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What It Takes to Give a Great Presentation

  • Carmine Gallo

best practices for oral presentations

Five tips to set yourself apart.

Never underestimate the power of great communication. It can help you land the job of your dreams, attract investors to back your idea, or elevate your stature within your organization. But while there are plenty of good speakers in the world, you can set yourself apart out by being the person who can deliver something great over and over. Here are a few tips for business professionals who want to move from being good speakers to great ones: be concise (the fewer words, the better); never use bullet points (photos and images paired together are more memorable); don’t underestimate the power of your voice (raise and lower it for emphasis); give your audience something extra (unexpected moments will grab their attention); rehearse (the best speakers are the best because they practice — a lot).

I was sitting across the table from a Silicon Valley CEO who had pioneered a technology that touches many of our lives — the flash memory that stores data on smartphones, digital cameras, and computers. He was a frequent guest on CNBC and had been delivering business presentations for at least 20 years before we met. And yet, the CEO wanted to sharpen his public speaking skills.

best practices for oral presentations

  • Carmine Gallo is a Harvard University instructor, keynote speaker, and author of 10 books translated into 40 languages. Gallo is the author of The Bezos Blueprint: Communication Secrets of the World’s Greatest Salesman  (St. Martin’s Press).

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How to prepare and deliver an effective oral presentation

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  • Peer review
  • Lucia Hartigan , registrar 1 ,
  • Fionnuala Mone , fellow in maternal fetal medicine 1 ,
  • Mary Higgins , consultant obstetrician 2
  • 1 National Maternity Hospital, Dublin, Ireland
  • 2 National Maternity Hospital, Dublin; Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Medicine and Medical Sciences, University College Dublin
  • luciahartigan{at}hotmail.com

The success of an oral presentation lies in the speaker’s ability to transmit information to the audience. Lucia Hartigan and colleagues describe what they have learnt about delivering an effective scientific oral presentation from their own experiences, and their mistakes

The objective of an oral presentation is to portray large amounts of often complex information in a clear, bite sized fashion. Although some of the success lies in the content, the rest lies in the speaker’s skills in transmitting the information to the audience. 1

Preparation

It is important to be as well prepared as possible. Look at the venue in person, and find out the time allowed for your presentation and for questions, and the size of the audience and their backgrounds, which will allow the presentation to be pitched at the appropriate level.

See what the ambience and temperature are like and check that the format of your presentation is compatible with the available computer. This is particularly important when embedding videos. Before you begin, look at the video on stand-by and make sure the lights are dimmed and the speakers are functioning.

For visual aids, Microsoft PowerPoint or Apple Mac Keynote programmes are usual, although Prezi is increasing in popularity. Save the presentation on a USB stick, with email or cloud storage backup to avoid last minute disasters.

When preparing the presentation, start with an opening slide containing the title of the study, your name, and the date. Begin by addressing and thanking the audience and the organisation that has invited you to speak. Typically, the format includes background, study aims, methodology, results, strengths and weaknesses of the study, and conclusions.

If the study takes a lecturing format, consider including “any questions?” on a slide before you conclude, which will allow the audience to remember the take home messages. Ideally, the audience should remember three of the main points from the presentation. 2

Have a maximum of four short points per slide. If you can display something as a diagram, video, or a graph, use this instead of text and talk around it.

Animation is available in both Microsoft PowerPoint and the Apple Mac Keynote programme, and its use in presentations has been demonstrated to assist in the retention and recall of facts. 3 Do not overuse it, though, as it could make you appear unprofessional. If you show a video or diagram don’t just sit back—use a laser pointer to explain what is happening.

Rehearse your presentation in front of at least one person. Request feedback and amend accordingly. If possible, practise in the venue itself so things will not be unfamiliar on the day. If you appear comfortable, the audience will feel comfortable. Ask colleagues and seniors what questions they would ask and prepare responses to these questions.

It is important to dress appropriately, stand up straight, and project your voice towards the back of the room. Practise using a microphone, or any other presentation aids, in advance. If you don’t have your own presenting style, think of the style of inspirational scientific speakers you have seen and imitate it.

Try to present slides at the rate of around one slide a minute. If you talk too much, you will lose your audience’s attention. The slides or videos should be an adjunct to your presentation, so do not hide behind them, and be proud of the work you are presenting. You should avoid reading the wording on the slides, but instead talk around the content on them.

Maintain eye contact with the audience and remember to smile and pause after each comment, giving your nerves time to settle. Speak slowly and concisely, highlighting key points.

Do not assume that the audience is completely familiar with the topic you are passionate about, but don’t patronise them either. Use every presentation as an opportunity to teach, even your seniors. The information you are presenting may be new to them, but it is always important to know your audience’s background. You can then ensure you do not patronise world experts.

To maintain the audience’s attention, vary the tone and inflection of your voice. If appropriate, use humour, though you should run any comments or jokes past others beforehand and make sure they are culturally appropriate. Check every now and again that the audience is following and offer them the opportunity to ask questions.

Finishing up is the most important part, as this is when you send your take home message with the audience. Slow down, even though time is important at this stage. Conclude with the three key points from the study and leave the slide up for a further few seconds. Do not ramble on. Give the audience a chance to digest the presentation. Conclude by acknowledging those who assisted you in the study, and thank the audience and organisation. If you are presenting in North America, it is usual practice to conclude with an image of the team. If you wish to show references, insert a text box on the appropriate slide with the primary author, year, and paper, although this is not always required.

Answering questions can often feel like the most daunting part, but don’t look upon this as negative. Assume that the audience has listened and is interested in your research. Listen carefully, and if you are unsure about what someone is saying, ask for the question to be rephrased. Thank the audience member for asking the question and keep responses brief and concise. If you are unsure of the answer you can say that the questioner has raised an interesting point that you will have to investigate further. Have someone in the audience who will write down the questions for you, and remember that this is effectively free peer review.

Be proud of your achievements and try to do justice to the work that you and the rest of your group have done. You deserve to be up on that stage, so show off what you have achieved.

Competing interests: We have read and understood the BMJ Group policy on declaration of interests and declare the following interests: None.

