WG Hopkins

     This package consists of lecture notes (this article), a slide show, and a short humorous sketch on how NOT to give talks. I have used the lecture notes and slide show in my 300-level course on research methods in exercise and sport science. The sketch appeared on an e-mail list on the Net in 1996.
     The lecture notes cover the same topics as the slide show, but in more detail. The topics include:

The talk itself: preparation, delivery, hardware
Question time
The slides: content, figures and tables, charts
For the audience
For the chairperson
Examples of transparencies and slides

     You can download a top-quality printable version of the lecture notes, or just read them here. The slides have to be downloaded for viewing

View humorous sketch

Download lecture notes

Download slides




Make the subject matter interesting by setting it in a wider context. Your topic is like a little place on a map of the world: help the audience find it.

Until you are famous, the audience is more interested in what you have to say than in you personally. Put your effort into informing, not performing.

Assume your audience knows next to nothing about the topic. You probably know more about it than most of the audience.

Avoid jargon (technical terms), and explain any you have to use.

Keep your language simple and colloquial (conversational), but be as precise as possible.

A quick, relevant joke is great. Irrelevant long jokes are tedious.

Never apologize or use the word "sorry". There's always a good reason why you fail. Anyway, if you don't apologize, people might not notice.


Always rehearse the paper, preferably before people who know very little about the topic. Make sure someone times you with a stopwatch. Be prepared to make big changes to your talk.

Check that your 35-mm slides are in the right order. Number them sequentially in the lower left-hand corner. They go into the slide holder upside down.

Try out the slides in the "speaker-ready" room, or in the lecture room if possible.

Check out the controls for the lights and projector before your session starts.

Check the microphone is working by tapping it.

Make sure you know how to use the laser or light pointer. Light pointers often need focusing.


Try to relax. Sure, it's difficult when your heart rate is supramaximal, but… 100 years from now, who is going to remember your talk, good or bad?

Don't read out the title, especially if the chair has just done so. People can read it.

Avoid trivial opening remarks like "welcome, and thank you for coming." The chair will have done that already. Get on with your talk.

Most people turn right off when a paper is read verbatim. Have notes of the main points only, and "ad lib" the language that connects them. (If you're using PowerPoint, try making your notes from the "Handout" with six slides per page.)

Speak slowly, clearly and LOUDLY. Pretend everyone is at the back of the hall.

Don't turn away from the podium microphone while speaking.

Keep facing the audience. Don't speak to the lectern or the screen.

Make eye contact with as many people as possible.

Avoid repetition of phrases (e.g. "OK", "in fact") or behaviors (stroking chin, scratching ear, biting nails, wringing hands, pacing up and down, pointing).

Avoid making little comments or asides or talking to yourself about your nervousness, the room lighting, the pointer, the projector, or anything unrelated to your talk.

Don't put up lots of text and expect people to read it. If you must put up a long quote, read only the key phrases, or paraphrase it. Don't ask people to read something then fall silent while they do.

Point to details on the slide as you explain them.

Explain the axes of a graph. Point to them as you explain.

Going beyond the allotted time is frowned upon. If you go too far, the chairperson may even cut you off. It won't happen if you rehearse properly.

Finish with "thank you" . Then put up a black slide, especially for PowerPoint presentations, which quit to a messy screen after the very last slide.

Applause will be stifled if you finish with "any questions?" Let the chairperson ask for questions after the applause at the end of the talk. Let the chairperson choose questioners.

Using Hardware

Turn the light pointer on only when you need it. Don't let it wander all over the walls. Hold it with both hands to limit the shaking.

You shouldn't have to use a black/white board between slides. It's OK to use it in question time.

Put the lights on for long intervals (>2 min) between slides.

Avoid leaving a slide on after you've finished talking about its content. Use a black slide between sets of slides, or turn the projector off altogether.

Don't even think about using two projectors until you're confident with one. Use of two projectors is seldom justified, anyway. The audience has enough trouble concentrating on one screen. For the same reason, don't try to run different media simultaneously.

Make sure a video will play from the desired point immediately with the touch of one button.


This can be the most valuable part of the presentation. You usually get good suggestions from the audience.

Prepare answers to some questions. You might even prime someone (a stooge) to ask them.

Have slides ready to show any material you deliberately omitted for lack of time.

Thank questioners who make helpful suggestions. Try to be polite to those who seem to be rude or critical. They might be potential employers or reviewers.



OHP transparencies are easier to prepare and use than slides. But for international conferences you must have top quality 35-mm slides or a PowerPoint presentation.

If PowerPoint facilities are available, take your talk on a PC-formatted floppy. Take it on a backup floppy too.

Think simple. One or two facts per slide is best. You can leave detail off, because you can explain it (provided you don't forget).

Think BIG. The minimum font size for a transparency or slide is 18 pt. Use standard fonts, in plain, bold or italic. Underscore is old fashioned.

Avoid irrelevant slides. Sport scientists are notorious for showing slides of athletes unrelated to their talks.

Check for spelling errors. Check everything!


First slide: title of talk, with your name and institution. List any collaborators and funding agencies here or on the next slide, and call attention to them.

