Giving a Good Scientific Presentation

Prepared for the American Society of Primatologists by members of the ASP Education Committee:

Revised by: Brett Frye (2021)

Edited by: Corinna Ross, Sara Hankerson, Mitchell Irwin, Anita Stone, and Dee Higley (2007) Original Credit: Lynne Miller, Ann Weaver, Christine Johnson

This document has been compiled in hopes of providing some helpful guidelines on effective ways to present scientific information. It is aimed at improving the quality of presentation and is designed primarily for students who might be approaching their first professional conference, but other colleagues might also find the information useful for improving their own presentations. These guidelines assume that the audience will be composed primarily of other primatologists, rather than nonprofessionals. The tips we provide come mostly from our own experiences, our own likes and dislikes, and therefore should be taken as suggestions rather than ASP rules.

There are various reasons for attending a professional conference. One is to meet scientists whose research you are interested in and for those who have attended previously; it functions as a method to keep in touch with old friends and colleagues. Annual meetings give scientists the chance to share ideas on an informal basis (i.e., apart from published materials). We also make contact with new colleagues who might share our research interests, and this often leads us in new and fruitful directions. But one of the most important goals of a conference is to present your research. In the course of the conference, literally hundreds of papers and posters will be presented, and thus you must work hard to make your material stand out in the crowd.

This document outlines advise pertaining to the choice to either present your work via a poster or oral presentation. We then outline pointers for poster and oral presentations, respectively.

Oral presentations are challenging to design and execute effectively. One of the greatest obstacles is the strict time limit. For many sessions, each speaker is allowed just 15 minutes, which must include time for introduction and questions, leaving the speaker no more than 12 minutes to present the work. Therefore, oral presentations are appropriate when the research has a limited scope with clear and concise points to make. If the work is conceptually or methodologically complex, then a poster is probably a better way to go.

Many professors encourage students to offer a poster presentation, rather than an oral presentation, for their first time out. This is reasonable advice. If you suspect that you will be really nervous at your first meeting, and that there is some significant chance of your becoming catatonic, then presenting a poster might engender less trepidation.

The best reason for offering a poster has to do with the content of your presentation. If your materials (e.g., your methods or the results) are especially complicated, it may be a better idea to present them in a poster, where your colleagues will be able to take their time with the information and ask you questions at greater length. Likewise, if you are presenting something a bit esoteric (that is, more esoteric than primatology normally is), a poster might enable you to spend more time with the colleagues who are most interested in your field of research, rather than leaving you to speak to a room full of folks who don’t follow your work. Give these issues some thought before you submit your abstract to the program committee. In many cases, posters and papers are interchangeable, but there are also some good reasons for choosing to do a poster.

The best presentations make one or two limited points, loudly and clearly. You might have tested two or three closely related hypotheses, but they should all revolve around the same single point. If you find that your research has two or three broad research subjects, then plan to give separate presentations that allow time to develop and discuss the issues surrounding each subject.

We can’t help you in defining your central message, but we encourage you to spend some time thinking about it and putting it into words. Do your best to develop a summary of your work that you can state in 25 words or less, preferably words that real people use. For example, imagine you are on a plane on your way to the meeting, and you tell the person sitting next to you that you are a grad student at Primate U. He responds, “Oh, how interesting. What, exactly, do you study?” If you can answer that question in a short   and simple statement, in a language that the guy sardined in next to you will really understand, you are half-way there.

Once you know your central message, you need to decide on supporting information. The best presentations generally follow the guidelines of a published paper, with sections like Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion/Conclusions/Significance. However, you will have only a couple of minutes per section, or a few sentences on a poster, so you might have to run through that 25-words- or- less exercise for each part of your presentation. For each section, ask yourself, “What is my central message?” Here are some guidelines:

Introduction: This section should start with your general research objectives and a few words about the context of your work. You should make a clear statement of the hypotheses or predictions that you tested. Think ahead and ask yourself, how is this connected to the Discussion?  Does it tell your audience why you did this experiment or research?

Methods: Unless your material relates directly to methodology (e.g., a new way of collecting urine samples from uncooperative subjects), you should strive to keep your methods section brief. Don’t be so brief that we can’t figure out what you did, but do give some thought to what is really relevant to this particular presentation

Results: What did you find? Did your tests come out the way you expected? This section will be supported by graphics of your data and statistics. This section may be shorter than you first expect, and this is ok! The more concise and clear your results are, the more time you have to talk about their importance. And it is better to have quick results that are really important than lots of results that aren’t.

