Ten Simple Rules for Making Good Oral Presentations


Clear and logical delivery of your ideas and scientific results is an important component of a successful scientific career. Presentations encourage broader dissemination of your work and highlight work that may not receive attention in written form. Dr. Philip E. Bourne is a professor in the Department of Pharmacology, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, California. This article condenses his excellent list of rules for making a good oral presentation.

1: Talk to the Audience

Know your audience – their backgrounds and knowledge level of the material you are presenting and what they are hoping to get out of the presentation. Deliver what the audience wants to hear.

2: Less is More

Your knowledge of the subject is best expressed through a clear and concise presentation that is provocative and leads to a dialog during the questionand-answer session when the audience becomes active participants. At that point, your knowledge of the material will likely become clear.

3: Talk Only When You Have Something to Say

Remember the audience's time is precious and should not be abused by presentation of uninteresting preliminary material.

4: Make the Take-Home Message Persistent

A good rule of thumb is this: if you ask a member of the audience a week later about your presentation, he or she should be able to remember three points. If these are the key points you were trying to get across, you have done a good job. If they can remember any three points, but not the key points, then your emphasis was wrong. It is obvious what it means if they cannot recall three points!

5: Be Logical

Think of the presentation as a story. There is a logical flow—a clear beginning, middle, and an end. You set the stage (beginning), you tell the story (middle), and you have a big finish (the end) where the take-home message is clearly understood.

6: Treat the Floor as a Stage

Presentations should be entertaining, but do not overdo it and do know your limits. If you are not humorous by nature, do not try and be humorous. If you are not good at telling anecdotes, do not try and tell anecdotes, and so on. A good entertainer will captivate the audience and improve his or chances of following Rule 4.

7: Practice and Time Your Presentation

The more you practice, the less likely you will be to go off on tangents. The more presentations you give, the better you are going to get. An important talk should not be given for the first time to an audience of peers. You should have delivered it to your research collaborators who will be kinder and gentler but still point out obvious discrepancies. Even more important, when you give the presentation, stick to what you practice.

8: Use Visuals Sparingly but Effectively

If you have more than one visual for each minute you are talking, you have too many and you will run over time. Obviously some visuals are quick, others take time to get the message across. Avoid reading the visual unless you wish to emphasize the point explicitly. The visual should support what you are saying either for emphasis or with data to prove the verbal point. Finally, do not overload the visual. Make the points few and clear.

9: Review Audio and/or Video of Your

There is nothing more effective than listening to, or listening to and viewing, a presentation you have made. Seeing what is wrong is easy, correcting it the next time around is not. Work hard on breaking bad habits; it is important.

10: Provide Appropriate Acknowledgments

It is often appropriate to acknowledge people at the beginning or at the point of their contribution so that their contributions are very clear.