20.109(S10):Guidelines for oral presentations

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20.109(S10): Laboratory Fundamentals of Biological Engineering

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Scientific data is communicated in many ways. Data can be shared informally through email with a collaborator or in lab group meetings. Data can also be formally communicated as publications in peer-reviewed journals or as hour-long seminars at international meetings. Successful scientific careers require both written and oral presentations, and scientific reputations are based on BOTH. It is important to know that every presentation, no matter how informal, will build or hurt your reputation.

Seminars, group meetings, ten-minute talks, and journal clubs are all ways scientists share data orally. While the content, length and purpose of each talk varies, they share certain common elements, including organization, clarity, and proper attribution for the work.

The oral presentations you will give in this class will be ten-minute talks. Your talks will include an introduction to the topic, a presentation of data, a summary and a time to answer questions from your classmates. Realistically, only two or three ideas can be effectively conveyed in so short a time, and even that will require that you carefully plan what you will say and then practice saying it. You are expected to rehearse and ultimately deliver your talk with a timer running, and to adjust your presentation as needed to stay within the allotted time. Fairness to your classmates demands that you respect the ten-minute time limit.

In addition to the advice below, you should also consult with Atissa Banuazizi.

Things to remember about giving your talk

  • A 10’ talk is NOT a 30’ talk given very fast
  • It will help if you memorize at least the first few sentences of your talk
  • Think of ways to transition from one slide to the next (“In the next slide I’ll show you some data that identifies the protein detected”)
  • Figure out how to work the lights, slide projector, curtains etc before you begin.
  • Keep the lights as bright as possible. If you have to turn the lights off for some image to be properly seen, then remember to turn the lights back on. People can and do fall asleep during dark seminars
  • Laser pointers or sticks should be used to direct attention to images on the screen. Be sure to always use a pointer with a specific purpose in mind, rather than constantly gesturing in the general vicinity of your slide; otherwise, the audience will not know what's important. Don’t aim your laser pointer at anyone since it can damage a person’s eyes.

How to deal with nerves

  • Consider it excitement and turn it into enthusiasm
  • Remember that even the most experienced speakers get nervous right before a talk
  • Speak in a louder voice
  • Don’t speak in a monotone
  • Do practice your talk, which will help eliminate crutch words such as “so,” “um,” and “like”


Section Minutes Number of slides Do Don't
Introduction ~2 2-3
  • Set the scene for the data you will present - introduce key concepts that the audience will need to follow along
  • At the beginning or end of the introduction, briefly state the overall scope and significance of the study - what is the central question and why is it interesting?
  • Try to summarize background material with a model slide
  • Assume you are addressing experts
  • Give more information than is absolutely needed to understand the rest of your talk
  • Put too much information on each slide. You can bring in a few details as you speak if you are using PowerPoint animation
Data ~7 4-6
  • Present the data in a logical sequence, letting each slide build upon the last
  • Include a title for each slide. The title should be the conclusion to be drawn
  • Make every element of your slide visible to the entire room. This means 20 point font or greater
  • Interpret each slide thoroughly and carefully
  • Point out strengths and weaknesses of the data along the way
  • Read your talk. Similarly, don’t read lists from slides
  • Put too much information on each slide. Each slide should make only one point
  • Ever say, “I know you can’t read this, but…” Everything on each slide should be legible.
  • Be afraid to remind audience how the data fits into the overall question
Summary ~1 1
  • Review each of your main “messages”
  • Say what the study contributed to the field
  • Forget to acknowledge all contributors
Question & Answer ? 0
  • Answer the question being asked. If you are unclear about the question, ask for clarification
  • Respect every question and questioner
  • Take too long with one question. If the topic is involved, suggest you meet after the talk to discuss it more


Find examples of talks here