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Conference Presentation Slides: A Guide for Success

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In our experience, a common error when preparing a conference presentation is using designs that heavily rely on bullet points and massive chunks of text. A potential reason behind this slide design mistake is aiming to include as much information as possible in just one slide. In the end, slides become a sort of teleprompter for the speaker, and the audience recalls boredom instead of an informative experience.

As part of our mission to help presenters deliver their message effectively, we have summarized what makes a good conference presentation slide, as well as tips on how to design a successful conference slide.

Table of Contents

What is a conference presentation

Common mistakes presenters make when creating conference presentation slides, how can a well-crafted conference presentation help your professional life, how to start a conference presentation, how to end a conference presentation, 13 tips to create stellar conference presentations, final thoughts.

The Britannica Dictionary defines conferences as 

A formal meeting in which many people gather in order to talk about ideas or problems related to a particular topic (such as medicine or business), usually for several days.

We can then define conference presentations as the combination of a speaker, a slide deck , and the required hardware to introduce an idea or topic in a conference setting. Some characteristics differentiate conference presentations from other formats.


Conference presentations are bounded by a 15-30 minute time limit, which the event’s moderators establish. These restrictions are applied to allow a crowded agenda to be met on time, and it is common to count with over 10 speakers on the same day.

To that time limit, we have to add the time required for switching between speakers, which implies loading a new slide deck to the streaming platform, microphone testing, lighting effects, etc. Say it is around 10-15 minutes extra, so depending on the number of speakers per day during the event, the time available to deliver a presentation, plus the questions & answers time.

Delivery format

Conferences can be delivered in live event format or via webinars. Since this article is mainly intended to live event conferences, we will only mention that the requirements for webinars are as follows:

On the other hand, live event conferences will differ depending on the category under which they fall. Academic conferences have a structure in which there’s a previous poster session; then speakers start delivering their talks, then after 4-5 speakers, we have a coffee break. Those pauses help the AV crew to check the equipment, and they also become an opportunity for researchers to expand their network contacts. 

Business conferences are usually more dynamic. Some presenters opt not to use slide decks, giving a powerful speech instead, as they feel much more comfortable that way. Other speakers at business conferences adopt videos to summarize their ideas and then proceed to speak.

conference presentation slides

Overall, the format guidelines are sent to speakers before the event. Adapt your presentation style to meet the requirements of moderators so you can maximize the effect of your message.

The audience

Unlike other presentation settings, conferences gather a knowledgeable audience on the discussed topics. It is imperative to consider this, as tone, delivery format, information to include, and more depend on this sole factor. Moreover, the audience will participate in your presentation at the last minute, as it is a common practice to hold a Q&A session. 

Mistake #1 – Massive chunks of text

Do you intend your audience to read your slides instead of being seduced by your presentation? Presenters often add large amounts of text to each slide since they need help deciding which data to exclude. Another excuse for this practice is so the audience remembers the content exposed.

Research indicates images are much better retained than words, a phenomenon known as the Picture Superiority Effect ; therefore, opt to avoid this tendency and work into creating compelling graphics.

Mistake #2 – Not creating contrast between data and graphics

Have you tried to read a slide from 4 rows behind the presenter and not get a single number? This can happen if the presenter is not careful to work with the appropriate contrast between the color of the typeface and the background. Particularly if serif fonts are used.

Using WebAIM tool to check color contrast

Use online tools such as WebAIM’s Contrast Checker to make your slides legible for your audience. Creating an overlay with a white or black transparent tint can also help when you place text above images.

Mistake #3 – Not rehearsing the presentation

This is a sin in conference presentations, as when you don’t practice the content you intend to deliver, you don’t have a measure of how much time it is actually going to take. 

Locating the rehearsing timing options in PowerPoint

PowerPoint’s rehearse timing feature can help a great deal, as you can record yourself practising the presentation and observe areas for improvement. Remember, conference presentations are time-limited , don’t disrespect fellow speakers by overlapping their scheduled slot or, worse, have moderators trim your presentation after several warnings.

Mistake #4 – Lacking hierarchy for the presented content

Looking at a slide and not knowing where the main point is discouraging for the audience, especially if you introduce several pieces of content under the same slide. Instead, opt to create a hierarchy that comprehends both text and images. It helps to arrange the content according to your narrative, and we’ll see more on this later on.

Consider your conference presentation as your introduction card in the professional world. Maybe you have a broad network of colleagues, but be certain there are plenty of people out there that have yet to learn about who you are and the work you produce.

Conferences help businesspeople and academics alike to introduce the results of months of research on a specific topic in front of a knowledgeable audience. It is different from a product launch as you don’t need to present a “completed product” but rather your views or advances, in other words, your contribution with valuable insights to the field.

Putting dedication into your conference presentation, from the slide deck design to presentation skills , is definitely worth the effort. The audience can get valuable references from the quality of work you are able to produce, often leading to potential partnerships. In business conferences, securing an investor deal can happen after a powerful presentation that drives the audience to perceive your work as the very best thing that’s about to be launched. It is all about how your body language reflects your intent, how well-explained the concepts are, and the emotional impact you can drive from it.

