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Conference Presentations. Dr. Steve Wallace. Introduction. Teach at NCTU, NTHU and ITRI technical writing teacher and editor- Watched rejection Written 13 textbooks used in 28 universities 華樂絲學術英文編修. The person who presents the research gets the credit.

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Conference presentations

Conference Presentations

Dr. Steve Wallace



  • Teach at NCTU, NTHU and ITRI technical writing teacher and editor- Watched rejection

  • Written 13 textbooks used in 28 universities

  • 華樂絲學術英文編修

The person who presents the research gets the credit

The person who presents the research gets the credit

  • Paul Chu: first superconductor with a boiling point above liquid nitrogen

  • Maw-Kuen Wu and Jim Ashburn declined to speak and are not remembered

The presenter gets the credit

The presenter gets the credit

Zhengzhi Sheng, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Arkansas, discovered another superconductor at an even higher temperature.

Because Sheng was not a good speaker, the department chair, Allen Hermann, spoke at the press conference. Although Hermann repeatedly acknowledged the contribution of Sheng, Hermann was the one who received most of the credit.

Bad conference presentations

Bad conference presentations

  • You’ve seen poor conference presentations

  • The speaker:

  • Sits

  • Reads

  • Speaks in a dead, low voice

  • Uses sentences which are long and complex

  • Uses technical words and phrases.

  • Emphasizes complicated details

  • Runs out of time

Principles of effective conference presentations

Principles of effective conference presentations

  • Talk, instead to reading

  • Stand up

  • Move around

  • Make eye contact with your audience

  • Don’t only look at one side of the room

  • Imitate excellent speakers

  • An effective talk must do two things:

    • Persuade you audience with evidence

    • Be interesting and entertaining.

Why do smart people give poor talks

Why do smart people give poor talks?

  • Poor speaking is a reaction to fear.

  • Presentations are not journal articles. They're a completely different communication, and they require different skills.

Bohr vs nusslein volhard

Bohr vs. Nusslein-Volhard


“Whereas Einstein tried to grasp a hidden essence by disregarding anything he thought irrelevant, Bohr insisted that nothing be left out.” – Edward MacKinnon

“Bohr was much worse. His failing was that he used too many words to express any idea, wandering about as he spoke, often inaudibly.” – Sir Mark Oliphant


Scope moves from simple to specific

Simple short sentences

Bohr s nobel prize acceptance speech

Bohr’s Nobel prize acceptance speech

“Today, as a consequence of the great honor the Swedish Academy of Sciences has done me in awarding me this year’s Nobel Prize for Physics for my work on the structure of the atom, it is my duty to give an account of the results of this work, and I think that I shall be acting in accordance with the traditions of the Nobel Foundation if I give this report in the form of a survey of the development which has taken place in the last few years within the field of physics to which this work belongs.”

Nies bohr nobel prize acceptance

Nies Bohr: Nobel prize acceptance

  • “The present state of atomic theory is characterized by the fact that we not only believe the existence of atoms to be proved beyond a doubt, but also we even believe that we have an intimate knowledge of the constituents of the individual atoms. I cannot on this occasion give a survey of the scientific developments that have led to this result—I will only recall the discovery of the electron toward the close of the last century, which furnished the direct verification and led to the conclusive formulation of the conception of the atomic nature of electricity which had evolved since the discovery by Faraday of the fundamental laws of electrochemical theory, and its greatest triumph in the electrolytic dissociation theory of Arrhenius.”

Einstein on bohr

Einstein on Bohr

Bohr stated “his opinions like one perpetually groping and never like one who believes himself to be in possession of definite truth.”

Christine nusslein volhard

Christine Nusslein-Volhard

  • In the life of animals, complex forms alternate with simple ones. An individual develops from a simple one-celled egg that bears no resemblance on the complex structure and pattern displayed in the juvenile and adult form. The process of embryonic development with its highly ordered increase in complexity accompanied by perfect reproducibitiy, is controlled by a subset of the animal genes. Animals have a large number of genes. The exact number is not known for any multicellular organism, nor is it known how many and which are required for the development of complexity, pattern, and shape during embryogenesis. To identify these genes and to understand their functions is a major issue in biological research.

