Guidelines to Preparing and Delivering an Oral Presentation


by I.D.M. Robertson, Perth Western Australia

Objective – simplicity essential

  • Your presentation should briefly summarize the essential points of your work, leaving just a few‘take-home’ messages. Your full scientific output will appear, in due course, in the GEEA issue, dedicated to the conference. Above all, keep your presentation simple.
  • Bring your presentation on a memory stick, preferably also backed up on a CD.
  • Avoid complex graphics requiring the need to use your own laptop computer for the presentation.  Swapping computers may cause a disaster or, at best, it is time-consuming, thus, unfair to other presenters, and is irritating to the listeners.

Structure, length and balance

  • A title slide, giving the title of the talk, the authorship (with the presenting author underlined), and any required logos or affiliations should start the presentation.
  • A brief introduction slide is essential, to set the scene and say why the work was done.
  • The main body of the talk should be illustrated by about as many slides as there are minutes allocated to your talk.
  • There should be a single slide of conclusions.
  • A slide of acknowledgements and/or contact details may be required or be appropriate.

Preparing the presentation

  • The slide text should match, in dot points, what you intend to say.  To expect listeners to read one story and listen to another is unfair and most distracting.
  • Use plain sans serif fonts, such as Arial, Helvetica or Swiss, throughout and avoidseriffonts, such as Times New Roman, Century or fancy fonts.  Serif fonts are designed for big blocks of text, which you should never use.
  • The minimum point size should be 18 point; don’t expect your listeners to read smaller text from the back of the room.
  • Use bold fonts.
  • Keep the number of words on a slide to the absolute minimum required to get your point across.  Do not put in huge paragraphs of text.
  • Adopt a layout theme of headings, fonts, background colours and text colours for your presentation and use it consistently throughout.  It is unnecessary to be restricted by those provided by the software package.  In some cases, a talk has been ‘cobbled’ together from several different sources.  Applying a standard format is well worth the effort.
  • Make good use of colour but avoid colour pairs that are easily confused by people who have colour vision deficiencies.  Approximately 7-10% of the population are red-green colour-blind and a disproportionately large part of these are geoscientists for some unknown reason, so this is avery importantconsideration.  Don’t use too many different colours - it can make a simple slide look confusing and complex.
  • Adding text to a graded background can present problems.  The colours and shades of the text can be severely limited, as it is difficult to achieve sufficient contrast between text and some parts of the background.  If the graded background is part of an organizations obligatory template, a way round is to set the text on a pale, pastel rectangle, so disabling the background, but leaving the required template as a frame.
  • Look critically at the balance of text and artwork in each slide and re-position or re-size the components until the result looks ‘right’ and all is clearly legible.
  • Strong but preferably incompletely saturated text colours on very light pastel backgrounds are the most effective.  Avoid white backgrounds, which tend to glare.  Also avoid black backgrounds, where possible, as switching from dark to light slides causes eye-strain.
  • Diagrams must be simple.  Diagrams and graphs imported from a document, and maps in particular, generally need substantial simplification of annotations and axes.  It is generally more meaningful with maps to delete the axis annotations and add in a simple scale bar and a north arrow.
  • Some software packages and platforms use fonts and symbols that may not be available on the projecting computer at the conference.  If in doubt, export these from your software package in bitmat format (.jpg, .tif or .bmp) and import them into Powerpoint as pictures.  Test your presentation on the conference facility well beforehand to detect any difficulties.
  • Avoid including references; these will come later in your written paper.
  • Do not use complex tables, as listeners will be unable to grasp them in the short time the slide is shown, and listen to you as well.
  • Review each slide critically and look for ways of shortening the text and simplifying the graphics.  However, donotuse abbreviations.
  • If you have access to professional drafting help, make use of it or, at least, request a senior colleague to have a critical look through your presentation.
  • Don’t put your presentation together at the last minute.  The evening before is a time to practice your delivery and ensure the timing is right, and isnota time to get your ideas together.
  • Simplify or avoid pompous words and phrases such as ‘methodology’ (method), ‘at this point in time’ (now) and other flowery and nonsensical creations of ‘management-speak’.
  • Do not write too close to the edge of the slide, leave a thin margin (5%) as some digital projectors crop the slide slightly.
  • Do not use gradational or fancy slide changes and text animations.  They waste time, are annoying and distracting.
  • Company logos are generally expected and even required.  That being the case, keep them as small as possible and preferably confined to the bottom of the bulk of your slides (or leave them off if the slide content becomes cramped).  Rightfully, logos should be prominent on the title and acknowledgement slides only.
  • Pictures and blocks of brief related text can be made more interesting or emphasised if placed in a coloured panel and then raised above the background by using a shadow.
  • Ensure pictures are large enough and have sufficient resolution for the audience to see the required detail.  Avoid obviously pixelated images.
  • If superscripts and/or subscripts are required, use them.
  • A dot point list of major conclusions makes an essential ending.  Conclusions should be restricted to a single slide and be short and punchy.
  • If you can leave your listeners remembering three important points at the end of your talk, you have achieved your objective.  If you expect to achieve more than this, you are very likely to fail.
  • Acknowledgements are often required, expected and politically advisable.  These are best shown at the end.
  • Above all, keep it simple.


  • If there is a fixed microphone, stay close to it and avoid turning away from it.  If a clip-on microphone is provided (preferable), position it so that it does not rub against clothing.
  • An even pace is important.  You should practice beforehand against a watch andnever everexceed the allotted time.  Leave time for discussion.  To exceed your time is unfair on the following speakers and to the chair of the session, who will be obliged to halt your presentation.
  • Keep your introduction to a minimum – just enough to set the scene.  Many speakers waste time on the introduction and end up rushing through the rest of the delivery and, particularly, the important conclusions.
  • Keep your delivery even and deliberate.  Do not try to cover more ground by speaking rapidly. If you have a few pictures, these can be displayed quite quickly but keep them on the screen for aminimumof five seconds each.
  • Enunciate each word clearly and completely, as some listeners may not have English as their first language.
  • If you prefer to write your talk and read it (some find this ensures an even pace and all necessary points are made) then write it in ‘spoken’ rather than in ‘formal’ English.  In this way the delivery is more natural.
  • Modulate your voice to emphasise points, and avoid a monotone at all costs.
  • Speak up, use the microphone and do not let your voice fall off at the end of sentences.
  • Avoid repeating unnecessary pause-filling words such as ‘er’, ‘right’ ‘OK’ etc.
  • Acknowledgements, though generally expected, should not necessarily be read out.  Just show them at the end, let the listeners read them if interested.  This gives you time to regain your breath, clear your mind and prepare for questions.
  • A ‘thank you for your attention’is a nice touch at the end of the acknowledgements.
  • Above all,let your enthusiasm for your subject show through.  In this way, defects in the delivery are readily overlooked!  Be animated in your delivery but don’t fidget.
  • Dealing with questions may be difficult, although they are generally few.  If you feel you have already covered a particular issue, a question may imply that you were not completely clear in the first place.  Feel free to ask someone else in the audience with more expertise to answer a difficult question or admit you don’t know.  It’s not an examination.