At the conclusion of the semester you must either make an oral
presentation (PHY 445/446) or a poster presentation (PHY 515/516)
of the results of one of the labs you did. In writing up your lab reports,
you were supposed to emulate the PRL or ApJ Letters style of paper writing;
this are very different forms of presentation.
Oral or poster presentations are commonly made at Physics or Astronomy
meetings, where they are used to present results in progress,
interesting results perhaps not yet paper-worthy, or even to summarize
final results. Depending on the venue, these can be tailored to either
a specialized or a broad audience. Oral and poster supplement, but do not
replace, peer-reviewed papers (or lab reports).
The two forms of presentation, short talks and posters,
each have advantages and
disadvantages. One should be proficient in both forms.
The guidelines that follow are meant to be generally applicable. Some
suggestions will seem absurd for this class because they are more appropriate
to large meetings.
Disclaimer: The opinions presented herein are solely those of the
An oral presentation is more than just a talk.
Scientists should not merely drone on
from behind a lecturn. You need to show data. You need figures. You need to
convey the excitement of discovery that is physics (or astronomy).
You will have a set amount of time, which generally includes about 5 minutes
for questions. Usually the questions will be held until the end of your
presentation, but you may be free to encourage questions, or a particularly
boisterous audience may interrupt you. Ask the chairman of the session for
guidance in advance.
- Do not read your talk. A talk that appears to be extemporaneous
is much more engaging than a clearly memorized presentation. Emote. This
is a presentation, and you are on the stage. Do not drone. Do not speak in
a monotone. Inflect. Emphasize. Be conversational.
- Use visual aids. The distract attention from you, the speaker, and direct
it towards your message. There are many types of visual aids:
- Transparencies shown on an overhead projector are a proven
- transparencies are portable and reuseable
- transparencies can be made in color
- tranparencies can be edited up until the last moment.
- the order of transparencies can be shuffled in real time,
and they can easily
- the technology is infallible (unless the bulb burns out).
- Digital presentations, in Powerpoint, PDF, or HTML formats,
are the current standard
- Most venues supply a digital projector.
- If the venue supplies a dedicated PC, then you need only carry
your presentation in on a memory stick or CD; otherwise
you need to carry your laptop.
- If you have your laptop, you can edit the presentation until the
- The technology is not bulletproof. Too often there are
incompatibilities between your laptop and their projector.
- Digital presentations enable the showing of animations/movies.
- 35 mm slides are obsolete: few venues will supply 35 mm slide
projectors unless specifically requested.
- Other forms of presentation, including but not limited to
the Greek Chorus, or animal acts, are generally inappropriate for
- The first slide should show the title of the talk and the name(s) of the
author(s). It should show little else (perhaps a picture to set the scene),
and should be easily readible at the back of the room.
- Use as few words as possible. Use bullets rather than complete sentences
Use figures and tables primarily to augment your talk.
- Your final slide should summarize the talk.
- If using transparencies, make sure the handwriting is legible. Consider
generating the text with a typesetting program (e.g., Word, LaTeX) and
copying it onto the transparency.
- Choose a font size large enough that it can be read easily from the
back of the room.
- Organize the talk in thirds:
- Give an introduction suitable to a general audience.
Not everyone in the
audience is an expert.
- Describe the experiment. Give illustrations. Show data.
- Present your conclusions
- Conclude with a brief summary of the important results.
- Practice your talk. Time yourself. Aim to conclude in about 90% of the
allotted time, because you will probably decide to add details as you
actually give the talk.
- Practice your talk in front of a mirror. Do you have any annoying
When you give the talk:
- Stand at the side of the screen. If you stand in
front of it you will block someone's view. Point at the screen as
appropriate. Practice pointing to the side and speaking at the audience.
- Keep your hands out of your pockets.
- Always speak to the audience, not to the screen (or your feet).
Speak up. Project your voice. You want to be heard in the last row.