Discussion and Conclusions: This is a section that is often overlooked in oral presentations. Speakers run short of time and rush through this, the most crucial part of the talk. Don’t let this happen to you. Consider the major point that you want your audience to remember about your talk. Discuss not only what your results show but also why they are SIGNIFICANT (significant meaning important, not statistically significant). Demonstrate how your research relates to the larger picture or issues. Indicate why anyone should care about your findings. This will summarize your study and send the audience off on a high

note. In a poster presentation be prepared to address this issue, briefly in the poster and in greater depth when talking with your colleagues.

Acknowledgements and References: References are rarely provided in an oral presentation, unless the speaker cites direct quotes or seminal works. However, it is becoming increasingly common to acknowledge sources of support and research assistance at some point in the talk. In a poster these sections often appear in the lower right corner. We recommend citing just a few sources, focusing on those papers that are seminal in your field or particularly relevant to your research.

We strongly recommend that you look to your friends and colleagues for assistance. When you think you have got the content outlined, even in a rough form, try it out on your professor, your office mate, and your mother. If they get what you are trying to say, then you’re on the right track.

This is it. You have actually made it to the meeting. What now? When you arrive at the conference site, you will check in at the registration desk and, whether you’ve prepaid or registered on site, you will receive a packet of materials that includes (among other things) your nametag, a conference schedule, a set of abstracts of all presentations to be offered, and a map of the meeting rooms. We recommend that you immediately find the date, time, and location of your presentation. As soon as possible, visit the room where your session is to take place. There are more details in the following sections depending on whether you are giving a poster or oral presentation.

Part 4A. Preparing visual aids for an oral presentation

The main thing to keep in mind during an oral presentation is to remember your audience. This will be the first time that the audience has seen your talk, so you should give them time to digest all of the content. This means that you should allow enough time to clearly describe all the information on each of your slides. This section will focus primarily on producing a PowerPoint display, as these are the most commonly used visual aids at our meetings. The general rule of thumb is to devote approximately one minute to each slide. This is definitely a good starting point; however, some slides, e.g., Title Slide, will go faster, whereas others, e.g., Results, may take longer to fully explain. For a 15-minute talk (12 min presentation + 3 min Q&A), 15-20 slides are plenty. Otherwise, you risk going over your time allotment. 

Preparing a PowerPoint presentation can be very intimidating the first time, but with the knowledge of a few of the programs little tricks it can be the most versatile form of presenting a talk. First, we recommend you find a friend to show you the program if you’ve never used it before. However, if your entire lab is computer-phobic you’ll find the program is not hard to use especially if you have used other Microsoft programs before. When you open the program select New presentation, choose a blank presentation rather than a premade one, because these are made for the business world and aren’t great for scientific presentations. Then choose the first slide that you want (all text, text and a graphic, completely blank…). You can format the slides by choosing the Format option and choosing font, or background, etc.

Part 4B. Text slides

Text slides can be used effectively in a variety of ways. For example, you might start your talk with a title slide, which includes your name, your affiliation (e.g., your graduate program) and of course the title of your talk. A text slide is also a good way to list those people and institutions you wish to acknowledge.

Some colleagues suggest combining these two, so that your opening slide shows your title and name, and gets the acknowledgements out of the way, but be careful because you do not want too much text, even on the title slide. The audience will naturally try to read all the text on your slides. Don’t overwhelm them by talking about materials that is not outlined in your text.

Text slides can also provide visual support as you present your introductory material. For example, one slide might show “bullet statements” of your central research objectives. Another might list your specific hypotheses or test predictions. If you are going to review some of the general research context, you could provide an outline of the highlights. Some speakers feel the need to cite specific seminal works, or even a direct quote or two, and text slides are the best way to do this.

Text slides can be a good way to outline your research protocol. If you have specific methods of data collection that your audience needs to know, like behavioral categories or hormonal assays, try a text slide to summarize. You might return to text slides when you are recapping your research findings and stating their significance. Or you might want to close your presentation with that list of acknowledgments.

The key to doing text slides right is to remember “less is more” and “bigger is better.” You have to design your slides keeping in mind the folks sitting in the back of the auditorium. If your slides aren’t visible and legible, then you might as well leave them at home.