  • ↵ Rovira A, Auger C, Naidich TP. How to prepare an oral presentation and a conference. Radiologica 2013 ; 55 (suppl 1): 2 -7S. OpenUrl
  • ↵ Bourne PE. Ten simple rules for making good oral presentations. PLos Comput Biol 2007 ; 3 : e77 . OpenUrl PubMed
  • ↵ Naqvi SH, Mobasher F, Afzal MA, Umair M, Kohli AN, Bukhari MH. Effectiveness of teaching methods in a medical institute: perceptions of medical students to teaching aids. J Pak Med Assoc 2013 ; 63 : 859 -64. OpenUrl

best practices for oral presentations

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Roberts Academic Medicine Handbook pp 389–393 Cite as

How to Prepare and Give a Scholarly Oral Presentation

  • Cheryl Gore-Felton 2  
  • First Online: 01 January 2020

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Building an academic reputation is one of the most important functions of an academic faculty member, and one of the best ways to build a reputation is by giving scholarly presentations, particularly those that are oral presentations. Earning the reputation of someone who can give an excellent talk often results in invitations to give keynote addresses at regional and national conferences, which increases a faculty member’s visibility along with their area of research. Given the importance of oral presentations, it is surprising that few graduate or medical programs provide courses on how to give a talk. This is unfortunate because there are skills that can be learned and strategies that can be used to improve the ability to give an interesting, well-received oral presentation. To that end, the aim of this chapter is to provide faculty with best practices and tips on preparing and giving an academic oral presentation.

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Pashler H, McDaniel M, Rohrer D, Bjork R. Learning styles: concepts and evidence. Psychol Sci Public Interest. 2009;9:105–19.

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Newsam JM. Out in front: making your mark with a scientific presentation. USA: First Printing; 2019.

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Ericsson AK, Krampe RT, Tesch-Romer C. The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychol Rev. 1993;100:363–406.

Seaward BL. Managing stress: principles and strategies for health and well-being. 7th ed. Jones & Bartlett Learning, LLC: Burlington; 2012.

Krantz WB. Presenting an effective and dynamic technical paper: a guidebook for novice and experienced speakers in a multicultural world. Philadelphia: Elsevier; 2017.

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Gore-Felton, C. (2020). How to Prepare and Give a Scholarly Oral Presentation. In: Roberts, L. (eds) Roberts Academic Medicine Handbook. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-31957-1_42

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20 Considerations and Strategies for Oral Presentations

Introduction.

Whether short, informal and require sharing of specific information within a small group, or more lengthy and structured, requiring visual aids and sharing on a specific topic to a larger audience, oral presentations are anxiety producing.

best practices for oral presentations

What do you think are the biggest causes of anxiety for your students associated with giving oral presentations? Are there specific anxieties you would associate with the different groups of learners in your class?

Did You Know?

About 25% of the population are anxious and afraid to make presentations. According to neuropsychologist Dr. Theo Tsaousides as outlined in the article “ Why Are We Afraid of Public Speaking ?” there are many factors which contribute to this sense of dread induced by the thought of speaking in public (glossophobia).  Four of the main contributing factors are:

girl chewing pencil

  • Physiology – the autonomic nervous system is aroused in response to a potentially threatening stimulus which leads to fear – this fear of public speaking can be heightened for some who then worry about how their fear will manifest itself and how they will be perceived.
  • Thoughts – personal beliefs about public speaking and about themselves as speakers can lead to inflating the stakes of the speech event. Having personal self-doubt about one’s own ability to communicate effectively can increase anxiety and fear
  • lack of experience presenting in the target format,
  • fear of being evaluated on the performance,
  • status difference – presenting with the professor present or presenting to others perceived to be more competent
  • presenting something new – the topic many not be that familiar and there is a fear of being asked related questions that the speaker is unable to answer
  • new Audiences – presenting to the unfamiliar people and not knowing what to expect induces fear
  • Skills – how well a speaker is able to communicate. Practice helps develop skills, even for naturally good speakers.

If 25% of the population experience fear and anxiety when speaking in public, think about how amplified that likely is for some non native speakers who are speaking publicly in a language that is not their mother tongue. On top of overcoming the nerves many feel while speaking, they also have to be processing their thoughts and converting them to another language with all its nuances, grammar, pronunciation and structures, under pressure to  perform according to North American expectations in a given amount of time and be evaluated – now that’s pressure!

Idea icon

It might be time to reflect on how you are actually using presentations in your course and if there might be a better way for your students to showcase their understanding of and ability to apply the course concepts. Based on the principles of socio-cultural constructivism, UDL and CRP, offering options for students to choose from in order to demonstrate their learning can lead to higher levels of engagement and achievement.  If the ability to create and make a presentation is not part of your learning outcomes, you may want to consider some alternate dynamic learning ideas and tools outlined in Dr. Matthew Joseph’s post “ Moving to Dynamic Learning ”

Keys to Supporting Your ELLs’ Oral Presentation Success

best practices for oral presentations

Create a Linguistic and Culturally Inclusive Space

You have learned about the linguistic and cultural diversity of students in Module 2 and the need to create an equitable and supportive environment in Module 3 . Looking at all teaching and learning through a CRP lens and adhering to UDL principles helps to create inclusive learning spaces.

Determine English Expectations

In the classroom your linguistic expectations are communicated through course outcomes, assignments and rubrics as well as classroom interactions. Your treatment of linguistic diversity signals acceptable attitudes and behaviours within the class towards the sociolinguistic diversity of the ELLs.

Foster Tolerance of Sociolinguistic Diversity

hundreds of faces from different cultures on globe

Determine Acceptable Varieties of English

There is no question that clarity of communication is important for both native and non native speakers in your class. For ELLs, this generally means using the grammar and vocabulary appropriate for the context; using the wrong tense or incorrect pronoun can interfere with comprehension.  Furthermore, using an unfamiliar word or placing the accent on the wrong syllable making the word unrecognizable can also obscure the clarity of the transaction. However, English grammar and vocabulary usage are not universal. Consider the differences in countries such as the USA, Australia New Zealand, Ireland, South Africa and some Caribbean territories where the official language is English. Do we all speak the same English? Do we have the same way of organizing our thoughts and conveying ideas? Do we all use the same word to describe an object or is it dependent on the geographic location? Do we speak with the same accent? Of course the answer is ‘no.’ Then when we take into account all the countries that use English for transactional purposes around the world, there is even more variety in the English used.  Native speakers of English are actually in the minority of English speakers globally. English is used as the language of communication (lingua franca) between populations that do not share a common language and is the universal language used in the science fields, for many jobs such as pilots and is the default choice for transnational communication. This lingua franca is referred to as World English as the varieties and registers do follow standardized patterns of use associated with the profession. While this use of English globally is generally aligned with the accepted practices in certain disciplines, the notion of a standard English in today’s global environment is unrealistic. The term ‘World Englishes’ better captures the reality of English used globally. Localized or indigenized varieties of English have emerged in various contexts globally as a result of contact with local and other languages and usage purpose .