- This is your dramatic (but not melodramatic) monologue. Converse with the
audience. Do not drone or speak in a monotone. Evince excitement if
- Do not stare at one point or, worse, one member of the audience. Shift
your gaze. Engage the audience. Always speak to the back of the room - it
will help with your volume and projection.
- An old actor's trick:
- Look over the audience towards the back of the room. It will help you
project and because you won't be looking at the audience, you may feel
- Move around. It will help you feel more relaxed. But do not move so much
as to distract the audience.
- Do not swing the pointer. Do not shine the laser pointer at the audience.
- There may be questions. Wait for the question to finish before you start
to answer it. If you do not know the answer, it is often better
to say so, rather than beating around the bush until it is obvious to
everyone that you do not know. If a questioner is peristing on some
minor, perhaps even picayune detail, it is appropriate to suggest that
this is better answered after the talk. Never show your disdain over
the questioner's obvious ignorance, rather, you should complement
the questioner on raising good points or important details that you just
couldn't fit into the short time alloted.
- Remember: everyone in the room was nervous the first time they
gave a talk, and they all survived.
A poster is a physical space, generally about 1m square, on which you present
a visual record of your accomplishments. Standard posters are flat; the
free-standing triptych-style which opens up, commonly seen at high school
science fairs, is rare at scientific conferences,
and may exceed the alloted space.
At scientific meetings posters remain up for a set time - generally
either one day (as at AAS meetings), or for the full conference (as at many
- An advantage of the
poster, as opposed to a talk, is that the poster is up for a while; you do not
need to be present at all times. Those whose schedule conflicts with
yours, or those who merely wish to avoid you, can read the poster at their
- A disadvantage of a poster is that you are not always there to draw
attention to your work. The poster must be constructed in such a way as to do
Posters are a visually-oriented medium. Posters should be colorful and
attractive, so as to attract attention to themselves. The following should
be kept in mind:
- The title must be prominent. It must be large enough that a member of the
faculty, with failing eyesight, can read it from afar (say, 10-20 feet).
At many meetings there are far more posters than any one person can be
expected to read, so being able to see the title while walking past it is
- Take credit for the poster. Put your name on it (you might be amazed at how
many presenters forget to do this). Your name should be
in a large font just under the title. You might also consider putting a
(small) picture of yourself on the poster, so people who do not know you by
name can identify you.
- Make the poster visually appealing. Some people will be attracted to a
poster by title alone; many will not. Include colors and pictures.
Black text on a white background is boring. The more garish the better (within
reason); the whole point is to get the potential reader interested in
reading what you did.
- Posters are a visual medium. Minimize the amount of text; include
pictures, graphs, etc. Use colors in your plots.
- Provide a concise abstract so that people who are attracted by your
color scheme, or title, can figure out what you are trying to convey.
- Any text whould be in large fonts (corresponding to latex size /large or
larger), so that it can be read easily by a reader (consider a faculty member
with failing eyesight, or an umpire) at a comfortable distance of a few feet.
- In the body of the poster, eschew complete sentences. Use bullets.
Use figure captions. Remember the old Chinese maxim: A picture is worth
a thousand words
- Posters are not linear. Make sure that there is a clear path through the
poster from beginning through end. Use section titles (e.g. Introduction,
Observations, Conclusions) which are clearly distinguishable from the text.
Use arrows to direct the reader's gaze.
- Remember to make the poster standalone: a general reader should be
able to learn all they need about what you did by reading the poster. They
should not have to come back and interrogate you. On the other hand, you
can't put everything in a poster. A reader who needs to know more can
always approach you, the presenter, sometime when you are present.
- Do not make a poster by gluing pages to a posterboard: the paper will
wrinkle as the glue dries. Use tape. The more tape the better, since
frayed/bent edges look unprofessional.
- In general, the less busy the poster appears the better.
If you plan to use the departmental poster printer, please read these
Guidelines (a pdf file)
first. All Phy 515 students are entitled to ONE and
only one free poster.
A simple guide to how to use powerpoint to make a poster is given
Last update: 11/20/06 by FMW