  • Use very few words. We recommend no more than six lines of type per slide, with at most seven words per line. Try translating statements into bullet statements or an outline. Keep the wording tight; use simple language, minimal jargon terminology, and short, uncomplicated sentences. Even removing small words can make a big difference (e.g., say “assay results” rather than “results of assays”). Remember that you will also be speaking to your audience. These slides are visual support of what you are saying, not a substitute for your oral presentation.
  • Choose the right font. Use a typeface that is easy to read, such as Times New Roman, Arial or Courier. If you are a Macintosh user avoid fonts that do not go across platforms, such as Helvetica.  Studies show that text written in all capital letters is hard to follow; it is better to use bold print than all caps. Use the same typeface throughout your presentation. We recommend using 1.5 spacing so that the lines are easier to follow. Then use a font that is about as large as the slide will accommodate, for example title lines size 44, major text 32, and minor text 24.
  • Choose the right color(s). We recommend using contrasting colors, light type on a dark background or vice versa, like white on cobalt blue, or dark green on a pale yellow. When in doubt, use a clean white background. Avoid red type – it looks good on your computer but is virtually impossible to read off of the slide screen. And at all costs avoid bright yellow as a background, it is blinding for everyone.
  •  Different colors can be used effectively to guide your audience through your text. For example, you might write the section headings (“Introduction,” “Methods,” “Conclusions”) at the top of your text slides in yellow, and then have your bullet statements in white below these headers. However, please don’t get too carried away with color. Also bear in mind that a significant proportion of your audience may be red- green colorblind, so avoid this color combination.

Part 4C. Graphic images

Graphic images can be helpful in your Introduction in the form of flow charts. If you are trying to summarize how several variables interact, then a good flow chart might be just the thing. The same might be true for your Methods section. Schematic diagrams might help to show a piece of equipment or the physiognomy of a forest.

Tables are really tricky. So many talks include a table full of tiny words and numbers that are impossible to read. This situation is hardly helped by the speaker’s noting, “I know this is hard to read…” or “I don’t expect you to read all of this…” Then why show it? If you must provide a table, keep it to no more than four columns and three lines – that is about as much as your audience is likely to digest. Another way of dealing with this is to highlight the column or row you are discussing at the time in each slide. Then the next slide would circle or highlight the next data point of interest.

Graphics are most important in the Results section. Effective graphs will clarify your findings at a glance. Poor graphs will leave your audience irretrievably confused.  Our first recommendation is that you limit   the amount of information that you put into each graph. You might be tempted to compile all of your data into one mega-histogram, with ten different variables for each of your sixteen individual subjects across three months of testing, all stacked up in various colors and elaborate shadings and splashed across three dimensions, but please take pity on your audience. Try to keep it simple. Let each graph make one specific point, and plan to put just one graph on each slide. Be sure to clearly state your axes when discussing each graph. Start to plan this part of your talk by thinking about what type of graph is best for the type of data you are presenting.

Bar graphs:

If you are comparing two or three subjects (or groups) for two or three variables (e.g., large groups vs. small groups for rest time, play time and feeding time), then a bar graph is great. A “stacked” bar graph is good if you have to express proportions of the whole (e.g., out of 10 trials, what proportion ended in success vs. failure, with “success” at the bottom of the bar and “failure” stacked on top, and a separate bar for each subject). If the total for each subject (or group) doesn’t add up to 100%, then it is better to put the variables side-by-side, with a cluster of bars for each subject. Think creatively about how to summarize your data so that you have just a few bars up on the screen at any one time.

Line graphs:

Line graphs are good for displaying change over time (e.g., how weight increased over the 12 months of testing). One line graph can accommodate several sets of data (e.g., how weight, time with mother, and time with peers changed over time), but too many lines can get confusing. Again, keep it simple. Three lines is probably the upper limit for any one graph.

Pie charts:

Pie charts are good for presenting proportions of the whole (e.g., a daily activity budget: the proportion of the day your subjects devoted to playing, foraging, resting, grooming, traveling, etc.). Two pie charts next   to one another allow you to make a comparison (e.g., the daily activity budgets of two or more groups). In this way, they are like stacked bar graphs.

Scatter charts:

Scatter charts are often good for presenting data that does not follow an overall trend, but for which the comparisons of points is interesting. If you are going to draw the listeners attention to certain points (e.g., the chemical makeup of a certain food source), then it is vitally important that you highlight that point in the chart for that moment of the talk and then add additional slides that draw the reader to each comparison that you are making verbally, rather than just having a splash of dots that the reader can’t differentiate and you waving at them with the laser pointer.

