Guidelines for Paper Presentations

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Organizing Your Presentation

  • Given the limited time available, it is best to focus your presentation on a single main point which is clearly stated at the beginning and the end of your presentation, and which is the focus of everything that comes in between.
  • It is easiest for the audience to follow a paper that is spoken rather than read aloud from a written text, but most presenters prefer to read a prepared text. In preparing your text, take into account that your audience will be listening rather than reading. This means, for example, writing syntactically simple sentences and avoiding complex sentence structure, and also including repetition of important points, since listeners’ minds will occasionally wander.
  • The paper you present is the paper people will hear. Don’t read from a longer paper, flipping pages while saying things like “I’ll have to skip this part.” A benefit of reading a prepared text is that you can time yourself in practice sessions; be sure to do that, so you don’t have to cut sections on the fly.

A possible organizational structure is as follows:

  1. Begin by summarizing very briefly the existing research in the area you will be addressing, with specific reference to key articles or books.
  2. Then briefly state how you will address this area, e.g. by filling in a gap in prior research or by expanding it to a new type of data. This statement will include a brief account of what you did (including a description of your data) and what you found.
  3. Then repeat how these findings add to the literature. All of the above may well be accomplished in a single page (perhaps 250 words). It is a microcosm of your paper, which gives the audience a sense of where you will take them.
  4. Then back up and present your data and method in more detail.
  5. Then give key examples to illustrate what you did and what you found. Include only as many examples, or as much data, as you have time to discuss fully. This will constitute the bulk of your presentation.
  6. Then conclude by repeating, in a single paragraph, what you did, what you found, and how those findings contribute to the literature.

Effective Use of Powerpoint (or other presentation tools)

  • Powerpoint slides allow the audience to see your examples and to focus on your main points. Do not simply put your paper onto slides and read them aloud. Slides are most effective to present examples of data or of charts, graphs or tables. You may also use a slide to present an important quote.
  • When preparing your powerpoint slides, remember that font on slides should be LARGE, clear, and visible. Regular text should be no smaller than 24 font, though headings will be larger.
  • Keep in mind that it usually takes 1-2 minutes to go through a slide. A good rule of thumb for a 20 min presentation is to use no more than 15 slides.
  • When presenting your slides, be sure to read aloud (if it’s words), or clearly explain (if it’s a chart or table), all the material that is on the slide. Otherwise, the audience must choose between listening to you and reading your slide; they can’t do both at once. Only by reading aloud what is on the slide can you make sure that you know where your audience’s attention is. Make sure to give them enough time to focus on each slide, and to register what it is meant to illustrate. Audience members become very frustrated when slides appear and disappear before they have had a chance to absorb their import.
  • Never tell the audience to read your slides on their own. People read at very different paces, so some will finish and be bored, while others will still be reading when you begin to speak. This is another reason why it is crucial to read aloud the material on the slide.
  • Also, using powerpoint (or any other a-v equipment) effectively means ensuring that your presentation will run smoothly well before your session. Make sure to show up early for your session and test your slides in advance. If you lose five minutes fiddling with your slides or laptop, you will not be able to present your paper in its entirety.

Tips For Effective Reading

  • If you prefer to read your presentation, remember that it takes about 2 minutes to read aloud a double spaced page of text. A good rule of thumb for a 20 min presentation is to use no more than 10 double-spaced pages.
  • Be sure to read slowly; the audience is hearing for the first time material that is familiar to you. They need time to absorb what you’re saying.
  • Look up and meet audience members’ eyes as often as possible. Don’t keep your face buried in your paper or glued to the powerpoint screen.
  • If your data are in a language other than English, you may read one or two examples in that language to give a sense of how it sounds, but time will be used more effectively if you read only the English after that.
  • Give material in the order that it is needed. Avoid saying “I’ll get to this later.”
  • Present only as many examples as you can present and explain fully. Even though it is frustrating for you to show only a few of the many wonderful examples you have, if you gallop through multiple examples without fully explaining them the audience will not have benefited from any of them.
  • Stay aware of the time, either by glancing at a watch or clock, or by keeping the official timekeeper in your view. Stop when the time is up.
  • Make sure your ending sounds like an ending, so the audience will reward you by clapping at the right time. If nothing else, you can show you’re done by saying “Thank you.”


  • The question period can be the most interesting part of your presentation. Everyone perks up at this time; those who were dozing because they are sleep-deprived usually awaken. If you want to be sure to get questions, you could arrange with a friend to prepare questions for each other’s papers.
  • Try to stay cool and courteous. Questions that sound challenging need not be taken in that spirit. Instead you can say things like “Thank you for bringing that up,” or “That’s an interesting perspective.” Sometimes you can turn them around to give you an opportunity to say something you weren’t able to include in your paper.
  • It is also acceptable to say “I’ll have to think about that” or even flat-out “I don’t know the answer to that.”
  • If an audience member becomes persistent and continues to hammer after you have answered, you can shut them off by saying “I’d like to give others a chance to ask a question.” Here too it is handy to have a friend ready with a friendly question.

Adapted by Deborah Tannen from guidelines that appear on the LSA website:

© 2010 GURT 2011 | Organized by Deborah Tannen & Anna Trester