There are multiple ways on how to start a presentation for a conference, but overall, we can recap a good approach as follows.

Present a fact

Nothing grabs the interest of an audience quicker than introducing an interesting fact during the first 30 seconds of your presentation. The said fact has to be pivotal to the content your conference presentation will discuss later on, but as an ice-breaker, it is a strategy worth applying from time to time.

Ask a question

The main point when starting a conference presentation is to make an impact on the audience. We cannot think of a better way to engage with the audience than to ask them a question relevant to your work or research. It grabs the viewer’s interest for the potential feedback you shall give to those answers received.

Use powerful graphics

The value of visual presentations cannot be neglected in conferences. Sometimes an image makes a bigger impact than a lengthy speech, hence why you should consider starting your conference presentation with a photo or visual element that speaks for itself.

an example of combining powerful graphics with facts for conference presentation slides

For more tips and insights on how to start a presentation, we invite you to check this article .

Just as important as starting the presentation, the closure you give to your conference presentation matters a lot. This is the opportunity in which you can add your personal experience on the topic and reflect upon it with the audience or smoothly transition between the presentation and your Q&A session.

Below are some quick tips on how to end a presentation for a conference event.

End the presentation with a quote

Give your audience something to ruminate about with the help of a quote tailored to the topic you were discussing. There are plenty of resources for finding suitable quotes, and a great method for this is to design your penultimate slide with an image or black background plus a quote. Follow this with a final “thank you” slide.

Consider a video

If we say a video whose length is shorter than 1 minute, this is a fantastic resource to summarize the intent of your conference presentation. 

If you get the two-minute warning and you feel far off from finishing your presentation, first, don’t fret. Try to give a good closure to your presentation without rushing information, as the audience wouldn’t get any concept clear that way. Mention that the information you presented will be available for further reading at the event’s platform site, and proceed to your closure phase for the presentation. 

It is better to miss some of the components of the conference than to get kicked out after several warnings for exceeding the allotted time.

Tip #1 – Exhibit a single idea per slide

Just one slide per concept, avoiding large text blocks. If you can compile the idea with an image, it’s better that way.

Research shows that people’s attention span is limited ; therefore, redirect your efforts in what concerns presentation slides so your ideas become crystal clear for the spectators.

Tip #2 – Avoid jargon whenever possible

Using complex terms does not directly imply you fully understand the concept you are about to discuss. In spite of your work being presented to a knowledgeable audience, avoid jargon as much as possible because you run the risk of people not understanding what you are saying.

Instead, opt to rehearse your presentation in front of a not-knowledgeable audience to measure the jargon volume you are adding to it. Technical terms are obviously expected in a conference situation, but archaic terms or purely jargon can be easily trimmed this way.

Tip #3 – Replace bulleted listings with structured layouts or diagrams

Bullet points are attention grabbers for the audience. People tend to instantly check what’s written in them, in contrast to waiting for you to introduce the point itself. 

Using bullet points as a way to expose elements of your presentation should be restricted. Opt for limiting the bullet points to non-avoidable facts to list or crucial information. 

Tip #4 – Customize presentation templates

Using presentation templates is a great idea to save time in design decisions. These pre-made slide decks are entirely customizable; however, many users fall into using them as they come, exposing themselves to design inconsistencies (especially with images) or that another presenter had the same idea (it is extremely rare, but it can happen).

Learning how to properly change color themes in PowerPoint is an advantageous asset. We also recommend you use your own images or royalty-free images selected by you rather than sticking to the ones included in a template.

Tip #5 – Displaying charts

Graphs and charts comprise around 80% of the information in most business and academic conferences. Since data visualization is important, avoid common pitfalls such as using 3D effects in bar charts. Depending on the audience’s point of view, those 3D effects can make the data hard to read or get an accurate interpretation of what it represents.

using 2D graphics to show relevant data in conference presentation slides

Tip #6 – Using images in the background

Use some of the images you were planning to expose as background for the slides – again, not all of them but relevant slides.

Be careful when placing text above the slides if they have a background image, as accessibility problems may arise due to contrast. Instead, apply an extra color layer above the image with reduced opacity – black or white, depending on the image and text requirements. This makes the text more legible for the audience, and you can use your images without any inconvenience.

Tip #7 – Embrace negative space

Negative space is a concept seen in design situations. If we consider positive space as the designed area, meaning the objects, shapes, etc., that are “your design,” negative space can be defined as the surrounding area. If we work on a white canvas, negative space is the remaining white area surrounding your design.

The main advantage of using negative space appropriately is to let your designs breathe. Stuffing charts, images and text makes it hard to get a proper understanding of what’s going on in the slide. Apply the “less is more” motto to your conference presentation slides, and embrace negative space as your new design asset.

Tip #8 – Use correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation

You would be surprised to see how many typos can be seen in slides at professional gatherings. Whereas typos can often pass by as a humor-relief moment, grammatical or awful spelling mistakes make you look unprofessional. 