Distinguish Between Pronunciation and Accent

Like grammar, pronunciation can sometimes interfere with others’ ability to comprehend the speaker. Pronunciation of certain consonant or vowel sounds (segmentals) may be strongly influenced by the ELL’s first language. In some languages, there may be words that are the same or very close to the same word in the ELL’s native language; however, the stressed syllable (suprasegmental) may be different, so when spoken aloud, the word may not be recognizable by others in the class. ELLs are not alone in mispronouncing words. It is common for native speakers to incorrectly pronounce unfamiliar words.

  • It’s helpful for all learners in your class to see key vocabulary written and provide the pronunciation of the words orally.
  • Encourage learners to use text to speech software so they can hear the pronunciation of their pronunciation. MS Word had a screen reader function or you can you a program like Balaboka.   Learners can record their presentation script and then read along to practice the pronunciation.

Accents, on the other hand, should not interfere with comprehension.  However, it is common for NA students to express frustration at not being able to understand some ELLs in the class or even their teachers who may have a pronounced accent. Linguistics research indicates that decoding accents is possible if learners have the right mentality. Researchers found that students’ personal expectation of how easy or difficult a speaker will be to understand plays a significant role in their ability to understand the speaker’s accent (Stellino, 2019).

best practices for oral presentations

Watch the video about strong accents or read the transcript  Strong Accent Transcript [Word]  S4 Strong Accent Transcript [PDF] . Do you agree with the speaker?

The notion of ‘English’ today needs to be retuned from thinking of it as a single, monolithic entity, a linguistic ‘standard’ and a reference system, to understanding it as a set of related, structurally overlapping, but also distinct varieties, the products of a fundamental “glocalization” process with variable, context-dependent outcomes (Schneider, 2018).

best practices for oral presentations

Consider the backgrounds of the students in your class and their purpose for taking the course.  The content knowledge is very important for all the learners but is the English standard equally as important? Will your ELLs be working or living in an environment that requires strict adherence to North American ‘standards?’ Or is communicating competently in World Englishes their goal?  The weighting and priority you place on oral communication using ‘standard’ English should reflect the realities of global communication.

  • Check in with your students and ask them how and where they think they will be using the knowledge and skills covered in your class.
  • Ask your students about what their personal goals are for their English oral skills.

Class Engagement During Presentations

In addition to performance anxiety, many learners worry about performing in front of their peers. It is important to collaboratively develop expectations about the responsibilities and expected behaviours of others in the class during a learner’s or group of learners’ presentation. Determine the following:

  • Who is managing the class? Is the presenter responsible for the class during the presentation? Should the presenter ensure that the class is paying attention?
  • What expectations are there around chatter in the class during the presentation? Do you need to teach learners strategies such as using physical proximity to draw the chatters’ attention? Should the presenter stop talking? Should the presenter ask for attention?
  • Should the audience have a specific task associated with each presenter so they are required to actively listen to the presentation to successfully complete the task? Should answers to the task be assessed by the teacher for marks?
  • What should happen if the presenter goes over the allotted time?

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10 Tips For Giving Effective Virtual Presentations

What to know before you go live.

September 26, 2016

An illustration of a computer screen with messy notes and graphs around it.

Presenting online? Try these suggestions to improve your results. | Illustration by Tricia Seibold

As audiences go global and you need to reach more people through technology (including webinars, conference calls and teleconference), you must consider the challenges to connecting with a virtual audience. Here I pinpoint 10 valuable best practices to ensure you communicate successfully.

1. Be Brief

Audiences begin to lose attention after roughly 10 minutes of hearing from the same presenter. If you have more than 10 minutes of content, use interactive activities to keep your audience engaged (for example, take a poll, give quizzes, or ask audience members for their opinions via chat).

2. Be Simple

Keep slides simple — avoid too many words, graphics and animation features. Less is definitely more!

An illustration of a lamp

Light yourself well | Illustration by Tricia Seibold

3. Be a TV Personality

Look straight into your camera, not the screen. Wear clothing that is neutral in color (no plaids or stripes). Light yourself well and from above. Be mindful of what appears behind you in the background. Invest in a good microphone.

4. Be Standing

Even though your audience cannot see you, stand when you present. This allows you to stay focused and use good presentation delivery skills such as belly breathing, vocal variety, and pausing.

5. Be Prepared

Practice delivering your presentation with your technology in advance of your talk. Make sure all of the features of the technology work. Record your practice using the recording feature of your tool. Watch and listen to learn what works and what you can improve.

6. Be Assisted

Have someone available to deal with technical issues and to field email/text questions. Also, if you have multiple remote audience members in one location, be sure to pick one of them to be your “eyes and ears.” Ask them to queue up questions and facilitate discussion on your behalf.

7. Be Specific

Ask pointed questions to avoid too many people answering at once. For example, rather than ask, “Are there any questions?” try “Who has a question about the solution I provided?” Set a ground rule that people state their names prior to speaking.

An Illustration of two pictures of people.

Imagine your audience | Illustration by Tricia Seibold

8. Be Synchronized

Transitions are critical. You must connect what you just said to what is coming next when you move from point to point. Transitions between topics and slides are good opportunities to get people reengaged to your talk.

9. Be Connected

Imagine your audience even though you can’t see them. You can place pictures of audience members behind your camera so you can look at people as you present.

10. Be Early

Encourage your audience to access your call or webinar in advance of the start time so you can iron out any technical issues in advance and get them familiar with the technology.

Matt Abrahams is a Stanford GSB organizational behavior lecturer, author, and communications coach.

For media inquiries, visit the Newsroom .

