How to write and deliver effective oral presentations

Hello! Today I am back to my conference series for my first post of 2018. Last year was a really great year with HealthPsychTam and I want to take this opportunity to say a massive Thank You for the phenomenal support and feedback I received during 2017. I am excited for things to come and just hope that the final year of my PhD will allow me some time to pursue the ideas I have!


For now though, it’s time for the final post in my conference series. So far I’ve written a post to help with the decision of either a poster presentation or an oral presentation, and a post with all my top tips for creating and delivering a brilliant poster presentation. This one is about writing and delivering stellar oral presentations. It can be incredibly difficult to communicate your research, even more so when you are limited by time and perhaps the expertise of those in the audience. But this doesn’t mean you have to struggle with your presentations. Read on for tips that help me and also words of wisdom I have heard from others.

Getting started

Much like creating a poster, there are a number of important questions to ask yourself before you start to write the content for your oral presentation:

  1. Who are my audience? Do I need to provide a definitions for key terms or will they know them?
  2. What is my take home message? What should the audience go away with if nothing else?
  3. How do I want to structure the presentation?

Once you have a general idea of the answers to these questions you can begin to get started with creating your presentation.

Writing the presentation

Less is more. We’ve probably all had the joy of sitting in front of big chunks of black text on a white background whilst trying to stay focussed and engaged. Consider what your key points are going to be, summarise them into short snappy sentences or points – these can then become the content for your slides (if you choose to use them – you may not!).

Your content. The content on your slides should act as cues for you as a presenter, giving you a guide as to what to say next in order to tell your story to the audience. As such, these points might not make a huge amount of sense to your audience if they were to just read them and not have your explanation – this is not a bad thing, and in fact is quite ideal. Short points that grab attention and suggest what the greater point might be will keep your audience engaged, and will hopefully have them listening well to try and find out more about what you have said on your slides. Treat the content on your sliders as somewhat of a trailer or a ‘teaser’.

Be on point. Make sure that all the points you are making are relevant to your take home message. Consider this to be your anchor that keeps you grounded, on track and in the right place when it comes to your presentation – it can be very easy to present material because it is simply interesting rather than relevant, or to go off on a tangent!

Summarise! You may want to present some statistics and there may be members of your audience that will understand that, but be sure to also present a summary for those who may not be able to understand statistics or other types of data.

Guide your audience. A quick overview at the beginning of a presentation can help your audience to know what it coming. Equally, if you are covering particularly dense information or you are going to change direction within your presentation – you might want to consider a mid-way point summary. This can just be a few quick points of what you have covered so far, and then you can move on to the latter part of your presentation. This not only gives those who have been listening the opportunity to touch base, but also those who have become disengaged can use this point in the presentation to get back on board.

Finish strong. Write yourself a really good concluding statement – ideally the take home message which will leave a lasting impression on your audience.

Acknowledgements. Be sure to include acknowledgements at the end of your presentation – supervisors, mentors, funders and participants all deserve recognition. You may also be required by funders or research councils to display their logo or a statement regarding their financial contribution to the research.

Designing your presentation

Images. Using visual material is great on presentations if used sparingly and in a relevant manner. Graphs or tables may display data more effectively than a written sentence might, or vice versa. Here, it is important to consider your audience and what might suit them best. Be sure to check that images are royalty free and you can use them legally.

Slide design. Boring slides lead to boring audience members. There are plenty of amazing websites out there that provide fantastic slide designs. Google ‘free powerpoint templates’ and you will be inundated with options. Many provide a set of slides that can be used for different purposes, such as those that can be found here.

Delivering your presentation

Look and feel your best. I ensure that whenever I am presenting I am wearing something that I feel great in. I have a couple of trusty outfits that I can rely on. I really believe that when you feel good in your skin and what you are wearing you can increase you confidence. Find something that you feel confident, comfortable, empowered and good in – this will be different for everyone.

Practice. It is very important to run through your slides a few times before presenting, however ideally you do not want to over practice. When delivering a presentation it should ideally feel and sound like you are having a conversation with a colleague about your work rather than like you have learnt and are reciting a script. A lot of nerves come from fears of forgetting content – however if you have the right cues on your slides (as above) and you know your topic well, you should be able to present without cue cards or a script. I personally never write a script, because then it means I can actually ‘go wrong’. If I have a general idea of what I am going to say and those trusty cues to follow – I can’t really go wrong, because there is no ‘right’ that I am aiming for!

Body language. It can be a good idea to check out the room you will be presenting in so you can get a good feel for it. You might be stuck behind a lectern, you might have people sitting at the back who might not be able to see the bottom of your slides. Perhaps you have a light in your eyes or you don’t have a clicker and need to stay near the computer. All these things can help you be and feel prepared ahead of going up to actually present. This can also help in terms of body language, ideally you want to stand tall, with your shoulders back and your feet sturdy on the floor. A friend showed me an incredible Ted Talk about presenting and body language, by Deborah Francis-White – I would highly recommend it – you can check it out here.

Answering questions

Question time can be one of the most nerve-wracking parts of a presentation, nobody wants to spend 15 minutes presenting to then be asked a question they can’t answer. However, this is totally ok, even the best professors and presenters will be asked a question they either don’t know or cannot recall the answer to on the spot. The best thing to do, rather than blag it, is to simply say that you are unsure or that you don’t know. Nobody will judge you and it says absolutely nothing about you as a person. You can tell the audience member that you would be happy to look back over your research/literature and get in touch with them. You can also, after stating you don’t know the answer, bounce the question back to the audience and ask whether anybody else has any thoughts or opinions – sometimes there is someone dying to answer the question!

Consider what type of questions you might get before you do your presentation. This way you can be prepared for what might come your way. If you suspect a question to arise that requires a particularly complex or difficult answer, you may want to prepare some more slides at the end of your presentation so that you are able to give an effective answer. This usually gets good feedback from audience members too!

Ultimately, like a poster presentation, an oral presentation is an opportunity for you to show what you know about your research topic. You know your research best, believe it or not, and oral presentations enable you to share your passion in a way that is personal to you. You can add personal flare and you can deliver a presentation in a way that suits you. Being yourself will be a sure way to deliver a successful presentation as the audience will be able to connect with you and will feel at ease. Try to enjoy it!

Until next time 🙂

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