Take 5 extra minutes before submitting your slide deck to proofread the grammar, spelling, and punctuation. If in doubt, browse dictionaries for complex technical words.

Tip #10 – Use an appropriate presentation style

The format of the conference will undoubtedly require its own presentation style. By this we mean that it is different from delivering a conference presentation in front of a live audience as a webinar conference. The interaction with the audience is different, the demands for the Q&A session will be different, and also during webinars the audience is closely looking at your slides.

Tip #11 – Control your speaking tone

Another huge mistake when delivering a conference presentation is to speak with a monotonous tone. The message you transmit to your attendees is that you simply do not care about your work. If you believe you fall into this category, get feedback from others: try pitching to them, and afterward, consider how you talk. 

Practicing breathing exercises can help to articulate your speech skills, especially if anxiety hinders your presentation performance.

Tip #12 – On eye contact and note reading

In order to connect with your audience, it is imperative to make eye contact. Not stare, but look at your spectators from time to time as the talk is directed at them.

If you struggle on this point, a good tip we can provide is to act like you’re looking at your viewers. Pick a good point a few centimeters above your viewer and direct your speech there. They will believe you are communicating directly with them. Shift your head slightly on the upcoming slide or bullet and choose a new location.

Regarding note reading, while it is an acceptable practice to check your notes, do not make the entire talk a lecture in which you simply read your notes to the audience. This goes hand-by-hand with the speaking tone in terms of demonstrating interest in the work you do. Practice as often as you need before the event to avoid constantly reading your notes. Reading a paragraph or two is okay, but not the entire presentation.

Tip #13 – Be ready for the Q&A session

Despite it being a requirement in most conference events, not all presenters get ready for the Q&A session. It is a part of the conference presentation itself, so you should pace your speech to give enough time for the audience to ask 1-3 questions and get a proper answer.

a Q&A slide to start the Q&A session

Don’t be lengthy or overbearing in replying to each question, as you may run out of time. It is preferable to give a general opinion and then reach the interested person with your contact information to discuss the topic in detail.

Observing what others do at conference events is good practice for learning a tip or two for improving your own work. As we have seen throughout this article, conference presentation slides have specific requirements to become a tool in your presentation rather than a mixture of information without order.

Employ these tips and suggestions to craft your upcoming conference presentation without any hurdles. Best of luck!

conference presentation slides

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conference presentation slides

The Exhaustive Guide to Preparing Conference Presentations


So, you’re getting ready for your conference presentation. You’re probably nervous and stressed out right now. Don’t worry though, you’re not going to be alone in your journey. Because in this post, I’m going to show you everything there is to know about preparing for a conference presentation. From writing your speech and designing your slides to giving your actual presentation, you’ll find tons of valuable information in this article!

Preparing For A Conference: How To Make The Most Of Your Presentation

How To Make The Most Of Your Conference Presentation

Photo by Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash

The tips I’ll be sharing in this post will be useful whether you’re preparing for your first-ever conference presentation, your fifth or your tenth. Even seasoned presenters still need a refresher course from time to time.

There are quite a few different types of conferences . Whichever type of conference you’re going to be presenting in, know that most, if not all, of the tips listed here are practical. You can freely adapt any of these techniques according to your presentation needs!

How To Prepare To Speak At A Conference

A lot of people list public speaking as their Achilles’ heel, their biggest weakness. If you belong to this group, then you need all the help you can get. Because speaking at a conference, especially if it’s your first time, can be very scary. Think buckets of sweat , trembling voice and knocking knees kind of scary! Now, I’m not trying to scare you off. I’m just pointing out the reality.

The best way to prepare yourself to speak at a conference is to prepare well in advance. As soon as you confirm your spot, then you start preparing. You prepare your outline, a draft of your speech, maybe even have an idea on how your presentation slides are going to look like.

You need to work on your confidence. And, of course, you need to look the part of a convincing, persuasive, and engaging presenter!

Your Conference Preparation Presentation Checklist

There are plenty of resources to help you write a conference talk , but these pointers in the presentation checklist below will get you off to a good start. So, here’s what you need to do to prepare yourself for your presentation.

There’s nothing more embarrassing than talking about a topic you know nothing about. If you’ve succeeded ‘winging’ your academic presentations at school, then you better think again if you’re planning on doing the same thing in your conference presentation! Chances are, your conference audience won’t be as forgiving as your high school and college classmates.

There’s a lot of benefits to presenting at a conference. You can establish your credibility in your industry, you can network with all the movers and shakers in your field, you can help others know more about what you do, etc. But if you manage to botch your presentation – by not fully researching your topic – then you’d be better off not presenting in the first place!

It’s okay to be nervous on stage. Everyone gets nervous. But if you know your topic very well, your audience can disregard your nervousness and focus on your message.

It’s a different story though if you’re nervous AND your presentation has very little substance! You’ll be hurting your credibility, you’ll become the laughingstock in your industry.