Explore More

From good to great: what makes a “supercommunicator”, seen & heard: how to make your audience feel understood, sarah friar, mba ’00, on how to make strategic career risks, editor’s picks.

best practices for oral presentations

April 04, 2016 A Big Data Approach to Public Speaking Key takeaways from analyzing 100,000 presentations.

November 19, 2014 Matt Abrahams: The Power of the Paraphrase An expert on public speaking shows how paraphrasing can help you navigate tricky communication situations.

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Chapter 10. Designing and Delivering Presentations

In this chapter.

  • Strategies for developing professional oral presentations and designing clear, functional slides
  • Discussion of what makes presentations challenging and practical advice for becoming a more engaging and effective presenter
  • Tips for extending the concepts of high quality presentations to creating videos and posters

Presentations are one of the most visible forms of professional or technical communication you will have to do in your career.  Because of that and the nature of being put “on the spot,” presentations are often high pressure situations that make many people anxious. As with the other forms of communication described in this guide, the ability to present well is a skill that can be practiced and honed.

When we think of presentations, we typically imagine standing in front of a room (or auditorium) full of people, delivering information verbally with slides projected on a screen. Variations of that scene are common. Keep in mind, though, that the skills that make you a strong presenter in that setting are incredibly valuable in many other situations, and they are worth studying and practicing.

Effective presentation skills are the ability to use your voice confidently to communicate in “live” situations—delivering information verbally and “physically,” being able to engage your audience, and thinking on your feet. It also translates to things like videos, which are a more and more common form of communication in professional spheres.  You will have a number of opportunities during your academic career to practice your presentation skills, and it is worth it to put effort into developing these skills. They will serve you well in myriad situations beyond traditional presentations, such as interviews, meetings, networking, and public relations.

This chapter describes best practices and tips for becoming an effective presenter in the traditional sense, and also describes how best practices for presentation skills and visuals apply to creating videos and posters.

Process for Planning, Organizing, and Writing Presentations

Similar to any other piece of writing or communication, to design a successful presentation, you must follow a thoughtful writing process (see Engineering Your Writing Process ) that includes planning, drafting, and getting feedback on the presentation content, visuals, and delivery (more on that in the following section).Following is a simple and comprehensive way to approach “writing” a presentation:

Step 1: Identify and state the purpose of the presentation. Find focus by being able to clearly and simply articulate the goal of the presentation—what are you trying to achieve? This is helpful for you and your audience—you will use it in your introduction and conclusion, and it will help you draft the rest of the presentation content.

Step 2: Outline major sections. Next, break the presentation content into sections. Visualizing sections will also help you assess organization and consider transitions from one idea to the next. Plan for an introduction, main content sections that help you achieve the purpose of the presentation, and a conclusion.

Step 3: Draft content. Once you have an outline, it’s time to fill in the details and plan what you are actually going to say. Include an introduction that gives you a chance to greet the audience, state the purpose of the presentation, and provide a brief overview of the rest of the presentation (e.g. “First, we will describe the results of our study, then we’ll outline our recommendations and take your questions”). Help your audience follow the main content of the presentation by telling them as you move from one section of your outline to the next—use the structure you created to keep yourself and your audience on track.

End with a summary, restating the main ideas (purpose) from the presentation and concluding the presentation smoothly (typically thanking your audience and offering to answering any questions from your audience). Ending a presentation can be tricky, but it’s important because it will make a lasting impression with your audience—don’t neglect to plan out the conclusion carefully.

Step 4: Write presentation notes. For a more effective presentation style, write key ideas, data, and information as lists and notes (not a complete, word-for-word script). This allows you to ensure you are including all the vital information without getting stuck reading a script. Your presentation notes should allow you to look down, quickly reference important information or reminders, and then look back up at your audience.

Step 5: Design supporting visuals. Now it’s time to consider what types of visuals will best help your audience understand the information in your presentation. Typically, presentations include a title slide, an overview or advance organizer, visual support for each major content section, and a conclusion slide. Use the visuals to reinforce the organization of your presentation and help your audience see the information in new ways.

Don’t just put your notes on the slides or use visuals that will be overwhelming or distracting—your audience doesn’t need to read everything you’re saying, they need help focusing on and really understanding the most important information. See Designing Effective Visuals .

At each step of the way, assess audience and purpose and let them affect the tone and style of your presentation. What does your audience already know? What do you want them to remember or do with the information? Use the introduction and conclusion in particular to make that clear.

For in-class presentations, look at the assignment or ask the instructor to make sure you’re clear on who your audience is supposed to be. As with written assignments, you may be asked to address an imagined audience or design a presentation for a specific situation, not the real people who might be in the room.

In summary, successful presentations

  • have a stated purpose and focus;
  • are clearly organized, with a beginning, middle, and end;
  • guide the audience from one idea to the next, clearly explaining how ideas are connected and building on the previous section; and
  • provide multiple ways for the audience to absorb the most important information (aurally and visually).

Developing a Strong Presentation Style

Since presentation are delivered to the audience “live,” review and revise it as a verbal and visual presentation, not as a piece of writing. As part of the “writing” process, give yourself time to practice delivering your presentation out loud with the visuals . This might mean practicing in front of a mirror or asking someone else to listen to your presentation and give you feedback (or both!). Even if you have a solid plan for the presentation and a strong script, unexpected things will happen when you actually say the words—timing will feel different, you will find transitions that need to be smoothed out, slides will need to be moved.

More importantly, you will be better able to reach your audience if you are able to look up from your notes and really talk to them—this will take practice.

Characteristics of a Strong Presentation Style

When it comes time to practice delivery, think about what has made a presentation and a presenter more or less effective in your past experiences in the audience. What presenters impressed you? Or bored you? What types of presentation visuals keep your attention? Or are more useful?

One of the keys to an effective presentation is to keep your audience focused on what matters—the information—and avoid distracting them or losing their attention with things like overly complicated visuals, monotone delivery, or disinterested body language.

As a presenter, you must also bring your own energy and show the audience that you are interested in the topic—nothing is more boring than a bored presenter, and if your audience is bored, you will not be successful in delivering your message.

Verbal communication should be clear and easy to listen to; non-verbal communication (or body language) should be natural and not distracting to your audience. The chart below outlines qualities of both verbal and non-verbal communication that impact presentation style. Use it as a sort of “rubric” as you assess and practice your own presentation skills.