Use of color:

Color is very helpful in presenting your results. For example, three lines of color representing different measures will be far easier to follow than three lines that are all black and differentiated only by little squares or circles. So color is good, but use some restraint. Your computer might encourage you to assemble a graph with 13 different data sets, each in a different color, with colored titles and subtitles, colored axis titles, a very colorful legend, and a faint map of the world in the background. This might seem like a great way to capture your audience’s attention, but the final product will look like Walt Disney just hurled on the screen. Better to keep it simple.

Hopefully your data will be accommodated by two or three colors. Choose colors that are bold and clear, and use them consistently throughout. Thus, if one graph presents “success vs. failure” for one trial, and another graph “success vs. failure” for another trial, then keep using that same red vs. blue for all of these graphs. Skip to a different pair of colors if you move on to “male vs. female.” Follow the same rules for graphics as for text: be sure to use contrasting colors for the graphic and the background, and for titles, use a large font that is easy to read.

A few other considerations:

Many programs will put in statistical markers, such as standard error bars. These are helpful, but make sure they are easy to see (i.e., use a good color). You might also find it helpful to mark “statistically significant” findings with asterisks, or even to write your “p-values” right on your graphs.

Be sure to have all of your axes clearly labeled and a good legend in place, with a font that is large enough to read. Titles and subtitles should be brief but descriptive so that your reader knows immediately what this graph presents. Also be sure that the axes don’t fall too close to the boundaries of the slide. Too many talks have met with failure when the projected slide is smaller than the slide on the computer screen and all of the axes are chopped off. Always tell your audience what the axes represent. This simple task improves the audiences’ ability to interpret your findings.

Be sure to make as many images as you need. If your presentation demands that you show a certain graph, then move on to another point, but then come back to that graph, make two copies of that slide. Presentations that demand flipping back and forth through slides are distracting at best.

Part 4D. Other types of images

Photos can be used effectively throughout your presentation, not only to make your points, but also to break up the monotony of text and graphics, and to keep your audience’s attention. Who doesn’t like to see dazzling images of primates? You might use a great picture of your subjects in the Introduction of your talk, just as eye candy while you discuss your general research objectives.

Photos are also important in the Methods section; they inform your audience immediately about your subject species. You might also use photos to depict some new apparatus or to show your subjects in action with their joysticks. If you work in the field, photos of your site at different times of year might clarify a point about seasonal changes. Photos of your field assistants are also appreciated.

Photos enhance your presentation only if they are of high quality. Choose images that are clear (rather than out-of-focus), of good color and contrast (rather than too light or dark), and easy to make out (rather than where’s-the-monkey-in-this-picture?).

Part 4E. Building an oral presentation

Some tricks to PowerPoint:

  • Be creative and try new things, however, always remember to save your file before you push a new button to see what it does.
  • If you insert a duplicate slide you can get an exact copy of your slide. This option is nice if you have a list you are trying to present. You can change the font of the point you are trying to highlight on each individual slide to draw the reader to your point, without overwhelming them with a list.
  • You can duplicate graphs and add data points or lines of interest.
  • You can animate the slide to bring up one bullet at a time, however, be sure to turn all noise making animations off. There is nothing worse than giving your audience a heart attack as your point appears on the screen accompanied by the sound of an explosion.
  • You can import movies and vocals into the PowerPoint. We would caution you on this because there is no guarantee that the software you choose to make the film is on the computer at the meeting site.
  • If possible, try projecting your talk on a data projector while you practice. This is good for two reasons. First, it gets you used to standing in front of the “big screen”, and resisting the temptation to talk to the screen rather than the audience. Second, some colors look great on the computer screen but not so great when projected. This will give you a heads-up if you want to adjust the colors.
  • Always be careful when changing platforms (i.e., preparing your PowerPoint file on a Mac and presenting it on a PC). It is common for movies and even pictures to completely disappear. Be ready for problems – have backed up files and separately saved graphics files.

We encourage you to explore the options the computer gives you but also to remember that less is more.  Be aware that if you have a duplicated slide you may feel rushed during the presentation and breeze right past this slide without giving the listeners a chance to adjust.

We suggest you save your presentation on USB flash drive and on a cloud server. This way, you will be able to adjust your plan re. accessing the presentation if there are technology issues.