Word will get around about you ( hint : it won’t be the kind of ‘word’ you’ll be happy with). You can hurt your career if you’re not careful. No one would be willing to hire you or work with you simply because you weren’t professional enough to conduct thorough research for your presentation.

It’s easy enough to find out who’s going to be occupying those seats in your conference. For one, many conferences have a criteria of eligible participants. If your conference doesn’t have a specific criteria, you can still deduce who the attendees are just by learning more about the conference itself.

For instance, if the conference is about technology, then it’s safe to assume that only those who are interested in technology is going to attend. A marketing conference will attract people with marketing jobs or those who want to know the latest marketing techniques.

If you really can’t figure out who your audience is, then you may want to look up the conference organizer’s contact details and ask them for their attendees’ demographics.

Knowing your audience is important. It will allow you to present your content in a manner your audience can relate to. If you’re speaking in a venue not local to you, then knowing more about the local culture will help a lot. You can avoid committing a gigantic faux pas which can potentially alienate your audience (the exact opposite of what you want to happen)!

Yes, they do. So, before you even create your speech and your presentation slides, you may want to think about your presentation wardrobe. If you think it’s too early, well, just remember you’ve only got a few seconds to make a good impression on your audience.

If you wear something unprofessional and sloppy, then your audience is not going to think very highly of you. You don’t need to buy expensive clothes, but it’s best if you plan your wardrobe well in advance. You wouldn’t want to wear something you’ll regret later on!

During the course of your research (point #1), you should already have formed a rough idea of how your presentation is going to flow. You want it to flow smoothly – from one point to the next, from the introduction to the conclusion. Your presentation should make sense, and the audience should be able to follow you easily.

Create your presentation outline first so you can make sure your message has a good flow (worry about your slides later – it’s important to get the message straightened out first).

Conference Preparation Presentation Checklist - 4. Create a draft of your speech and your presentation slides

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Start with your introduction – how are you going to hook people into your presentation? What can you possibly say or do that will blow their minds and keep them glued to your presentation instead of their phones?

Depending on your time limit, you may wish to cover only the most important points of your topic. If you’ve got a hundred important points, but you’ve only got 15 minutes, then you need to come to a decision ( no one’s going to remember a hundred points, but they may remember 3 or 5! ). For each point that makes it to your list, write only the most important and interesting things about it ( again, no one’s going to remember all the details! ).

To wrap up your presentation , think of a way you can help people remember what you’ve just presented. And don’t forget to include your call to action – what do you want people to do after watching your presentation? Nothing? Well, you should think about why you’re presenting in the first place. You want people to do something, anything. Think about it carefully, and then make sure you ask your audience to follow your call to action.

Once you’ve got your outline written down, then you should start working on your presentation slides. Since there are a lot of things that go into designing conference slides, I’ve dedicated a whole section just for this very topic ( scroll down the page if you want to read the design pointers right away! ).

Practice your speech well in advance. Learn how to not read from your notes or your slides. Practice till you’ve practically memorized every line of your speech. Practice till you feel comfortable delivering your presentation in front of an audience.

In the beginning, it’s fine practicing on your own. You can record yourself on camera or practice in front of a mirror, so you can see what you’re doing and make the necessary adjustments. However, if you want to get as close to the real thing as possible, then you need to practice in front of an audience. This can be your family, friends, co-workers, etc.

Ask them for a few minutes of their time and ask them to give you pointers on how you can improve. Of course, you wouldn’t want to waste their time, so you should only ask them to sit down when you’ve actually ‘mastered’ or at least be close to mastering your presentation!

Pretend like it’s the actual presentation day. Practice your pauses, your jokes, and icebreakers. Practice making eye contact.

When you’ve got your presentation down pat, then try and see if you can practice at the actual conference venue. This will help you get to know the place better, and you’ll feel a bit more comfortable when presentation day comes!

Based on the feedback you’ve gotten from your practice sessions, it’s now time to make the final tweaks to your slides and your entire presentation. When you finish your changes, make sure everything is done according to your satisfaction. Then do a final practice to ensure everything flows smoothly. That’s it! You’re ready to give your conference presentation!

How To Prepare For An Academic Conference

Presenting at an academic conference will be different from presenting in non-academic ones. Academic conferences tend to be more serious, and well, more academic, in nature. If you’re wondering, yes, the tips listed in the previous section will still apply to academic conference presentations.

However, in the case of academics, the benefits of these kinds of conferences are often immense. You not only get to network and hobnob with the who’s who in academic circles, but you also get the added benefit of getting recognized in your field.

If your presentation is a success, then your career can benefit in more ways than one. You get to add another impressive line in your resume or curriculum vitae, and securing a job in the academe can potentially be a whole lot easier!

Examples Of Famous Conference Presentations

Many presentations are considered successful in their own rights, however, to classify them as ‘famous,’ I needed to get YouTube’s assistance. Here are some of the best ones I could find:

With 25 million views on YouTube, this TED talk is the most popular video on TED’s YouTube channel. And it’s really not surprising. James Veitch is a master storyteller. He used humor all throughout his presentation, and he got his audience roaring with laughter from start to finish. His presentation slides were relatively simple, but they did the job perfectly well!

