your hypothesis clearly, strengthen that argument by showing how you eliminated other explanations.

    • If the data don't support your hypothesis or even eliminate it, that's even more interesting. Speculate about what that might mean (a new hypothesis? a control that needs to be added? a reason why some measurements might be inaccurate? a suggestion for an experiment that should be done next?)

    • Your listeners might be thinking about these options, so show them that you've been thinking about them too.

  • REHEARSE, REHEARSE, REHEARSE. It feels funny to talk to your bathroom mirror or lecture at your roommate, but it's worth it.

  • Time those rehearsals. Assume the talk will take 2-3 times as long as it takes to just read it from your notes. The number of extra breaths, ums, waiting for a slide, finding an overhead, etc. all increase the time it takes to get out what you planned to say. Don't be in the position of having the moderator tell you there are 2 minutes left when you've just finished telling people what you're going to talk about.

    It's a great opportunity to impress yourself with how much you've accomplished.
    Enjoy it

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