Also, it is VERY important that you avoid the greatest temptation that PowerPoint gives: the potential for procrastination. More than one primatologist has been caught putting the “finishing touches” on their presentation on their laptop in the plane, or worse in the session prior to theirs. Make sure you have everything ready before you go to the meeting. Although PowerPoint is flexible and can travel with you, there is no excuse for doing things last minute.  Plus, less time finishing your presentation equals more time free to socialize and meet other primatologists!

Part 4F. Preparing the verbal part of your talk

We have various recommendations about the content of your spoken presentation. First, be sure to leave the title slide up long enough for your audience to read it. Remember that the title slide puts your name in front of the audience, and that is very important. Think about a few words that you can say while that   slide is up, like acknowledging support, or introducing your research objectives.

There is a split decision on what to say during text slides. Some colleagues might recommend reading along, word for word, with your text slides. However, many others prefer an outline format on the screen while you provide a more complete verbal accompaniment. Do what feels natural for you. If you are planning to read the slide, try to read it verbatim rather than changing the wording, making it different from what is on the screen – that can throw off your audience.

Next, and really important, you MUST walk your audience through the graphs in your Results section. Even if you think that it’s the most straightforward bar graph in the world, remember that your audience is seeing it for the first time and is trying to digest it in about 15 seconds. Don’t make them work that hard.  As you put that image up, tell your audience what they are seeing (“This graph shows the food intake for monkeys in large and small groups.”). Clearly state your axes. Then walk them through the bars and lines (“The yellow bar is for the large groups…” “The white line is for juveniles”). And finally, make it clear how this fit into your presentation (“Thus, the data support the prediction that juveniles play more than adults, and indicate that play provides important experience for adult activities.”).

As you develop your presentation, keep reminding yourself that your audience will be listening to dozens of talks. Make yours as clear and dynamic as possible. Most people would agree that reading a paper is less dynamic than just speaking your way through your talk. However, many students are too nervous to wing it this way and therefore prefer to read the complete text. If you choose to read your presentation, try to make it as natural as possible. Write your text in short, uncomplicated sentences, using simple language and a minimum of jargon terminology. Address your audience as if they are intelligent laypersons, rather than experts in your subfield. Modulate your voice, striking a midpoint between a monotonic voice and a singsong voice. Try to look up and make eye contact frequently. Work hard to eliminate filler utterances such as “uh” or “um”.

Almost as important as the language you use is the speed at which you use it. Talking too quickly (either because you’re nervous or because you have too many slides) makes your talk hard to follow, and if the audience can’t understand the point of a slide before it’s gone it will lose interest quickly. Talking too slowly will make the audience’s mind wander and again, lose interest. The key is to practice and get used to a certain speed. For your first talks you can also write down “milestones” for yourself on your notes – e.g., Introduction 0:00, Methods 3:30, Results 5:00, … That way, if you are way ahead or behind, you can attempt to recover.

When you print out your text, be sure to use a very large font that you can follow even in a dim room. Go through and mark clearly where you should change slides. You might even consider using one page per slide rather than having a lot of text on each page, which increases your chances of losing your place as, for example, you glance between the slide screen and your text. PowerPoint allows you to print handouts or notes pages to go with your slides; this can be a great way of writing out what you want to say and having it directly attached to your slides. However, if you have the cute joke that you want to sound spontaneous, if you have it written in the notes of the program it is likely your audience will see it while  you are setting up or turning off your presentation.

Eventually, you might try going completely note-free, letting the slides themselves cue your speech. Thus, when the picture of the lemur feeding appears, then you know to say a few words about your subjects’ diet. This approach is often more engaging for the audience, and might even allow you to judge their response to the material, expanding (briefly) on topics that catch their attention and minimizing topics that are of less interest. However, to make this work, you must know your material really well, and have practically memorized the order of your slides. You must also be very careful about exceeding your time frame. This type of presentation has its risks but can make a very good impression if done well.

Most people would say that prepping for your talk is like getting to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice. You might start by practicing in front of the mirror. If you are planning to read your talk, read it straight through, out loud, in a slow, clear voice. Try to set up your practice sessions like the real thing. If you plan to use a laser pointer, practice with this, too. If you will be using a microphone, try to rehearse with some similar equipment so that you don’t feel awkward when you are giving your presentation. Time your talk so that you are sure that it fits into the allotted time frame. If it is too long, do not just try to talk faster – cut something out.