As you plan and practice a presentation, be aware of time constraints. If you are given a time limit (say, 15 minutes to deliver a presentation in class or 30 minutes for a conference presentation), respect that time limit and plan the right amount of content. As mentioned above, timing must be practiced “live”—without timing yourself, it’s difficult to know how long a presentation will actually take to deliver.

Finally, remember that presentations are “live” and you need to stay alert and flexible to deal with the unexpected:

  • Check in with your audience.  Ask questions to make sure everything is working (“Can everyone hear me ok?” or “Can you see the screen if I stand here?”) and be willing to adapt to fix any issues.
  • Don’t get so locked into a script that you can’t improvise. You might need to respond to a question, take more time to explain a concept if you see that you’re losing your audience, or move through a planned section more quickly for the sake of time. Have a plan and be able to underscore the main purpose and message of your presentation clearly, even if you end up deviating from the plan.
  • Expect technical difficulties. Presentation equipment fails all the time—the slide advancer won’t work, your laptop won’t connect to the podium, a video won’t play, etc. Obviously, you should do everything you can to avoid this by checking and planning, but if it does, stay calm, try to fix it, and be willing to adjust your plans. You might need to manually advance slides or speak louder to compensate for a faulty microphone. Also, have multiple ways to access your presentation visuals (e.g., opening Google Slides from another machine or having a flash drive).

Developing Strong Group Presentations

Group presentations come with unique challenges. You might be a confident presenter individually, but as a member of a group, you are dealing with different presentation styles and levels of comfort.

Here are some techniques and things to consider to help groups work through the planning and practicing process together:

  • Transitions and hand-off points. Be conscious of and plan for smooth transitions between group members as one person takes over the presentation from another. Awkward or abrupt transitions can become distracting for an audience, so help them shift their attention from one speaker to the next. You can acknowledge the person who is speaking next (“I’ll hand it over to Sam who will tell you about the results”) or the person who’s stepping in can acknowledge the previous speaker (“So, I will build on what you just heard and explain our findings in more detail”). Don’t spend too much time on transitions—that can also become distracting. Work to make them smooth and natural.
  • Table reads. When the presentation is outlined and written, sit around a table together and talk through the presentation—actually say what you will say during the presentation, but in a more casual way. This will help you check the real timing (keep an eye on the clock) and work through transitions and hand-off points. (Table reads are what actors do with scripts as part of the rehearsal process.)
  • Body language. Remember that you are still part of the presentation even when you’re not speaking. Consider non-verbal communication cues—pay attention to your fellow group members, don’t block the visuals, and look alert and interested.

Designing Effective Visuals

Presentation visuals (typically slides, but could be videos, props, handouts, etc.) help presenters reinforce important information by giving the audience a way to see as well as hear the message. As with all other aspects of presentations, the goal of visuals is to aid your audience’s understanding, not overwhelm or distract them. One of the most common ways visuals get distracting is by using too much text. Plan and select visuals aids carefully—don’t just put your notes on the screen, but use the visuals to reinforce important information and explain difficult concepts.

The slides below outline useful strategies for designing professional, effective presentation slides.

  • Write concise text. Minimize the amount of reading you ask your audience to do by using only meaningful keywords, essential data and information, and short phrases. Long blocks of text or full paragraphs are almost never useful.
  • Use meaningful titles. The title should reveal the purpose of the slide. Its position on the slide is highly visible—use it to make a claim or assertion, identify the specific focus of the slide, or ask a framing question.
  • Use images and graphics. Wherever possible, replace wordy descriptions with visuals. Well chosen images and graphics will add another dimension to the message you are trying to communicate. Make sure images are clear and large enough for your audience to see and understand in the context of the presentation.
  • Keep design consistent. The visual style of the slides should be cohesive. Use the same fonts, colors, borders, backgrounds for similar items (e.g., all titles should be styled the same way, all photos should have the same size and color border). This does not mean every slide needs to look identical, but they should be a recognizable set.
  • Use appropriate contrast. Pay attention to how easy it is to see elements on the screen. Whatever colors you choose, backgrounds and overlaid text need to be some version of light/dark. Avoid positioning text over a patterned or “busy” background—it is easy for the text to get lost and become unreadable. Know that what looks ok on your computer screen might not be as clear when projected.

Key Takeaway

  • Create a structure for your presentation or video that clearly supports your goal.
  • Practice effective verbal and non-verbal communication to become comfortable with your content and timing. If you are presenting as a group, practice together.
  • Use visuals that support your message without distracting your audience.

Additional Resources

Fundamentals of Engineering Technical Communications Copyright © by Leah Wahlin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Key Solutions Blog

The ultimate guide to oral proposal presentations.

Jan 28, 2021

The-Ultimate-Guide-to-Oral-Proposals

An oral presentation with the government is like a job interview. Your goal is to present well and ultimately win the contract.

Oral presentations are becoming a more common requirement in government proposals, so it’s necessary to have a process that empowers both team chemistry and smooth performance.

The KSI Advantage™ Orals Process emphasizes rigorous planning as the pathway to success and breaks down orals into five manageable phases.

In this article, I will discuss the five phases of the KSI Advantage™ Orals Process and share what our KSI Advantage™ Capture & Proposal Guide can do to help you prepare your oral presentation for success!

019-KSI-Advantage-Orals-Process-png

Phase One: Orals Planning and Slide Preparation

First, you must establish a dedicated team to prepare and execute the Orals Process. You will need four key personnel:

  • Orals Manager – responsible for the overall Orals Process, approving strategies and plans, and directing the team
  • Orals Slidemaster/Coordinator – responsible for providing the orals PowerPoint slides, managing logistics, and directing the production
  • Orals Coach or Training Manager – responsible for executing strategy and plans, leading team building, and orientation
  • Mock Orals Board Chairperson – responsible for simulating the Source Evaluation Board (SEB) review process and conducting Mock Orals

These roles can be combined, but make sure somebody has these responsibilities assigned to them. The Slidemaster is responsible for making an Oral Proposal Development Schedule . This schedule should allocate adequate time for an Oral Proposal Kickoff Meeting, Slide Preparation, Slide Reviews, Team Building, and Mock Orals.

