Advice on your Research Presentation for the Butler Undergraduate Conference



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Length of talk

Content of talk

Visual Aids

Answering Questions

General Advice








While each presentation will differ by topic, methodology, etc., there are some general guidelines for “standard” psychology talks.



Your presentation should be no longer than 10 minutes, leaving 5 minutes for questions. Within that time frame, I’d suggest roughly the following format:

Introduction: 2 minutes

Methods & Results: 5 minutes

Discussion: 3 minutes

Obviously the above suggestions are flexible. For example, if you have very simple methods and results that just don’t need 5 full minutes, you’ll be able to use your extra time for the introduction and discussion.



     Unlike your written work where you are asked to provide a great deal of detail, and (in particular) an extensive literature review, this talk will be a “boiled down” summary of your work.  As painful as it may be to NOT discuss certain literature or, even, certain corollary hypotheses or  questionnaires included in your research, you need to figure out what your main point in your research is and just present that.

     In general you want to be precise in what you present, but present only the basic information that  is needed to understand what you did, why you did it and what you found. Again, general guidelines:


Introduction: This should be a very directed background briefly citing key studies leading up to your main hypothesis. As succinctly as possible, you want to tell the audience “here is what we know” and “here is the gap my project fills.” That being said, make your opening sentence an interesting question or dilemma about human nature/people… try to capture interest in the first sentence. Remember, in many ways you are telling a story.

Method (& Results):  In general you should just be presenting the basics here – you can always answer questions about extraneous details at the end if people are curious.  The basics do include, however, a quick run down of # of subjects, relevant demographics, etc. Typically people first say what they did, then say what they found. Your goal here is to be clear and concise so you should feel a bit of freedom to organize this section in whatever way seems to tell the best story (note that an audience at an oral presentation may have trouble remembering long, complex methodological procedures by the time you get to results).   In addition to the basics, you might (depending on your project) want to “set up” any big qualifications or holes you think people will see in your data.  You can follow up this “set up” in the discussion.

(Results &) Discussion:  Often in talks there is not a sharp line between results and discussion. A listening audience can’t keep track of more than one or two results and may forget what you found by the time you get to discussion.  So, feel free to have what feels like a normal “conversation” and discuss each result as you describe it if appropriate. In general, however, you should eventually wind your way to a pure discussion section.  In that time do one or two of the following three things:  note and discuss possible alternative explanations for your findingsy; note and discuss the direction future research could take; and/or note and discuss how your results add to or change the existing literature.  No matter what you talk about in the discussion, you should end up tying your talk back to the opening of your introduction.

Extra Info.  – You probably should have a page with extra information handy.  For example, descriptive statistics, or “follow-up” analyses, etc.  You won’t present these things, but it sure is impressive when you can answer a question quickly with a precise number.

Visual Aids (18 point font at least)

You must use visual aids to guide the audience through your talk– plan on a PowerPoint slide show AND/or (backup) transparencies (available in the bookstore; Connie & John have color printers if you have something you’d like on a color transparency).  If you are doing powerpoint, you must have transparencies as backup. You should probably have the following visuals:


Title slide – Title, your name and Hanover College. If you had experimental assistants, you should acknowledge them here (good form).

Introduction slide – you should have at least one slide with a few introductory points/citations.

Methods slide – you will probably have just a couple methods slides unless your procedure is complex. You should include example items for surveys.  Tip: I’ve seen speakers put # of subjects, relevant demographics, basic descriptive statistics, etc. on a slide, but then not actually present those things aloud to the audience. Although you wouldn’t typically want to put something on a slide and not talk about it, in this instance it is a nice way to both save time and show that you did assess all those little details.

Results slide(s) – you will probably have several results slide. Graphs and figures are GOOD.  Tables with lots and lots of numbers are not so good. You can put significance levels, F or t values, etc. in smaller print on these slides.  You don’t need to “prove” to the audience that you understand stats by announcing how every finding is significant because p < .05, but you should have statistical info. handy in case anyone asks.  Right on the slides is a convenient storage place.

Discussion  - you may want to have a slide or two with a few points for discussion.