If you plan to use a laser pointer, practice with it – but use it minimally. Laser pointers can be great for picking out one or two important outliers in a scatterplot. But too many presenters use laser pointers unnecessarily, for example circling the four bullet points on a slide as you read them. At best, this is distracting, at worst annoying! Ask yourself: will using the laser pointer on this slide improve the audience’s understanding of it? If the answer is no, leave it on the podium!

After you have become comfortable with your talk – after you have timed it properly and worked out the rough spots in wording and such – then try it out on some other folks. You might start with your roommate, friends or family. If possible, get together a group of students and professors from your department. If your graduate program doesn’t already have a tradition of older grad students listening to younger grad students’ practice talks, start one! They can comment on all aspects of your presentation, including the content and the delivery. And again, try to do this early enough in the game that you will have time for the major revisions they might suggest.


Part 4G. At the meeting – prepping for your oral presentation

Walk up to the front and stand in the place where you will be standing to give your talk. Practice using the equipment. You might be in charge of a microphone, the computer, a laser pointer, and lighting. Learn how everything works before the moment of truth is upon you. If you are planning to read your talk, we recommend bringing along a small flashlight, just in case there is no light on the podium. Don’t overload yourself with gear, but do be prepared for emergencies.

The conference will also have arranged for a time and place to submit your PowerPoint presentation. Most PowerPoint presentations are needed at least 15 minutes prior to the beginning of your session. However, it is wise for you to check your presentation on their computers well in advance of your talk, in case you have to fix all of your symbols or reinstall your graphics. This is particularly important if you will be switching from a Mac to a PC, or vice versa.

When the day of your session arrives, get there early. Go on up and introduce yourself to the person chairing the session. Your first name isn’t listed on the program, but you would probably like to be introduced as Jane Smith rather than J. Smith. The chair might also have some information to pass along to you, like the mode of keeping time, or some change in the schedule. Sit someplace where you can get to the podium easily, rather than wasting time extracting yourself from the middle of the row. Then, take a deep breath, relax, and give the talk of your life!

Part 5A. Putting together the poster

This section makes more specific suggestions about the content of your poster. You must bear in mind, however, that each presentation is different and so the best approach will depend upon the material you are presenting. You will also be limited by the allotted space, which will vary from meeting to meeting. Be prepared to take these guidelines and modify them to meet your own unique needs.

There are many ways to construct a poster. We will discuss briefly one option, printing one large poster using a graphics program like PowerPoint. Be aware that the majority of posters being presented today are done using a graphics program, so a handmade “old” style poster (with lots of individual pages) may appear sloppy. Although everyone is supposed to be interested in the science presented rather than the appearance, no one will even look at the science if the poster doesn’t look like you put time and effort   into it. Most Universities now have the ability to print large posters on a single piece of photo quality   paper. Before you begin making your poster it is important to verify the size they are able to print. Most printers can handle a 40” width and a length of any size. Bear in mind the cost for printing and laminating may change the size capabilities. Places such as Kinko’s/FedEx also have the ability to print these posters, but the cost is much higher. Many companies also have the option of printing the poster in the city where the meeting is located or shipping the finished poster to that location. This alleviates the struggle of flying with a poster, however be aware that you are taking the risk of not seeing the product until you arrive at the meeting.

To start, choose a New file, when it asks which type of slide you would like the easiest to work with for a poster is a blank page. In order to build a poster of the correct size you can go to the File menu, under page setup, reformat the size of the poster according to the size allotment of the meeting site and your printer. We suggest a landscape layout rather than a vertical one. You can format the background for the poster by choosing the Format menu. We suggest a lightly colored background. Although PowerPoint allows you to place a photograph behind the poster these tend to be EXTREMELY distracting, and often appear very pixilated. We suggest you insert pictures elsewhere and keep the background a nice monochromatic color.

Your title can be inserted by choosing the text box option; we suggest at least an 80 font, centered on the poster. Most posters read best in three vertical columns reading from top to bottom. Typically Intro and Methods are on the left, the center holds the results and the right side contains Discussion/Conclusions   and Acknowledgements and References. Everything should appear balanced. The nice thing about PowerPoint is you can move things around and change font sizes in order to balance the poster. You can insert graphs made using other graphing programs, pictures and additional text all by clicking various options buttons. The best way to learn is to play. We suggest you save your file before you try a new button to prevent the frustrations of losing your poster or changing the entire format. The “undo” button may be the best option on PowerPoint.