Other slides: usually background information, research question(s), methods, results, and a summary slide.

If you include an overview slide for a standard research or proposal talk, DON'T make it just the standard headings (e.g. Background, Hypothesis, Methods, Results, Summary). Too predictable!

A relevant joke slide is OK, especially at the end or beginning of the talk.

How many slides? Count on each slide taking 1-2 min to explain. A 10-min talk should have 5-10 slides.

Don't back track if you want to show the same slide twice. Use a duplicate slide.

Tables and Figures

Don't copy tables or figures (diagrams, graphs, charts) 1:1 from a printed paper: the fonts are usually too small and there may be too much detail. Enlarge or redraw them.

Make sure you put a title on tables and figures, but don't number them (Fig.1, 2 etc).

Reduce the number of decimal places or significant digits to an absolute minimum.

Errors and error bars should be standard deviations, not standard errors of the mean.

For simplicity, show significance with asterisks, not with P values.

Show informative descriptive statistics (means, SDs, frequencies, proportions, correlations, effect sizes) but not test statistics (t, F, c2).

More on Graphs and Charts

Use a graph in preference to a table: people find graphs easier to understand. But use a table for descriptive statistics of your subjects.

Choose the right kind of graph for the data: line diagrams or scattergrams for two numeric variables; bar graphs for one numeric variable in groups; bar graphs or pie charts (rarely) for proportions.

Label individual lines or bars directly, rather than via a key. Easier to read.

Use a bare minimum of ticks and numbers on axes. Label the axes, horizontally if possible.

Make sure the symbols for points on a graph are LARGE. Use different colors, and vary the shape for the 10% of the audience who are colorblind.




Get there on time.

Never laugh or snigger at the speaker. Do you think s/he enjoys being thought of as a fool?

Try not to whisper with your neighbor more than once. Your neighbor is trying to follow the talk.

The audience is there to hear the speaker, not you. So make your questions short and to the point.

Don't show off. Asking good questions is a legitimate way to get significant others to notice you, but don't overdo it.

Don't be afraid to ask what you might fear is a stupid question. If you didn't understand something, chances are other people didn't either.


At the Start

Make sure you know how to control the lights and projector beforehand. Is there a pointer handy? Do the curtains need to be drawn? Are there pens/chalk/duster for the board?

Meet the speakers before the session and arrange a signal to let them know when their time is nearly and fully used up.

Introduce yourself briefly to the audience and welcome them to the session on whatever the topic is.

Find out a few things about important speakers beforehand so you can say how wonderful they are. For other speakers, name, place (if it's more than a local conference) and title of the paper will do.

Say whether questions can be asked during the talk (some informal seminars) or at the end of the talk (all conferences).

It's your job to make sure everything works well during the talk. Be ready to help a speaker in difficulty, close a curtain, turn down the lights, or shut noise out.

At the End

Remember to warn speakers when their speaking time is up. You must stop speakers who are still talking when their question time is up.

Applause is a silly rule we're stuck with. Lead the applause at the end of the talk, then thank the speaker.

Invite questions if time permits. Otherwise ask members of the audience to meet the speaker privately after the session.

Make sure you have a question for each speaker. It's embarrassing when no-one asks anything.

Thank the speaker at the end of question time, and lead another round of applause if it seems appropriate. Then announce the next speaker.

At the end of question time for the last speaker, thank all the speakers and lead the applause.


Be obsessional. Give it your best shot..

Be creative - break these rules sometimes.

If there's any doubt about whether you should include something in your talk, ask yourself whether it will help get information across. If the answer is yes, do it; if not, don't.


See the following pages. For a slide, the fonts and lines would be a light color against dark backgrounds. For an overhead-projector transparency, the style could be reproduced as is.

Statistically significant effects are shown with appropriate symbols. The details can be left off the slide to avoid clutter, but don't forget to say what the significant effects are when you give the talk.

Example of a transparency for an overhead projector.

in 36-pt Arial or Helvetica small-caps bold

MAIN HEADING in 24-pt Arial or Helvetica upper-case bold

First Subheading in 24-pt Arial or Helvetica title-case italic

  • Items are in Times 22-pt plain or similar font size and style.
  • Use bullets to enumerate items, with a hanging indent so that individual items stand out.

Next Subheading

  • Put a line space between paragraphs.
  • Emphasis can be in italic or bold. You can also use larger fonts for emphasis, but line spacing may end up looking uneven.

Example of a table.

Characteristics of athletes in sprint and endurance sports





age (y)

22 ± 4 
26 ± 5*

height (cm)

172 ± 8   
171 ± 8   

weight (kg)

66 ± 7 
63 ± 6*




age (y)

19 ± 4 
25 ± 4*

height (cm)

180 ± 9   
177 ± 9   

weight (kg)

73 ± 8 
67 ± 8*

Data are mean ± SD

Example of a figure (at 50% of optimum size) summarizing an experimental protocol.

A line diagram (at 50% of optimum size).

A bar graph (at 50% of optimum size). · · Homepage · ©1997
Last updated 20 Jan 97