How to prepare a good talk

Thoughts about talks

by Hazel Sive

Communication is an essential part of research. Here are some thoughts
to help you prepare good talks.

General thoughts:

  • Divide your talk into background and specific science
  • The goal is to keep your audience with you throughout the talk
  • Know your audience:
    • what is their level of expertise (usually lower than you think)


  • Should be AT LEAST 1/4 - 1/3 of your talk (I would go for the 1/3)
  • State your question:
    • build up from the general big question to your specific question
  • Don't assume your audience is informed


  • State your specific question
  • Try to break it into sub-questions
  • Very helpful to have a topics slide that lists the topics you'll cover

    For example:

    - Introduction
    - Gene Isolation
    - Opl and neurogenesis

    Keep coming back to this, highlighting each line to indicate where you are in the talk

  • Put in summary slides along the way:
    • it can be helpful to keep showing the same summary slide,
      building it up along the way
  • Can be helpful and interesting to pose questions

Slide-making tips:

  • Have a slide for every point
  • Don't talk about anything that's not on a slide
  • Talk for 1 minute AT MOST about 1 slide
  • Have a heading on every slide, explaining the point of the slide
  • Label slides well:

    For example:

    - you should not have to describe where A and P are
    - Or whether it's a dorsal view
    - Or which color shows which gene in an in situ

  • Fill the frame with your data
  • The heading should be no wider than your data
  • Fonts should be no smaller than 24 throughout (18 if essential)
  • Headings should be one or two sizes larger than your labels, not more
  • When you have your potential slides:
    • view them on the slide sorter function of powerpoint
    • they should be varied for interest

      For example:

      - not all white background
      - not all in situs, or autorads


  • Talk slowly and clearly
  • Look at your audience
  • Make eye contact
  • Try not to ummm
  • Be enthusiastic
  • At the beginning, invite your audience to interrupt
  • Try not to say "just want to show this..."
    • if it is worth showing, show it without apology

Before your talk:

  • Practice, practice, practice
    • preferably in front of an audience and get criticism
  • Practice with your slides, standing up
    • it is a cardinal sin to go over time
    • your talk should be 5-10 mins less than the scheduled time to allow questions
  • Think about the logic of your talk
    • it may make sense to present things
      • in the order in which you did them
      • it may be better to change the chronology
    • try a few arrangements


Go get 'em!!!