Remember to focus on the science you are presenting and keep the wording short and SIMPLE!! An effective poster provides minimal text. We will make this point over and over again as we go along. You must be complete, so that a person can understand the project based solely on what is written, but you must be tremendously concise, for no one wants to read ten pages of text while there are still 100 other posters waiting to be seen.

Part 5B. Text

The most effective posters provide minimal text. (Didn’t we warn you that we’d be saying that a lot?) Few of your colleagues will have the patience to read through a lot of verbiage. Furthermore, most of your colleagues will be standing at a great distance from your poster, as they jockey for position to get a look at your work. Thus, the rules on text are “less is more” and “bigger is better”. A certain amount of text will be necessary, especially in the Introduction and Discussion sections. Here are some thoughts:

Use clear and simple language. Cut out the jargon as much as possible. Consider using “bullet statements” to make your points short and clear. For example, your Introduction section might consist of three “bullet statements” of your research objectives, as follows:

Research Objectives

This study sought to explore:

  • The effects of climate on food dispersion,
  • The influence of food dispersion on exposure to predators,
  • The relationship between group size and food intake.

You might then provide a more conventional paragraph on previous studies of this nature, but keep that sort of thing short. You’ve mainly included it to remind your reader that you are familiar with the related literature. Then this section might end with some bullet statements of your hypotheses:

Test Predictions:

  • Monkeys in larger groups will forage on the ground more than those in smaller groups.
  • Monkeys in larger groups will eat more than those in smaller groups.

Your Methods will also work well this way, as you bullet through subjects and protocol. Finally, do the same sort of thing for your Discussion sections, like this:


  • Monkeys in larger groups spent more time on the ground than did monkeys in smaller groups.
  • Monkeys in larger groups ate more than did monkeys in smaller groups.


  • Larger groups are willing to forage in “risky” areas that smaller groups avoid and thereby gain a foraging advantage.
  • These findings elucidate the causes of increased reproductive success for females in larger groups.

If these bullet statements are in big, bold letters, your audience will know within 60 seconds what you set out to do, how you did it, what you found, and how it fits in to the larger picture. That’s the kind of poster we like to see. You can use additional text to fill in a little detail, but remember that you will also be there to answer questions, so you might find that this outline format is all you need.


Choose a typeface that is easy to read, such as Times New Roman, Aerial or Courier. Use the same typeface throughout your poster. You will probably use a variety of font sizes. Your title and authors’ names, running along the top of your poster, should be huge, no less than 80 point. The title of each section of your paper should also be large, perhaps 60 point. Your bullet statements should really stand out, try 50 point or larger. Additional text should be no smaller than 24, but around 40-44 makes it very easy to read from a distance. You can get away with 18 for sections like Acknowledgements and References Cited, but don’t go any smaller than that.


In general, black type on white paper is best, though studies show that a cream-colored background is a bit easier on the eyes. Avoid using brightly colored background; we will be working color into your poster in other, more effective ways below. Using color in your text can be helpful when done right. For example, you might use red ink for your very most important points, like your research objectives, findings, and their significance. However, don’t go berserk with this. Too many colors get distracting.

Part 5C. Graphics

Graphics are most important in the Results section. A picture really can replace a lot of words (you know we’re in favor of that), and a good graph will be understood far more readily than a description of that same information. On the other hand, be careful about how much you pack into that graph. See notes in section on “ORAL PRESENTATIONS” (Part 4) for developing graphs.

You might consider putting a photo of yourself next to your name and the poster’s title, so that interested colleagues can easily locate you, this is especially useful at meetings where the posters are up prior to the actual poster session.

Part 5D. Another approach to poster organization

A great way to present a lot of your material in a relatively small amount of space is to exhibit the predictions and results together. This is in striking contrast to how we do things in a printed paper. There, you offer predictions in one area and the results sometime later. This leads to some redundancy that is ok in a published paper but undesirable in a poster.

For example: Prediction #1

  • Members of the large Group will maintain consistent food intake throughout the year, while members of the small Group will experience seasonal fluctuations in food intake.


  1. During the dry season, food intake was higher in the large Group than the small Group: 1800 cc/day> 1100 cc/day, t=24.33, p<0.001.
  • During the rainy season, food intake was lower in the large Group than the small Group: 1800 cc/day

<2700cc/day, t=1 8.33, p<0.001.

