Information for presenters

No two presentations are exactly alike, and what works well in one instance may be unsuitable in another. Nevertheless, some general points can be made with respect to what constitutes a good seminar.

  1. The most common mistake made by a speaker is to assume that the audience has as detailed an understanding of the subject as does the speaker. This is only rarely the case. It is best to devote at least 5 minutes to fairly general background, explaining in particular what factors motivate the more specific research to be discussed thereafter. What is the big picture? Why should anyone care? What specific questions are to be addressed by the speaker's research?

  1. The second most common mistake is to assume that it is better to give a cursory overview of many results rather than a clear presentation of a subset of all that the speaker has accomplished. The motivation tends to be that speakers want to look as though they've accomplished a great deal, but the net result tends to be that no one in the audience has a clue what actually got done because insufficient time is devoted to any particular topic so as to make it comprehensible. Clarity is always preferred over quantity.

  1. To assist in fostering clarity, the density of information on a single slide should be such that it takes no more than 2 minutes to discuss it. This is obviously a rough guideline, since there are occasionally good reasons to violate this rule in either direction. However, if you need more than 2 minutes for a slide, chances are it is too dense in information, and the audience will be confused trying to follow your discussion. Consider breaking it into two or more slides or into a slide that "grows" (e.g., have information appear as you discuss it). You should aim for approximately 12-13 slides for a 20 minute talk.

  1. In choosing topics for slides, consider doing your conclusions first. Now, evaluate each possible slide based on whether it provides evidence that permits you to arrive at your conclusions. If no, discard it (even if it took you 6 months of work). Short talks need maximum focus.

  1. Text in a font size smaller than 16 is illegible to most of the audience. Be sure that everything is clearly readable on your screen.

  1. Avoid the impulse to animate, colorize, provide wild backgrounds, unless it clearly enhances the point that you are trying to make. Color can be very effective in highlighting small portions of an otherwise large graphic where the discussion will be focused. Animation can be useful in making 3-dimensional structures more comprehensible. Just remember that the science is the message.

  1. Practice your talk in front of a (virtual) audience at least once or twice, and do that only after having practiced alone to the point where you know what you want to say as each individual slide comes up. Practice speaking slowly if you tend to rush.

  1. Practice using your mouse cursor to point at things as you discuss them. Try and keep the cursor still instead of circling structures, for example, this can be distracting.

  1. Project confidence! Chances are, you know more about the subject you are presenting than anyone else in the audience. Open the audience's eyes. It's OK to be nervous, but focus on a measured pace and a clear voice to overcome any deleterious effects of nerves.

One of the major goals of the Graduate Student Research Symposium is to give students experience presenting their research. Presentation skills will be invaluable throughout your career. It doesn’t matter how great your research accomplishments are if you cannot communicate them in a clear and effective manner. The panel of judges will choose two presenters from their four sessions to receive a travel award, with eight awards total. The winners will be chosen considering the scientific content and communication effectiveness of the students.

Conflict of Interest 

Judges will be assigned such that they are not judging their own students.


Each winner will receive a certificate and travel award to be used to present the student’s research at a scientific meeting. Only third-year doctorate-candidate students are eligible for these awards.