On January 9 th , 2007, Steve Jobs introduced the first ever, revolutionary and game-changing smartphone to the world, the iPhone. The iPhone was the first of its kind – a music player (an iPod), a phone, and an Internet communicator – all rolled into one sleek and beautiful device. Watch how engaging Steve Jobs was all throughout the presentation!

Salman Khan is the founder of the Khan Academy , a non-profit organization whose mission is to “provide free, world-class education to anyone, anywhere.” His presentation is a testament to the kind of teacher Salman Khan is. He’s funny, and he engages with his audience by encouraging them to participate and ask questions.

The examples presented are obviously just a few of the most influential presentations on the Internet. But if you spend the time to watch the videos, you’ll actually learn a lot of stuff – you’ll learn how the pros present in conferences!

How To Design A Presentation For A Conference

Preparing for your presentation is hard enough. You need to invest considerable time crafting your speech and making sure you’ve covered all the most important points about your topic.

Designing slides isn’t easy, too, if you do it from scratch. If you’ve already got a company-approved template, then use that because it’s going to save you so much time. If you’re not so lucky, then don’t worry because I’ll be sharing plenty of tips on how you can save hours upon hours of designing slides!

Before we get to that point, however, I’d like to share a few design pointers you can use if you want to impress people with your presentation. Remember, a visually attractive and compelling slide deck can help emphasize your message. It will make it easier for people to remember what your presentation is all about, so take note of these tips:

You don’t want to cram entire paragraphs on your slides. Your audience won’t appreciate being tasked to read your presentation. They’re there to listen to you, so make sure you deliver. Use your slides like they’re supposed to be used – as visual aids.

Use large fonts. If you’re presenting in a large room, then you need to make sure people at the back can still make out the text on your screen. This is where writing down only one idea per slide really shines. If you’ve got an entire paragraph on your slide, then you can’t fit everything on the slide if you set the font size to something large!

Sure, there are tons of fun transitions and animations on PowerPoint, but you don’t want to use all of those, no matter how ‘cool’ it may seem. It will only make you look unprofessional and will divert your audience’s attention from your message to your animations. Choose something simple (you can’t go wrong with a Fade transition).

Since you’re not going to be using much text in your slides, you need to somehow fill out that empty blank space on your slides. The best way to go about this is by using high-quality images and graphics. Just make sure these are relevant to the topic at hand, and that they add to the message, not take away from it.

These are just a few pointers. If you want to know more about how you can design your slides, you can read these presentation design articles:

Using Presentation Templates At A Conference

When it comes to preparing for conferences, you need all the help you can get. This is where presentation templates come in! Whether you’re using PowerPoint, Keynote or any other presentation software of your choice, templates are literal time-savers!

Templates not only help you cut down the amount of time you need to spend designing slides, but you also get that much-needed extra time to master your presentation.

There are plenty of conference presentation templates you can find online, from 100% free templates to cost-effective premium ones. Here are some of the top free ones you’ll find in our Template Hub :

Corporate Conference Presentation Templates

Corporate Conference Presentation Templates - dashboard template pack

In conferences, it’s necessary for you to present your data in the simplest way possible. With this free dashboard template pack, you’ll make it easy for your audience to follow your most important data and not get lost in the details!

Corporate Conference Presentation Templates - corporate package template

Liven up your conference presentation slides with this free 20-slide template pack. You can choose from a variety of charts to display your company’s background and performance.

Corporate Conference Presentation Templates - cockpit charts template

This 10-slide template pack will allow you to present a large amount of data in a succinct and organized manner. You can compare and contrast various data points as well as easily display the outcome of your analysis.

Corporate Conference Presentation Templates - tables PPT template

We often see tables used in conference presentations. With this 10-slide template pack, you can choose from a variety of different table formats and styles. Editing the slides is easy too, so just type in your data and let the template do the rest for you!

Academic Conference Presentation Templates

Academic Conference Presentation Templates - timeline pictures PPT template

If you need to display your research’s timeline, then you should download this free template pack. Presenting your timeline doesn’t have to be boring as you can see on the screenshot above (if yellow isn’t your color, feel free to edit in PowerPoint!).

PEST diagram PPT template - Academic Conference Presentation Templates

If you’re presenting a paper which involved the use of PEST (or PESTLE) analysis, then you can download this free template pack. If you want to allocate one slide per element or factor, then you can use the other slides included in the pack (not seen in the screenshot above).

Research stage template - Academic Conference Presentation Templates

Presenting your research process doesn’t have to be dry and boring. Use our free (and colorful) research stage slide template to make your research presentation come alive!

Sciences Gantt template - Academic Conference Presentation Templates

Whether you’re presenting a science paper or not, you can certainly make use of this free Gantt chart template. The visual nature of a Gantt chart will make it easy for you to share your project’s progress over time.