Scientific presenters

Scientific presenters

  • Successful scientific presenters

    • Ludwig Boltzmann

    • Albert Einstein

    • Richard Feynman

    • Rita Levi-Montalcini

    • Linus Pauling

  • Became strong presenters later in their careers

    • Heinrich Hertz,

    • J. Robert Oppenheimer

    • Chien-Shiung Wu

  • Rise above those obstacles to make successful presentations

    • Marie Curie

Michael faraday on presenting

Michael Faraday on presenting

“[Lectures] depend entirely for their value on the manner in which they are given. It is not the matter, not the subject, so much as the man.”

Scientists who used analogies examples and stories

Scientists who used analogies, examples, and stories

Otto Frisch when describing the size of a nucleus: “If an atom were enlarged to the size of a bus, the nucleus would be like the dot on this i.”

Einstein used the analogy of “shooting sparrows in the dark”7 to describe the likelihood of producing nuclear energy with alpha particles striking nitrogen nuclei.

Fred Soechting when describing his work with turbine blades in gas turbine engines: “The amount of power produced by a single gas turbine blade equals that of a Masarati sports car.”8

Issac asimov on linus pauling

Issac Asimov on Linus Pauling

“On March 21, 1949, I attended a lecture given by Linus Pauling.... That talk was the best talk by anyone on any subject that I had ever heard…. The talk was more than a talk to me. It filled me with a desire of my own to become a speaker.”

James watson on pauling s presentations

James Watson on Pauling’s presentations

“Pauling’s talk was made with his usual dramatic flair. The words came out as if he had been in show business all his life. A curtain kept his model hidden until near the end of his lecture, when he proudly unveiled his latest creation. Then, with his eyes twinkling, Linus explained the specific characteristics that made his model—the α-helix—uniquely beautiful…. Even if he were to say nonsense, his mesmerized students would never know because of his unquenchable self-confidence.”

David l goodstein on robert feynman

David L. Goodstein on Robert Feynman

“[Feynman] absolutely riveted the attention of everyone in the room for the entire time he was there. His need to do that helps explain some of the racy stories he liked to tell about himself, but it also lies close to the core of what made him a great teacher. For Feynman, the lecture hall was a theater, and the lecturer a performer, responsible for providing drama and fireworks as well as facts and figures. This was true regardless of his audience, whether he was talking to undergraduates or graduate students, to his colleagues or the general public.”

Professor david goodstein on robert feynman

Professor David Goodstein on Robert Feynman

“But even when he thought he was explaining things lucidly to freshmen or sophomores, it was not always really they who benefited most from what he was doing. It was more often us, scientists, physicists, professors, who would be the main beneficiaries of his magnificent achievement, which was nothing less than to see all of physics with fresh new eyes.”

Oppenheimer s early lectures

Oppenheimer’s early lectures

Consider J. Robert Oppenheimer’s early lectures given at California-Berkeley in 1929. Only twenty-five years old, but already well known for his work on the quantum theory, Oppenheimer began his teaching that first semester with a class full of eager graduate students.

Halfway through the semester, though, the number of students registered for his course had dropped to one.

Daniel j kelves on robert oppenheimer

Daniel J. Kelves on Robert Oppenheimer

“Desperately eager to reach his students, his sensitivities sharpened by his own past difficulties, Oppenheimer made it a point to pay as much attention to the troubles of his charges as to the intricacies of his subject. His language evolved into an oddly eloquent mixture of erudite phrases and pithy slang, and he learned to exploit the extraordinary talent for elucidating complex technical matters.”

Result of oppenheimer s practice

Result of Oppenheimer’s practice

Later students found him to be “the most stimulating lecturer they had experienced.”

Nobel prize winner hans bethe about oppenheimer

Nobel Prize winner Hans BetheaboutOppenheimer

  • “Probably the most important ingredient Oppenheimer brought to his teaching was his exquisite taste. He always knew what were the important problems, as shown by his choice of subjects. He truly lived with those problems, struggling for a solution, and he communicated his concern to the group.”

Lise meitner on ludwig boltzmann the developer of the statistical treatment of atoms

Lise Meitner on Ludwig Boltzmann (the developer of the statistical treatment of atoms)

“Boltzmann had no inhibitions whatsoever about showing his enthusiasm when he spoke, and this naturally carried his listeners along. He was fond of introducing remarks of an entirely personal character into his lectures.”