The Slidemaster should also make a Speaker/Slide Matrix  to plan the presentation within the assigned presentation time. This matrix assigns presenters their sections, allocates their presentation time, and develops a speaking order.

020-KSI-Advantage-Sample-Orals-Schedule-png

Examples of a 30-day Oral Proposal Development Schedule (Exhibit 5-3) and a Speaker/Slide Allocation Matrix (Exhibit 5-4 and Appendix-41) are available in the Guide for your reference.

Each orals presenter is responsible for the final state of their PowerPoint slides and coordinates with the Slidemaster after the Orals Presentation Kickoff to revise and finalize their slides. The slides must be pithy and not dense and should include plenty of color, graphics, and diagrams.

The KSI Guide recommends using our Slide Master© process to develop slides that best present your data and themes. Our Slide Master© template allows you to organize any major points, transitions, graphics, action captions, or major marketing messages you might want to include. A blank template ready for editing is available in Exhibit 5-5 and Appendix-42 of the Guide!

Phase Two: Orientation and Training

The Orals Coach, aka the Training Manager, needs to coach their team to present themselves honestly and directly.

They should give group and one-on-one coaching to their team on public speaking skills and sales pitching, as well as conduct proposal-specific training on win strategy, themes, discriminators, etc. Depending on the proposal, the Training Manager may also need to provide special coaching for the Project Manager and other key personnel, who are sometimes asked to interview individually with the Source Evaluation Board (SEB).

During orals presentations, the government will often ask proposal-specific questions for the presenting team to answer. Q&As can be very stressful, so it’s part of the Training Manager’s job to train presenters on how to answer effectively.

The KSI Advantage™ Process uses the Straight Answer Model Method for Q&As, which entails:

  • Answering the question,
  • Giving details and proof, and
  • Highlighting benefits.

FREE DOWNLOAD: A Beginner's Guide to Oral Proposals 

Phase Three: Rehearsal and Team Building

It’s important that your team members feel connected to one another and motivated to collaborate. A solid Orals team is built upon three principles: a sense of purpose, respect for the customer, and a focus on the customer’s success and satisfaction.

To instill this, KSI recommends orals teams practice our Six-Step Team Building Process:

  • Tell Us Your Story – share with your teammates about who you are and what you add to the team.
  • Define the Extraordinary Business Challenges That Confront You – ask yourself what major issues and challenges you need to surmount with your proposal.
  • Stand for Something That Makes A Difference – demonstrate you understand and care about the customer's needs.
  • Create Strategic Goals/Objectives for Your Organizational Unit – ask yourself what specifically you will do to help the customer achieve the needs and goals of their solicitation.
  • Develop Your Action Plan – get into the details of what success will look like when performing the awarded work, what key actions you’ll need to take, and who specifically you will need to get the job done.
  • Figure Out How to Integrate Steps 1-5 Into Your Presentation – find a way to compliantly integrate your conclusions from Steps 1-5 into your orals proposal.

Phase Four: Reviews and Mock Orals

The review process when building an oral presentation is conducted by performing rehearsals. These Mock Orals are performed in front of a group of participants meant to represent the actual SEB members.

The feedback from this Mock SEB helps ensure the presentation meets the following goals:

  • Compliance – verifying you are meeting the requirements of Sections C, L, and M
  • Clarity – ensuring the material is succinct and understandable
  • Consistency – checking that your terms and data are uniform
  • Accuracy – confirming your information is correct
  • Strategy – articulating your strategy and win themes
  • Performance – ensuring presenters communicate properly

Mock SEB members should be knowledgeable people but unfamiliar with the proposal. They will review the presentation for technical accuracy, compliance, and delivery.

The KSI Orals Process advises scheduling two days for Mock Orals, including time for the Mock SEB to review the RFP and written proposal beforehand. Following this review, the Mock Orals Leader should answer any questions the Mock SEB may have and share with everyone the protocol for the Mock Orals. We suggest a dress rehearsal to mimic the actual oral presentation.

A sample Mock SEB/Orals Schedule is available for reference (Exhibit 5-8) in the Guide, along with a Mock SEB Participant List template (Exhibit 5-7) .

Exhibit 5-8 Mock SEB Graphic 1- Orals Schedule_KSI Advantage Guide

During the Mock Orals Presentation, the Mock SEB will evaluate the presentation using forms similar to what will be used by the real SEB. These forms include:

  • RFP Scoring Tree – to score according to the RFP requirements
  • Criterion/Sub-Criterion Evaluation Form – completed for each criterion/sub-criterion
  • Questions Form – for anything the Mock SEB may want to ask post-presentation
  • Q&A Summary Evaluation Form – to evaluate the Q&A portion of the Mock Orals
  • Presenter Evaluation Form – to evaluate each presenter’s style and effectiveness

Templates for all of these forms, ready for you to use, can be found in Appendices 44-48 in the Guide!

026-KSI-Advantage-Sample-Mock-Orals-Forms-jpg

*The Mock Orals Evaluation Forms graphic is from the KSI Advantage™ Capture & Proposal Guide.

Phase Five: Orals Logistics

Once every step has been made to prepare for the day of the presentation, the Orals Manager should remind everyone of all protocols and logistics. This includes dress code, schedule, transportation, post-mortem wrap-ups, and proper note-taking.

If you’ve followed each phase of the KSI Advantage™ Orals Process, learned your part well, practiced your speaking voice, and shined your shoes, you should be ready! Going through each of the five phases of the Orals Process will lead to a better team, a refined presentation, and a good result.

In Conclusion

There are three reasons why the government asks for oral presentations. They want to see how well you know the work of the RFP, how well your team works together, and how easily their agency could work with you. Consciously or unconsciously, these three criteria will be in the SEB’s mind as you talk about your solution and strategy. You must deliver a well-crafted and eloquent presentation.

Solid orals preparation and following the Orals Process of the KSI Advantage™ Capture & Proposal Guide , can lead to a difference-making presentation. Our Guide contains over 35 years of Key Solution’s best practices and discusses the Orals Process in far better detail than I have here. It’s chock full of useful tips, templates, and time-tested processes that can help anybody in a proposal role, whether you’re a Capture Manager, Proposal Manager, Technical Writer, or Orals Coach. Happy presenting! 