Preparing Complementary Handouts

Some conferences require that handouts be given to audiences. If you present in such a conference, then know that you don’t need to do everything from scratch. You don’t even need to look for a presentation handout template.  You can just submit a copy of your full-page slides or your notes pages.

Now, using your slides as your handout may not make a lot of sense, especially if you follow our earlier suggestion where slides aren’t supposed to be wordy. However, if you add notes to each of your slides, you’ll make it easy enough for your audience/readers to follow your presentation! Here’s a complete guide on how to add notes to PowerPoint .

You can add your notes in under an hour. Your audience will appreciate you taking the extra step to make your handouts as easy to understand as possible!

Final Words

Preparing for a conference presentation may be hard. But you no longer need to go at it alone. The resources and tips I’ve shared in this article should help you conquer your nerves and allow you to deliver a memorable and highly engaging presentation!

You might also find this interesting: How To Overcome Presentation Fear: 5 Tips You Can Apply Today

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3 tips for designing research conference presentation slides +Template

Imagine this: research conference organizers send the participants a PowerPoint presentation slide template along with instructions that sound something like this:

Your presentation should be 20 minutes long; please keep the number of presentation slides to a maximum of 20.

A scientist who has 35 PowerPoint slides from the previous conference and might think:

OK, no problem! I will simply squeeze the information from the remaining fifteen slides into the first twenty.

The resulting presentation slides probably look similar to the figure below.

Busy scientific presentation slide with a lot of information crammed into one slide

The scientist arrives at the conference, delivers the presentation, and receives applause at the end. He puts a picture from the conference on a social network and receives a comment: Sorry, I missed your presentation. Please email me the slides.

Ahh, he thinks , it’s a good thing I jammed that extra information into the presentation slides. Otherwise, it would be difficult for the person asking to get the full overview of my work!

It seems everyone is happy. The conference organizers got their 20 slides, the presenter successfully delivered his speech, and even the person on social media got the information she requested. But one thing is missing from the story – what about the people who actually showed up for the presentation?

The listeners were probably bewildered by the PowerPoint slides resembling an explosion of a hard drive disc over the screen. Their eyes were darting to follow the laser pointer from a figure in one corner of the slide to bullet points in the other. At around the third slide, many probably started daydreaming about the appetizers they can expect during the coffee break. They energetically clapped their hands at the end of the presentation because it was finally over. They forgot the performance as soon as the next speaker took the stage.

OK, but what about the person that asked you to send her the slides? Surely she would be disappointed when receiving a presentation which she cannot understand without you being there to present it. Well, send her the research paper (see my book to learn writing an impactful research paper). This is the piece of work that is meant for sharing and has to be self-explanatory. You are on the stage for a reason! Research conference presentation slides do not have to be self-explanatory.

In this post, you will learn three crucial tips for preparing conference presentation slides to efficiently explain your research.

Tip No.1: One thought per slide

Presenters often use slides to keep the talk on track. Frequently this takes the form of the dreaded bullet-point list. Such an approach is a bad idea. Despite what some people claim, humans can not multitask at things that require deliberate thinking. Too much text will draw the listener’s attention away from what you are saying and toward reading the text on the slide. Since we read faster than we can speak, your listeners will already know what you are going to say, thus losing their attention.

The best approach for keeping the presentation slides light is to limit yourself to one single thought per slide. This could be, for example, a figure and several supporting bullet points taking up not more than one row each. But do not be afraid only to have one item, like a diagram, on the slide which takes only ten seconds to explain. There is no invisible jar that will start to spill over if you pour too many slides inside. A single thought per slide will allow the audience to better follow the presentation. This will also allow you to increase the size of text and images, thus ensuring that people in the back row can follow the talk.

Instead of using slides as a teleprompter, use this valuable real estate for information that adds to your presentation, not duplicates it.

The “before” figure below presents a typical academic conference PowerPint presentation slide with three bullet points. I transformed it into three separate slides, each introducing one single thought. When displaying the “after” slides, the presenter would simply say out loud the information that was previously written.

conference presentation slides

You will notice that each of the converted slides uses visual information instead of text. Visuals draw human attention and can do a great job explaining things that would be difficult to put in words. Data charts, scientific illustrations, diagrams, or videos can all add another dimension to complement your presentation.

I am not claiming that you should strip your slides of useful information or dumb them down. My reasoning stems from the vast majority of presentation slides that I have seen in research conferences. The slides are often overwhelmed with details that do more to confuse the listener than help. Focusing the slide content on visual information will help to support instead of distracting from your message. This brings us to the next topic.

Tip No.2: Presentation slides are for visual information

Even though I urge you to simplify the slides, it is clear that as a researcher, you will need to present complex information. This will most often take the form of different charts and illustrations (let’s call them graphics).

There is a lot to learn about the creation of graphics, but one element from the toolkit of designing graphics is particularly important for creating great scientific conference presentation slides. That is knowing how to guide the listeners’ attention. To do it, we must tap into a basic human instinct – people are drawn to outliers. Back at the dawn of homo-sapiens, this helped us spot danger or notice prey: think of a lion moving in a steppe – it is easy to imagine why our vision has evolved to pay attention to it.

