Making Good Presentations

Brandeis generally emphasizes good presentation skills and rightfully so. It turns out that your data could solve the world's hunger problem, cure epilepsy and cancer, and provide me with an endless supply of ginger ice cream and 18-year old Talisker Talisker 57o North but I won't believe it or care about it unless I understand it. Therefore, good presentation of your data (and your experimental question!) is a critical skill.

Neuro journal club and Pizza Talk schedules and info are here, so you know when to start to panicking.

Jenn is happy to give you a slide-by-slide critique of your presentation, but bug anyone else you like too. This is one of those things it's good to get a lot of feedback on.

Tips for a talk:

    • The first thing out of your mouth should be something like "Hi, my name is ____, and I'm from the _____ lab." Smile, and make eye contact with the audience. Write down and memorize your first sentence and first transition. Practice it out loud so it flows off the tongue even if you're freaking out with stage fright.

    • Don't forget to give a good introduction. Pizza talks, for example, are across multiple disciplines: if you don't introduce your subject properly, you'll lose half your audience by the third slide. All that snoring and yawning will be distracting to you, so make an effort. Think of it as practice for convincing your really snooty aunt that you actually do something worthwhile, or for convincing senators and the NIH to give you grant money. Good introductions don't have to be long - 2-4 slides should be plenty for a Pizza talk. Journal clubs might vary more in how much background you give because you'll be talking in more detail.

    • Know your audience. Think hard about whether all your methods of analysis and terminology are familiar to the audience. If not, DEFINE THEM. Consider writing a list of keywords or acronyms out, and referencing them during the talk either on the whiteboard or (repeatedly) in your slides.

    • Practice your talk, out loud. If you have the guts to do it in front of your peers as practice, that's best - offer beer and/or snacks and you'll get enough of a crowd to help. If you can't bring yourself to do that (or if you are finishing your talk late the night before), then practice to yourself. You need to practice saying things out loud to discover avoidable tongue twisters, the best and shortest way of phrasing something, and most importantly, timing...

    • Everyone hates it when a talk goes over. Make it shorter and cleaner, and you'll have more time for questions, which is the most interesting part for both you and your audience.

Tips for presenting figures:

There are several steps that can act as a guideline to present any piece of data or figure. Here! Look at some data that I have completely made up about some fictitious experiments!

What to explain; (Examples); Comments

    1. The system or framework you're working in; ("These experiments were performed in awake, behaving, rats" OR "This is a cumulative distribution of spike rates, with time the animal was exposed to light on the X axis, and spike rate on the Y axis"); Please please please introduce your axes. Also, if there's a method or analysis that's unfamiliar to your audience, explain here both in print and out loud.

    2. The experiment or manipulation; ("The animals were dark reared for varying amounts of time during the critical period" OR "Control animals are plotted in black, with decreasing light exposure plotted in progressively lighter shades of green.); What are you changing? What's the fundamental difference? How should the audience read your figure to get the punchline? Keep this short, about 1-2 sentences.

    3. Data collection and results; ("Electrodes were then implanted in the cortex and the animals were allowed to wander around the enclosure during recording" OR "You can see that spike rate increases with decreasing light exposure during the critical period"); Depending on the type of data collected, a BRIEF explanation of method might be in order.

Notice that in the above examples, the first one is something from a methods/intro slide, and the second example is of actual data/figures. Use the same framework!


There are lots of resources online to help you make your presentations more accessible, entertaining, and informative.

Some favorites:

How to make color-blind friendly presentations. Includes illustrations of why you shouldn't use red and green for your images, and a tutorial on how to make your reds magenta. FYI: Our fearless leader, Steve, is red/green color-blind.

Tongue-in-cheek advice on how to make a poster that isn't awful. Check out suggestions for online beta-testing!

Amusingly enough, this site on 10 tips for scientific talks is poorly presented. Notice when you click here that you don't really want to read it through because it looks boring. But the content is great! See why presentation is important?

Very helpful lecture from Susan McConnell (Stanford) on designing effective scientific presentations. It's about 45 min, and she goes through how to make good slides (format, color, font, etc.) and also advice on structuring a talk.

Go here to pull the university seal, letterhead, etc.

Add more here as you find it/discover it for yourself!