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Topics: Orals Coaching KSI Advantage Capture & Proposal Guide Oral Proposals KSI Advantage

Jake Lamarche, CF APMP, CPTC

Written by Jake Lamarche, CF APMP, CPTC

Jake Lamarche is a Proposal Development and Technical Writing Professional. He is certified at the Foundation Level by APMP and is also a Certified Professional Technical Communicator. In his free time, he enjoys writing fiction and is a volunteer editor for an online literary magazine.

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  • v.13(3); 2017 Mar

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Ten simple rules for short and swift presentations

Christopher j. lortie.

1 Department of Biology, York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

2 National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, UCSB, Santa Barbara, California, United States of America

Scientific communication is an independent research domain and has become a fundamental component of most scientific discourse and all public outreach. It now comprises a set of critical activities for many research programs [ 1 , 2 ], including those that directly influence global and human health [ 3 ]. Scientific communication has evolved because it does not have to happen only at the final stages of a research endeavor but can be used to engage the public to fund the research ( https://scifundchallenge.org ), participate in the data collection ( http://www.audubon.org/conservation/science/christmas-bird-count ), share or crowd source the code and analyses ( https://github.com ), and process the evidence ( https://www.zooniverse.org ). Unfortunately, scientific progress in some fields such as climate change has outpaced our capacity to effectively communicate and contextualize findings for the public [ 4 ]. To mitigate this shortcoming, resources specific to scientists have been developed [ 5 – 8 ]. Boot-camp training workshops are now also offered (i.e., American Institute of Biological Sciences [AIBS]), and discussion of how academics use brief communications, such as social media tools, is present within the primary research literature [ 9 – 11 ]. An interesting related opportunity has emerged that, in some respects, bridges the gap between lengthy, detailed presentations of scientific findings and “sound bites” such as headlines or short press releases appropriate for media reporting: very short, swift presentations. Admittedly, these talks are in essence sound bites, too, but with more depth and thus requiring special consideration in terms of how to best leverage their potential [ 12 ]. These shorter presentations are commonly directed both to peers at scientific conferences and to the general public at in-person events and online. This format is particularly suited to online dissemination and sharing through YouTube, with most major scientific institutions and organizations administering channels of curated content. Many major scientific conventions include offerings of rapid-fire format talks—at first to communicate meta-science but now also to share primary research findings. The specific guidelines vary, but the slide deck is often limited by a set number of slides, or the presentation is limited by very strict, short time constraints (such as found with lightning talks). In addition, the slides can be set to rapidly autoadvance, for instance, with PechaKucha presentations. These presentation formats are also organized into open, public series and feature involvement from experts in many disciplines on numerous topics, including science. Succinct prose is thus a critical element in communicating science using these presentation formats. On a cautionary note, reducing much longer talks to these shorter formats is likely not the most effective strategy because shorter total presentation times coupled with rapid pacing can dramatically influence the scope and depth of the material. Best practices for scientific communication certainly apply to these talks, but specific strategies are nonetheless needed. For instance, as a general rule-of-thumb, talks prepared for a more general public audience should emphasize the implications of the science and use direct, natural language and visual analogies (instead of necessarily always showing complex evidence or primary data). Talks for scientific colleagues must also embrace parsimony but can accommodate more technical language depending on the specific audience, more direct evidence, and some data visualization that highlights complexity appropriately.

Effective oral prose is not dissimilar from effective writing. Depending on the literary theory and school of criticism that one subscribes, concepts such as “lightness, quickness, exactitude, visibility, multiplicity,” and also consistency in writing [ 13 ] similarly apply to rapid presentations. The simple rules for making good presentations also apply [ 14 ], but short, swift presentations provide both novel challenges and unique communication opportunities. The pace is rapid, providing very limited time for the audience to read or process an individual slide. Thus, Rule 8 from a previous ten simple rules for oral presentations, “use visuals sparingly but effectively” [ 14 ], is a best practice for this context. If the slide deck autoadvances, the speaker must perfectly time delivery, and thus, preparation relative to a longer, less structured talk differs. The net time is significantly reduced from even most typical conference oral presentations, thereby limiting the potential scope of coverage of a topic and depth. This suggests a further reduction in the number of take-home messages suggested for longer presentations (i.e., Rule 4 from a previous set of rules suggests three points should be retained, whilst here it is likely fewer, such as one) [ 14 ]. These challenges can become benefits if handled effectively. A swift tempo engenders enthusiasm, energy, and the expectation that a bird’s-eye view of a topic will be provided to, quite literally, “get the audience up to speed” on the salient issues. In the spirit of light, quick, and exact (but without the lazy dog), here are ten simple rules for presentation formats that do not wait for the speaker. A slide deck and a video of these suggestions are also available ( http://bit.ly/short-swift ).

Rule 1: Plan a clear story

Avoid detours, tangents, or side anecdotes. Amusing anecdotes by accomplished speakers can be compelling, useful tools to engage and connect the speaker to the audience emotionally. In longer talks, they can also serve as a reprieve from detail-laden or inaccessible issues, and anecdotes can reframe the science into more general contexts. In a short, brisk talk, however, immediacy is paramount, and tangents are best avoided. Prepare one primary message for the audience. A total of 20 slides or 5–6 minutes, for instance, do not leave sufficient room for a story within a story. A clear story can captivate and illuminate, but a planned story is more likely to do both.

Rule 2: Provide only one major point per slide

You have a story to tell with very limited time. Ensure each slide is a meaningful step. Some of the slides can be used to support a difficult step taken by clarifying the briefest of introductions on the previous slide. This reinforcement ensures that the audience is sufficiently informed to move forward with you on the following slide. Build on your clear story (Rule 1) one step at a time. Balance support and advancement appropriately.

Rule 3: Limit use of text

It is much quicker for you to directly state the purpose of a given slide. Nonetheless, parsimonious use of text can assist the audience in scanning each slide for meaning and relevance. Treat the slides like scientific figures—“captions are not optimal” [ 15 ] but can be powerful aids if they do not detract from the visuals. An alternative approach is to show a visual/figure on a full slide, maximized for viewing, and use the subsequent slide for a single, brief sentence stating the finding or implication. This has added value in that it provides the speaker with more time to explain the findings and mimics a rapid but effective show-and-tell approach. Important data visualization can benefit from this presentation technique. This is a specific strategy that can work for some but not all. The overarching principle is that an effective talk balances text with visuals and oral explanation. One must provide enough to read but not overwhelm so as to avoid the audience hurriedly reading throughout the presentation. Better they pay attention to you than to your slide deck.