Lise meitner on ludwig bolzmann

Lise Meitner on Ludwig Bolzmann

“[The lecturing of Boltzmann] was the most beautiful and stimulating thing I have ever heard.... He was so enthusiastic about everything he taught us that one left every lecture with the feeling that a completely new and wonderful world had been revealed.”

Eve curie on her mother marie curie

Eve Curie on her mother Marie Curie

“On Monday and Wednesday, my mother was nervous and agitated from the time she got up. At five o’clock on these days she lectured. After lunch she shut herself into her study in the Quai de Béthune, prepared the lesson, and wrote the heads of chapters of her lecture on a piece of white paper. Towards half-past four she would go to the laboratory and isolate herself in a little rest room. She was tense, anxious, unapproachable. Marie had been teaching for twenty-five years; yet every time she had to appear in the little amphitheater before twenty or thirty pupils who rose in unison at her entrance she unquestionably had “stage fright.”

10 tips to develop confidence in conference presentations

10 tips to develop confidence in conference presentations

  • Expect to be nervous

  • Prepare

  • Practice

  • Breathe

  • Rehearse

  • Focus on your audience

  • Simplify

  • Picture success

  • Connect with your audience

  • Pretend to be confident

Voice quality

Voice quality

  • You should vary your voice, so it can be more interesting for your audience. You can vary your voice in at least three ways:

    • speed: Speak at a normal speed, faster, more slowly, and you can stop completely! You can also pause to get your audience's attention.

    • tone: Change the pitch of your voice. Speak in a high tone or speak in a low tone.

    • volume: you can speak at a normal volume, loudly and you can speak quietly. Lowering your voice and speaking quietly can attract your audience's interest.

  • The important point is not to speak in the same, flat voice throughout your presentation. This will put your audience to sleep.

Think about your audience

Think about your audience

  • Most audiences should be targeted in layers:

    • some are experts in your specific area,

    • some are experts in the general area

    • others know little or nothing.

  • Who is most important to you? Can you still leave others with something? For example, target the body to experts, but make the prediction and summary to everybody.

Conference presentations

Timeline showing presenter reaching multiple audiences by beginning at surface of the topic, diving into a subject, and then surfacing to gather entire audience.

Have a timing device

Have a timing device

  • Use a watch or cell phone with a timing function.

  • PowerPoint’s “Presenter Tools” has a stopwatch. The problem is remembering to start the stopwatch at the beginning of your talk.

  • Develop your sense of timing by always using the same slide format.

  • Decide in advance which slides you can skip

  • As a beginning speaker, don’t leave your outline

    • Don’ttry to do something unplanned during a talk.

    • Practice telling a joke or a story and make your audience think you just thought of it

A short conference talk outline

A short conference talk outline

Title/author/university (1 slide)

Abstract (1 slide) -Give the basic problem and answer.

Outline (1 slide) -Give the talk structure.

Motivation and Problem Statement (1-2 slides) -Why does anyone care?

Related Work (0-1 slides) -Talk briefly about this, or you can eliminate this section and refer people to your paper.

Methods (1 slide) -Cover quickly in short talks and refer people to your paper.

Results (4-6 slides) -Present key results with implications. This is the main body of the talk. Do not cover all the results. Cover the key result well.

Summary (1 slide)

Future Work (0-1 slides)

Backup Slides (0-3 slides)

Using quotes in your speech

Using quotes in your speech

If you quote another source, pause and indicate the quote by saying "quote . . . . . end quote."

Don't use long quotes or quote too much material. Your audience wants your ideas, not what you have found from others.

If it is necessary to include long quotes, give the audience a handout

Read the speech out loud as you revise.

Be careful criticizing other scholars.

Using powerpoint at conferences

Using PowerPoint at Conferences

Slides should be short

Slides Should be Short

Slides help you, and your audience, follow the flow of the talk.

Not too full: 6 lines of text per slide is enough; 9 lines is a lot; 12 lines is unreadable.

Bullet points should be a few words, not complete sentences.

If you need more space, use more slides.

Use big type

Use Big Type

Change the font size in the Preferences of the browser, when using a web presentation.

Determining font size

Determining Font Size

Your audience may be look at the screen from 70 feet away.

Fonts should be 24 points or larger

Choosing a font

Choosing a Font

From a distance, you’ll notice that the serif (Times) font and the ‘narrow’ or condensed font are more difficult to read.Don’t sacrifice readability for style. Your job is to communicate.

