Presenting your work for the first time: A student guide

These are a few tips that might be useful for students who are to present their research for the first time.


Persuading your audience

  1. Presenting scientific work has elements of storytelling and rhetoric. Your presentation must appear like a coherent story with an opening, where you set the scene and you explain the background, a development, where you explain what you did and how, and a conclusion, where you explain what you will do in the near future and why what you did matter.
  2. Try to persuade the audience that your research is important and that it matters. Do not assume that everybody knows or understand why you did what you did. Explain your motivation at the beginning and very clearly.
  3. Start from the article/dissertation/thesis you wrote to organise the material in a linear way. Include an outline at the beginning of the talk and use breadcrumbs to remind the audience where you are (for example, add “discussion” or “results” to the slide heading).
  4. Avoid jargon as much as possible and use simpler terms when possible. This is not to say that you shouldn’t use appropriate technical terms. As Einstein argued (at least in internet memes), “everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” Try to impress people with the strength/originality of your ideas, not with obscure technical terms.
  5. If you use quotes, edit them to keep them as short as possible. Give the audience time to read them.
  6. Study your audience and try to imagine their viewpoint and prior knowledge. Presenting to experts or to a general audience require completely different communication styles. For example, people outside of geographic data science will not necessarily understand what “spatial autocorrelation” means and you will have to avoid the term (or explain it).


Using slides (PowerPoint et similia)

  1. Do not put a lot of text in the slides. Slides are for visual support, not to read out text.
  2. Do not put more than 20 words on a single slide. It looks like very few words, but it’s not. If you put a lot of text on a slide, the audience will start reading it and will not listen to you.
  3. Use very large fonts (minimum 36 points). This will force you to reduce the text to the bare minimum.
  4. Use sans-serif fonts. They are generally more readable.
  5. Enter what you want to say in the notes under the slide, not in the slide itself.
  6. Use high-resolution images/maps to illustrate your ideas as much as possible. Import images at the maximum resolution Do not show complex figures if you don’t have time to explain their contents.
  7. Crop images to include only the relevant parts. It is often useful to add markers and highlight interesting parts of a visualisation.
  8. Make sure that the text within images is large enough to be readable (~24pt or more).
  9. Decide a maximum number of slides based on the time available, using a slide-to-time ratio (~1 slide per 1.5 minutes).
  10. Practice the talk with a stopwatch. Better to finish a bit early than to force the chair to interrupt you, which looks unprofessional and does not allow you to deliver your conclusions.
  11. Don’t plagiarise or infringe copyright: If you borrow images and graphics, at least acknowledge the source with a URL, and make sure that the quotes from other authors are clearly marked.


Handling the question and answer (Q&A)

  1. Always thank who makes a question, even if it contains some criticism. Try to pre-empt criticism by acknowledging the limitations of your work. Before the presentation, formulate good arguments on why these limitations do not invalidate your work.
  2. Be prepared to report on technical details that you could not explain in the talk. You can add some slides after the last slide that you can show during the Q&A in case they are relevant to answering questions.
  3. Try to take criticism in a constructive spirit. Do not say “I don’t know”, but “that is an interesting question that deserves more investigation”.