Things to keep in mind when preparing a talk:

1. "Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly" Gypsy Rose Lee. Time is short. This does not mean you must hurry through your talk. Instead prune your material to the essentials. On average you should have no more than 1 slides per minute. Few will complain if your talk ends early. That is not the case if your talk goes too long.

2. Keep things simple. One rarely hears talks that are too simple. Talks that are too complex are common. Do not expect your audience to remember more than a few take home messages. Avoid jargon and abbreviations that are particular to your sub-field. Even if you define this jargon in a previous slide, you will be surprised how many listeners will have missed or forgotten them.

3. Each slide should tell a unified story/theme.
  • Avoid separate slides of text and figures. Instead combine them.
  • Put the theme on the top, a short list of facts to one side, and the figure on the other. This short list will help guide you during your talk. It will also help those in your audience who may not have heard or understood what you said. This is particularly useful if English is not your first language or that of some of your audience.
  • Avoid long lists of text.

4. There is no time in a talk for an extensive methods section. Mention only the essentials that you need to make the data understandable. You will be surprised how quickly a methods section is forgotten. In a paper the reader can flip back to be reminded. In a talk the listener cannot. A good way of avoid this is to intersperse the essentials methods just before the related data.

5. Repeat without seeming to repeat. A talk is like a string of Christmas tree lights. If someone misses one, the effect of the rest is lost. Repeat the essential facts throughout your talk. Remind the listener what the essential terms mean.

6. Being nervous is normal. Not being nervous is trouble.

7. Be honest. If something in the data puzzles you say so (but perhaps not too often). There are three types of people in the world.

  1. Those who know (a very rare breed).
  2. Those who know they don't know.
  3. Those who don't know they don't know.

At the very least, you will be moving up to category 2.


Copyright 1995
Tutis Vilis
Department of Physiology and Pharmacology
University of Western Ontario
London Ontario Canada

Created 28 Sept 1995
Last updated 10 January 2007
Comments welcome: tutis.vilis@schulich.uwo.ca