Figure 1: A two-color bar graph showing food intake for the large group and small group, wet season vs. dry season.

This format gives your reader all of the important stuff, from the prediction to the stats to the graphic display, all located together on your poster where it is easy to understand. You can use this routine for two or three predictions and thus exhibit graphically, with minimal text, the big points of your presentation.

Part 5E. A handout or QR code

We strongly recommend that you write up a brief hand-out to accompany your poster. You can bring this hand-out to the session or provide a QR code on your poster which folks can scan. This will allow you to provide a little more detail about your work and will also achieve the important goal of sending your audience away with your work and your name in hand (or in phone). The ideal handout is just one page, with all of the important points of your presentation in both text and graphics. An envelope of these can be attached to your poster display area so that your colleagues can easily collect them. PowerPoint allows you to print your poster fit to a normal page size and this is easily used as a handout. Attaching a business card with your contact info to the handout allows colleagues to walk away with all the information they need to contact you.

Part 5F. Presenting your poster

A poster session really serves multiple purposes. Your colleagues will come to see your work, of course, but these sessions also provide opportunities for social interaction that paper sessions don’t allow. Thus, you will be presenting your material in the midst of pandemonium as people elbow past one another toward friends or the hors-d’oeuvre table, voices rise in vain efforts to be heard over the crowd, and someone spills wine on your new suit. Think of it as a test, a trial by fermented grape.

You will be expected to stand next to your poster for approximately two hours, answering questions from those who stop to read your poster. You will literally be standing, so wear comfortable shoes. Your attire should be professional, but the ASP is also a fairly casual bunch so a full suit (men’s or women’s) isn’t really necessary. You aren’t being asked to testify before the Senate, but neither are you attending a frat party. Aim for something in between.

At the session itself, it is important to remember that YOU are on display as much as your work. You carefully constructed that poster to make your points in very few words; however, some people still won’t want to read through it themselves, and other folks will demand more detail than you provided. You must be well prepared to answer their questions. Spend a little time before the meetings refreshing your memory on the relevant literature, on the various methods your predecessors have used to test this hypothesis, on the statistical tests you used and why. Think about the best way to present the material verbally to compliment what you have printed up for your poster. Remember that 25-words-or-less shtick? You will really need it at your poster session. You will be asked the same questions over and over again, about what you were studying and why, about how to interpret this graph or that statistic, so be prepared to explain those things clearly, concisely and repeatedly. This may feel redundant for you, but remember that each of them is hearing it for the first time.

Part 5G. At the meeting – prepping for the poster session

Most poster sessions are held in large “ballrooms” or other such venues. Each poster is assigned a numbered display board. You may have gotten word in advance about the day of your poster session and what number is yours. If not, this information can be found in your registration materials. When the day   of your poster session arrives, go and put up your materials in a timely fashion. You will be wise to come to the meeting prepared for emergencies. Bring along pushpins AND duct tape. The ASP is great about providing information and assistance, but at future meetings you might not be so fortunate.

Remember that there may be folks out there who you’d really like to impress, even if you don’t recognize them. Don’t ignore someone who is standing at your poster, no matter how much you want to ask your friends about the restaurant they went to last night. Your job at the poster session is to present yourself   and your work to your academic community. Greet each newcomer with a confident “Hello” and offer to answer any questions that he or she might have. Be enthusiastic about your work and engage the audience but don’t be too pushy – if someone’s body language tells you they want to read the poster before talking to you, let them. Try not to get so engrossed with one visitor that you ignore the rest. And hang in there until the bitter end because you never know what might happen. It could be the last five minutes of the session, you are tired and ready for some dinner, and you really don’t feel like running through the entire spiel again. But the nondescript-looking guy in Levis and a cowboy shirt who straggled in just as you were about to start taking down your poster might be the one to offer you the postdoc of your dreams. Don’t blow it.

Remember that attending a conference is about more than just presenting your research. Don’t forget to have fun, too. Attending a conference can be one of the most beneficial career moves you make in a year, as you renew old contacts and get to know new colleagues. Don’t get so wrapped up in attending talks or reading posters that you miss meeting that professor you’ve always admired. Throw yourself into your own presentation but relax and enjoy yourself once it’s all over. Soon enough you’ll have to start preparing the talk for next year.