Today we can take advantage of the 300 thousand-year-old instincts of our species to explain the all-important differences between two lines in a graph. Color, size, motion, white space, enclosure, and shape are some graphical features that can attract attention to particular elements in a chart.

Different ways to emphasize visual information

Learn creating charts that tell a story

Knowing how to prepare efficient data charts and graphics will not only help you to create better slides; you will be able to use these skills to write clearer research papers and certainly it will increase your chances of obtaining research grants. My book Research Data Visualization and Scientific Graphics is a short guide that will help you to learn create charts that tell a story.

The example below directs the attention of the viewers within a single chart to the different topics that are being discussed (data from Evans et al. ). These could be presented in sequential slides.

conference presentation slides

The “Only 60 harvests ” left claims are exaggerated. Research by Evans et al. shows that depending on the soil management, only 7-34% of soils have less than 100 year lifespan.

conference presentation slides

Even most bare soils survive upwards of 300 years.

conference presentation slides

A good management practice can extend the soil’s life by several orders of magnitude.

A word of caution for those who might become too trigger-happy when discovering how easy it is to add animations to PowerPoint presentation slides: use these effects only when they add information to the story that you are telling. It quickly becomes irritating to see flying text, rotating slide transitions, expanding bullet points, and dissolving pictures. Revealing only one item at a time can be similarly annoying when done without a purpose.

conference presentation slides

Hint: Avoid using PowerPoint templates with busy backgrounds or colorful university logos on each slide. This limits your ability to draw the listeners’ attention to a particular item on the slide. On a busy background, the highlighted parts will not pop out quite as much as they would from a simple background.

Tip No.3: Use action titles

Instinctively we can probably agree that the most important information, regardless of the type of medium, should be the largest. For example, it would be weird if the largest letters on a milk bottle would rea “Recyclable”. Interestingly, almost none of us actually follow this logic when designing scientific conference presentation slides.

If you open PowerPoint, by default the largest text is the slide title. Since it is also located at the top of the slide, the title is going to be the first thing that draws the listener’s attention. But what do we put up there? Redundant, meaningless phrases like Methodology or Results of XYZ test . The figure below provides one such example.

conference presentation slides

The traditional PowerPoint title attracts all the attention while providing very little information.

You will probably agree that the tile Global temperature prediction does little to reveal what’s important about the information in the presentation slide. That is unless the listener has suddenly awoken from a nap and wants to understand what is the topic you are currently discussing. If this is the case, slide titles are the least of your problems.

Instead of wasting the title for redundant information, a much better idea is to follow the advice from the C.N.Knaflic’s book Storytelling with Data in using an action title . An action title should provide information about the results, highlight an important observation or a conclusion for the particular slide. For example, instead of a whole block of slides having the title Results , the individual slide titles would say Observations have high variability or Simulation supports the test results .

In other words, a conference slide title should present something important about the research that the audience should not miss. It sets the expectations for what to expect from the information on the slide.

See below the different ways in which an action title can be displayed in the presentation slides. Doesn’t this approach offer more information than the traditional PowerPoint slide title that we saw earlier?

A presentation slide with an action title

An action title highlights the key information that the listeners should not miss

A scientific conference presentation slide with a title at the bottom

Placing the action title at the bottom (and graying it out) is another option, giving more emphasis to the slide content.    

conference presentation slides

The widescreen (16:9) slide size can be put to good use by dividing it into two columns: one for visual information, the other for key text.

A scientific conference presentation slide without title

Removing the title altogether allows increasing the size of the graphics. The presenter tells all the information that was previously written in the slide title.

conference presentation slides

Font size rule of thumb : Make sure that the listeners in the back rows can read your slides comfortably. Since you will rarely have the chance to test this, apply the rule of thumb by using 14 to 28 pt. font size for the main text and in charts. References and other background information could be smaller and grayed out to avoid distracting from the main content.  

A free scientific conference presentation slide template

Now that we have reviewed three key principles of academic conference presentation slide design, use them to prepare your own slides. An even better way is to prepare a PowerPoint slide template that automatically incorporates many of these tips.

Below you will find a free PowerPoint template that I designed specifically for scientific conference presentations. It holds six preformatted slide layouts which by default follow many of the academic conference slide design tips that we just went through, including the use of action titles, focus on visual information, and large enough font size. The template also holds the three design tips to serve as a reminder from this post.

MS PowerPoint logo

You will access these free Powerpoint scientific presentation slide templates in the download

Great slides will not mask poor presentation skills

Creating great presentation slides is certainly important in order to make a memorable academic presentation. But no amount of slide polishing will mask other potential problems, including lack of substance, unclear presentation structure, and a presenter who is so stressed their mouth feels like a desert.