Rule 4: Use simple visuals

Slides advance very rapidly in these talk formats. Similar to the rules for better figures [ 15 ], identify the key message and avoid superfluous visual elements. Do not cut and paste figures prepared for written papers because the risk of losing the audience in a rapid talk is too great if they are expected to search, parse, or mentally rotate elements such as labels. Simplify data visualizations as needed and use color to show groupings and patterns. Visual guides and color are allowed here and not necessarily bound by the same rules as papers. Explicitly direct the audience to the key attribute of the visual you wish to highlight because there is no time for them to search for this visual point on each slide. Furthermore, if you choose to let the audience search on some slides, limit the number of slides that require more than cursory processing to one. For instance, use a single, relatively more complex visual slide to present the key figure showing the major quantitative finding of the study. A planned pause from rapid speaking is a powerful technique for the audience to catch their collective breath and also absorb this slide. Expecting an audience to do this 20 times in short order is unreasonable, and they will tune out. Use a separate slide to state the significance or interpretation for this finding and then begin speaking anew.

Rule 5: Develop a consistent theme

In style, graphical design, language, and imagery, be consistent. This will ensure that the audience can allocate processing and scanning time on each slide to the salient elements that change and not to those that do not explain, support the science, or advance the main purpose of the presentation. The “branding” of your presentation and scientific message is important [ 3 ]. Use this consistency to reinforce the importance of your brand (and thus indirectly your message). Do not develop your brand using canned templates. These templates can be attractive but generally do not support the specifics of your talk and are often superfluous decoration.

Rule 6: Repeat critical messages twice using different visuals

It is very easy to miss the main message in a rapid-fire talk, even more so than in a more traditional presentation. A total of 15 to 20 seconds to summarize the major implication or finding in a single slide is very short. Consider using a visual analog, metaphor, or simpler restatement of the major finding/implication in a subsequent slide. Typically, the assumption in these formats is that you do not cut and paste the exact same slide twice to provide oneself with more time (i.e., cheating), but you can certainly use a new slide to re-emphasize or extend the major finding. Three is a crowd and feels unduly repetitive in brief presentations. Stick with only one repetition.

Rule 7: Use the principle of parsimony in explanations

Exactitude is as virtuous in literature as in science [ 13 ]. Identify concepts that require explanation and those that do not. Then, use simple explanations. Ensure the process or finding genuinely requires that explanation. Showing a finding and limiting what you say (Rule 4 for visuals in particular) can be a powerful means to emphasize importance. This technique also has the added benefit of providing the audience with the “space” to think, even momentarily, without distraction from the ongoing speaker dialogue. Some processes and patterns require little to no explanation. Use exactly that much. Statistics, field sampling, experimental design, and implementation strategy for the process proposed should be described in at most two succinct sentences within a 15- to 20-second interval. Explain what you need and consider engagement through less, not more, on some slides within the presentation deck.

Rule 8: Allocate more than one slide to effectively end the narrative

At slides 16–17 in a 20-slide deck, begin closing the larger (and singular) story arc. Abrupt termination of a talk can be an effective means to jar or shock the audience but should be used sparingly—if ever. This technique comes at the cost of potential acceptance and reconciliation with the methods and implications offered. Do not leave the audience hanging. It is also natural for the audience to match the pacing and tempo of the speaker cognitively, and an abrupt end unnecessarily signals the end of a discussion and dialog.

Rule 9: Use the final slide for contact information and links to additional resources

The total presentation time is likely a third, or less, relative to most traditional oral papers at scientific conferences. Furthermore, many rapid-fire series do not provide time for questions or feedback at the end of each presentation. This slide should reference your social media accounts, email, and website. Leverage your broader corpus of work and ideas through these links and provide a point of contact for questions. Another trick of the trade is to publish the slide deck online and provide a link to the deck within the deck at the end of the presentation. The audience will thus have an opportunity to follow-up and review the slides at a more leisurely pace if they are so inclined. Acknowledge key support, inspirations, and collaborators.

Rule 10: Use timed practice

Speaking rapidly and clearly is not necessarily a given, even for accomplished speakers. The advancement of the slides without the speaker is a necessary condition for many of these rapid formats. Practice with the timing set in your preferred application (i.e., with autoadvance enabled via transitions between slides). There is a goldilocks effect in the number of words spoken for these formats. Too little can be awkwardly disconcerting. Too much is always disastrous. Furthermore, each slide need not suffer from the same limitations. Some require more, others less (see Rule 7 ). Use these differences to your advantage, and the optimal extent of description per slide can only be discovered through timed practice. Effective practice should include many of the following general approaches: stand up, speak out loud, rehearse several times without text or notes, invite an audience, record it, experiment with planned pauses, and vary pace to account for nerves or delays on the actual day. For rapid-fire talks, another common strategy is to practice with a few less seconds allocated per slide to compensate for lags when projected, audience reactions, or your movement on the stage.

Rules are meant to broken, but not all of them and not all at once. If you elect to violate some of the rules above (best treated as suggestions), you can captivate with a story, change tempo by saying less more slowly on some slides and more on others to convey urgency, and highlight complexity without overwhelming. The audience is also an important consideration in how strictly one should consider adhering to these or any other set of proposed simple rules for scientific communication. Public talks should emphasize implications and effectively end the narrative as proposed above, whilst presentations for a group of scientists can typically invoke parsimony for explanations more directly and use appropriately technical language. The simplicity and accessibility of visuals can also be tempered by audience, and in some instances, visuals can be used to provide an analogy versus providing direct evidence or data visualization. The goal of these specific talk formats is to synthesize a topic for all audiences without a major commitment of their time. If your topic and use/misuse of the above rules stimulates some discovery for your audience and they elect to pursue the topic in greater depth, then you have absolutely succeeded. An alternative goal in considering these simple rules and in using a brief format to communicate science is to promptly share your passion for your science. If nothing else, address the “why” of the science at hand and emphasize that science is always a celebration of process and discovery. Time is up!

Funding Statement

The author received no specific funding for this work.

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