Conference presentations

  • Choosing a color

    • Yellow with black letters is considered the most readable.

  • Color blindness

    • Unwanted light affects color contrast by turning dark reds and greens much lighter.

    • About 10% of people have difficulty with reds and greens.

  • Use contrasting colors

    • A dark background with light text is easily readable

    • Use drop shadows

    • Avoid busy backgrounds

    • Avoid using red text


Choose white or light colored slide backgrounds

Choose White or Light Colored Slide Backgrounds

Dark text on light colored slides can usually be read with lights on.

Avoid dark images that won’t show up well on a screen.

Be aware that sunlight shining directly on your screen will make it less visible.

Presenting with charts

Presenting with Charts

  • Simplify charts

    • Changing the chart format

    • How do you know when to use which chart? That depends on how well you’ve stated the message.

    • Your heading should always tell people what you want them to look for on a chart.

  • Choosing the chart

    • Once you have an action statement as a heading, look at the verbs in the statement to get an idea of the best chart to use to present your data.

Conference presentations

→ Showing Change Over Time

Line chart

  • Look for a key word

    • Grow

    • Decline

    • Trends

  • Line charts are best when a variable has more than four or five data point.

  • The slope of the line quickly tells the audience the direction of the trends.

Conference presentations

→ Comparing Items at One Point in Time

Bar chart

  • Look for a key word

    • Ranks

    • Compares

    • Highest profit

    • The lowest interest rate

    • The most products sold

    • Rank variables from largest to smallest

  • Bar charts are often the best way to compare a set of individual items or several sets of related items.

  • The bar’s length corresponds to its ranking; the bar’s label identifies the item.

Comparing parts of a whole

→ Comparing Parts of a Whole

Pie chart

  • Look for key words

    • Percentage

    • Portion

    • Share

  • The number of pie slices should not be more than five, and each slice should be easy to see and interpret.

Comparing data by geographic location

→ Comparing Data by Geographic Location

Segmented bar chart

  • Look for key words

    • Country

    • Area

  • Distinguish among regions by using different colors, shadings, or symbols.

Don t get too technical

Don’t Get too Technical

The more advanced the technology, the more likely there are to be “technical problems.” Speakers often come in at the last minute and are completely destroyed when their equipment doesn’t work. It creates panic for everyone. Always send a copy of your presentation to the conference office in advance so it can be loaded and tested.

Don t apologize for errors

Don’t Apologize for Errors

Don’t apologize for poor English speaking, it wastes time and adds no value to your talk. Don’t comment on spelling, grammatical, or other mechanical errors in your presentation. Most of the audience won’t notice unless you apologize.

Buy a laser pointer and wireless mouse

Buy a Laser Pointer and Wireless Mouse

They are inexpensive, and are extremely useful. It is helpful to be able to change pages from across the room and point out key graphs and charts.

The last thing on your powerpoint

The Last Thing on Your PowerPoint

At the end of your presentation while answering questions, leave up a contact info slide containing your name, e-mail, address, and website URL related to the talk if you have one.

Handling q a

Handling Q&A

Why are questions and answers important

Why Are Questions and Answers Important?

  • Questions and answers are important for several reasons:

    • Get attention

    • Create interest

    • Get feedback

    • Make points easy to remember

    • Create audience interaction

    • Promote new thoughts

  • To get comfortable with Q&A sessions and questions, start asking questions throughout your presentations.

Before the presentation

Before the Presentation

Prepare for criticism by telling your ideas to a critical friend.

Bring a list of references when answering questions.

Take notes of questions and suggestions.

Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know the answer to a particular question.

If you are using slides, save several slides and use them to answer expected questions.

At the end of the presentation

At the End of the Presentation

  • There are two endings to a presentation with a final Q&A session.


    “At this point, I want to get your opinion on this approach. This side of the room first.”

  • The second close is after the questions to summarize the main points of your presentation.


    “As you can see from the questions and comments, this topic is confusing and we don’t have all the answers but here is what you can do for now...”

After the presentation

After the Presentation

Sometimes question time is so exciting that you can’t answer all the questions with the time you have. Tell people ways to contact you and when and how you will respond. Think of ways to share these questions and answers with all members of the audience through an e-mail list or Website.