In the book “ Scientific Presentation Skills “, I will show you how to become a convincing presenter one skill at a time using the Five S presenting pyramid . It starts from the basics of putting together the presentation  Substance  (first S), advances to devising a presentation  Structure  (second S), shows how to put up a  Show  (third S), tell memorable  Stories  (fourth S), and finally, it will offer advice for how the  Speaker  (fifth S) can work on improving presentation skills, including dealing with stage fright. Poster design tips along with free design templates are also included.

Cover of the book "Scientific Presentation Skills: How to design effective research posters and deliver powerful academic presentations" by Martins Zaumanis

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Create a Conference Presentation

Common types of conference presentations.

Preparing your conference presentation

There are significant differences between a written paper, essay or report and a conference presentation. The introduction of a conference presentation should be considerably longer than that of a written text. Repetition is vital in a conference presentation. An audience needs to hear information several times and in slightly different forms to understand it, whereas in a written text the reader can refer back if necessary. Informal rather than formal language should be used in an oral conference presentation.

Think of a ‘catchy’ title as most conferences run parallel sessions and your presentation may compete with numerous presentations offered at the same time.

You will need to submit an abstract to the conference committee for your presentation to be accepted. If you have already written your paper, this task should be fairly easy as the abstract is a summary of the paper which is usually around 200–400 words . Ensure the issues, questions, thesis as well as the conclusion findings are clearly stated in the abstract.

In case the paper has not been written yet, prepare the abstract in such a way that you do not commit yourself to details that will not be addressed in the final paper.

Ensure that you follow guidelines set by the conference organizers regarding length, layout, references, etc. Write the paper as you would an essay, a report, or, more and more commonly, a journal article. The latter is particularly important if the conference proceedings are to be published (refereed or non-refereed). Check previous conference proceedings or journals in your field to ensure consistency with style, referencing, etc.

Presenting your conference presentation

When presenting your conference presentation you need to know your answers to the following questions:

Organise your presentation

Most presentations are organised according to a predictable pattern. They have three main stages: introduction, body and conclusion (i.e. tell them what you are going to say; then say it; then tell them what you have said).

When a presentation does not have these clear sections, it can be very difficult for listeners to follow what is being said.


This is the most crucial part of any presentation. You need to capture the audience’s interest in your topic and establish rapport with them. Your introduction should let the audience know what they are going to hear in the presentation. They need to know what to expect in order to get interested and to be able to follow you. Giving them an outline of your presentation in your introduction enables them to do this.

You need to:

The body of your presentation must be clearly organised with the main points highlighted. One effective technique is to number your ideas. Any idea which is new to your audience needs to be presented simply with supportive evidence or examples which will make it more easily understood. Each important idea should be presented several times in different ways within the body of your presentation. Your audience needs several opportunities to absorb the full meaning and the significance of the most important ideas. It is also important to state the links between your ideas clearly.

The body is where you develop your main ideas/argument, using supporting ideas/evidence. Use techniques that make it easy for the listener to follow your talk:

The conclusion sums up main points. The conclusion should reinforce the central ideas of the presentation and signal a forceful ending. A weak, inconclusive or apologetic closing detracts from a good presentation. You should show in your conclusion that you have covered all the points that you said you would in your introduction. You should also show that you are confident, and that you have communicated effectively.

It is important to have a strong conclusion so the audience is left with a good impression.

Presentation Tips

Advance preparation.

The more you know about your audience, the more likely you will be able to give an effective presentation. Try to find out as much as you can about who will be there, what their background is, why they will be coming, and how much they will already know about the topic. Go to the room where you will make your presentation and get a feel of its size, acoustics, seating, etc. If you can, familiarise yourself with the equipment in the room.

Clear pronunciation

Your voice must be clear and distinct. If you know you have difficulty with pronunciation, speak a little more slowly than usual. Use intonation, stress, changes in pace (slow down at important points, speed up at details, anecdotes) and pause to keep the listeners’ attention, and focus attention on important points.

Body language

It has been estimated that 75% of meaning transferred is non-verbal.  Try to maintain eye contact with your audience as this helps keep your audience engaged. Focus on standing straight and directly facing your audience, using hand gestures to emphasise important information.

Visual aids 

A presentation can be enhanced by the effective use of overhead transparencies (slides), charts, pictures, posters or PowerPoint presentations (with limited graphic/sound gimmicks). They provide variety and can help reinforce points made. However, you are still the main communicator of your message. Be familiar with your visual aids, refer to them specifically and only display them when you are referring to them, otherwise they will only be a distraction.

Expression and style

Try to speak to your audience using notes rather than memorising or reading your presentation. In order to do this, you will have to practise your presentations as many times as you can. If possible, perform in front of an audience. Otherwise, practise in front of a mirror or record yourself on your phone. This will also give you an idea of how long your presentation will take.

Use a conversation style to make your audience feel personally involved. Each time you use the word ‘you’, the audience feels compelled to pay attention.  

Back to top

Adapted from Barthel, A. 2010, ‘Presenting a conference paper’, ELSSA Centre, University of Technology Sydney.   

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