All visual aids should look professional.  USE AT LEAST 18 POINT FONT FOR EVERYTHING INCLUDING NUMBERS, TABLES AND EXAMPLE QUESTIONNAIRES.  Try for the biggest font you can.  Note:  LESS = MORE.  No need to put every last thought on a visual.  No need for complete sentences even.  Think bullet points and topic phrases…  No need to list excessive citations on your slides either. An audience should be able to “look at” your transparency.  If they must “read”, then they will stop listening!!  Also, be sure to provide your audience with enough time to examine any detailed information you do put up.




Answering Questions


“I don’t know.”  Say it now, out loud.

You will (trust us) know “the” answer, or “an” answer (or that fact that there is no answer) to most questions you are asked.  However, “I don’t know” is also a perfectly legitimate response.  Your honesty will be appreciated more than posturing.  BUT, that being said, there are multiple ways to say “I don’t know” including:


“That’s an interesting question. What do you think?”

“I haven’t considered that option, I’ll have to think about that – thank you for the suggestion.” (Then write down whatever they said if you actually think it has merit).


When you “kind of” understand what they are asking…

“I’m not sure I understand exactly what you are asking – could you say that again?”

“I’m not sure I am completely following your question, but let me say this and see if it addresses the problem…” [follow with information you think is related; then ask them if that addressed their point].

“I’m not actually familiar with Theory X, but this may speak to your general point…” [follow with information related to their question].


By the way, SILENCE is not your enemy. Remember, you are the expert who has read all the literature and spent a year thinking about your topic. It is perfectly legitimate to listen to a question, pause, breathe, think about all that stuff you know and then respond.  Your more thoughtful response will be appreciated.



Important Tips


Here are a few tips regarding presentation style, etc.



· Your audience will be top-notch college students such as yourself. Don’t assume an intimate acquaintance with psychology topics, but you can assume a basic understanding of scientific research, hypothesis-testing, etc.

· Presenters I’ve seen typically have stapled pages of paper with them more often than note cards – emphasizing the slightly more informal tone of most psychology presentations (you are sharing information, not dictating a speech).

· Try not to read your talk, but if you must – attempt to make eye contact occasionally.  Actually write in your notes if you have to:   MAKE EYE CONTACT HERE

Then highlight that spot so you can find your place on the page easily when you look back down.  Also if you must read, try to not SOUND like you are reading!  Go slow, breathe, and pause at appropriate intervals.

· You’ll likely be in a small classroom like the ones here at Hanover. More effective speakers generally move around a bit and make some eye contact. Pretend you are teaching a class.

· Practice working with the overheads, even if it is in your bedroom.  Write in your talk:  OVERHEAD #1 if needed.  This will help you remember when to put what up.


· Try to not have to worry about covering up part of your overheads as you go. If you do want to do that though, use sticky post-it notes you can place ahead of time.

· When pointing at things on the overhead, walk over to and point at the screen if possible, not the slide on the actual overhead machine.  (When people do the latter, their bodies typically block the screen for some portion of the audience. I once saw a man point at the slide on the machine for the entire talk and his shoulder blocked the projection lens so all we ever saw was a big shadow and his wrist moving around!!)

· Dress professionally but casually and be comfortable.  No jeans, no tennis shoes.  Women: slacks are fine or a skirt if you prefer; Men: ties are optional if you have an outfit that is “nice” without a tie. Go ahead and take the time/effort to pick out an outfit you feel confident and comfortable in.  After you’ve done that, you can then forget about what you are wearing and focus on the important stuff!


· RELAX!!!    This is NOT a firing squad.  It is a bunch of people who thought your talk sounded kind of cool from the abstract. They are interested in your interesting project.

· Be confident!! You know your project better than anyone else in the room. You are the expert. This is your chance to show off your excellent work!




J Good luck – we know you’ll all do great!! J

y DO NOT  downplay the quality of your research.  Start by assuming that what you found is “truth”AND that your reasoning for your hypothesis was top notch.  The reason why we encourage you to talk about problems/alternative explanations is because a psychologist holds an opinion as long as the evidence supports it and is always open to new evidence. Thus, your job is to try to discuss what could have caused the gap between your reasoning and your results.  Also, you don’t want to seem clueless about potential problems with your conclusions.  But, do not undercut your reasoning and work when you discuss possible problems.