12 ways to encourage audience questions

12 Ways to Encourage Audience Questions

  • 1. Announce the question session in an open,

    conversational way.

  • 2. Design questions into your content and delivery:

    • Title: Why Knowledge Management? —and Why Now?

    • Opening: What is the biggest problem facing researchers today?

    • Content:“My presentation is about four key questions.”

    • Ending: Considering these facts, how can you not act?  

Conference presentations

3. Ask a question, pause and then give the answer yourself.

4. Bring up questions you have been asked by other audience.

5. Let the audience know in the beginning there is a Q&A session, and “when” it is and “how long” it is.

6. Provide a seating arrangement where the audience can see each other.

7. List questions in the presentation announcement or brochure.

8. Provide a white board for the audience to write a question at any time. Start your Q&A session by answering these questions.

Conference presentations

9. Pass out paper for the audience to submit their questions. They may forget what they were going to ask earlier. This is often used at public meetings and when the audience is large.

10. Don’t ask for feedback and then start to pack up your laptop or your notes. This sends the clear signal that you are done and ready to go.

11. Arrange for someone in the audience to ask the first question to start the process.

12. Ask yourself what questions you hope no one asks and then prepare to answer them.

Why do people ask questions

Why Do People Ask Questions?

  • Because they want to know the answer

  • Because they want to make a point

  • To impress the audience

  • To see if you know the answer

  • To see how you handle questions and the stress

  • To attack your methodology

  • To make you look bad (for example, if they are competing with you for a job)

  • Some ask questions that are in fact a personal attack (but not often)

3 step template for answering questions

3 Step Template for Answering Questions

1. Listen to the entire question before you


2. Thank each person for asking the question.

3. Then follow the template below.


What if you don t know the answer

What If You Don’t Know the Answer?

  • Suggest someone in the audience more qualified answer the question. “Professor M. has studied this extensively.”

  • Delay, “That’s a good question...”

  • Ask a question: “Can you clarify what you mean?”

  • Admit you don’t know but will research it for them.

  • Repeat the question in a different way: “Is this what you are asking?” [Then say a question you can answer]

  • If you don’t have a good answer after these delaying tactics, say: “Let’s talk about that after my talk.”

What if you don t understand the question because of the speaker s poor english

What If You Don’t Understand the Question Because of the Speaker’s Poor English?

If you don’t understand the English, ask the speaker to repeat the question.

If the questioner still asks and you still don’t understand, say, “Great question, but it quite specific to your field and does not concern everyone here, see me after the talk and we can go into more detail about it.”

Quickly move to another question or conclude your session.

What if someone keeps interrupting you while you are talking

What If Someone Keeps Interrupting You While You Are Talking?

If it’s just a clarifying question and it’s short, answer it and keep speaking.

If somebody keeps making long, loud comments, or begins to argue with you in the middle of your talk. This can be very stressful, especially if you are a grad student or new professor.

Remain after your presentation session

Remain After Your Presentation Session

Be available to answer additional questions if you can.

Make notes about the questions, suggestions, new thoughts you can use these comments to improve a paper for publication and your reviewers may be in the audience.



Isaac Asimov, Foreword to Linus Pauling: A Man and His Science, Anthony Serafini (San Jose: to Excel, 2000), p. xiv.

Michael White and John Gribbin, Einstein: A Life in Science (New York: Penguin, 1995), pp. 164–165.

Ruth Sime, Lise Meitner: A Life in Physics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), pp. 96–97.

D.H. Frisch, private communication to Abraham Pais, “Reminiscences from the Postwar Years,” Niels Bohr: A Centenary Volume, ed. by A.P. French and P.J. Kennedy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985), p. 247.

Richard P. Feynman, “Surely, You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” (New York: Norton & Company, 1985), p. 166.

Michael Faraday, letter to Benjamin Abbott on 11 June 1813, The Selected Correspondence of Michael Faraday, ed. by L.P. Williams, R. Fitzgerald, and O. Stallybrass (Cambridge: Cambridge, 1971), pp. 60–61.

Lise Meitner, “Looking Back,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, vol. 20 (November 1964), pp. 2–7.

David L. Goodstein, “Richard P. Feynman, Teacher,” “Most of the Good Stuff”: Memories of Richard Feynman, ed. by Laurie M. Brown and John S. Rigden (New York: American Institute of Physics, 1993), p. 123.

For more information

For More Information


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