Science professor publishes 10 rules for effective short presentations

Communicating science effectively to the public and scientific community can be challenging, especially in a time when science is advancing so quickly and scientists are urged keep their communications succinct.

To help scientists create effective, short talks, Faculty of Science Professor Christopher Lortie has published 10 rules to follow. Short and swift presentations are growing in popularity; they’re seen as the perfect compromise between lengthy, detailed scientific presentations and sound bites appropriate for media reporting. They can be used at scientific conferences, public events, and even in the classroom.

“Now more than ever, the political climate needs scientists sharing their work,” says Lortie. “Short, rapid formats are an ideal opportunity for scientists to communicate with one another and the public too. This presentation style really focuses a study or project down to the bare bones of the five W’s – who, what, where, why, and when.”

Here are Lortie’s 10 rules in brief:

  1. Plan a clear story – avoid detours, tangents or side anecdotes
  2. Provide only one major point per slide – ensure each slide is a meaningful step
  3. Limit use of text – balance text with visuals and oral explanation
  4. Use simple visuals – simplify data visualizations as needed and use color to show groupings and patterns
  5. Develop a consistent theme – be consistent in style, graphical design, language and imagery, so as not to distract the audience from the main points in the presentation
  6. Repeat critical messages twice using different visuals – stick with only one repetition, using a visual analog, metaphor or simpler restatement of the major finding in a subsequent slide
  7. Use the principle of parsimony in explanations – identify concepts that require explanation and those that do not, and then use simple explanations
  8. Allocate more than one slide to effectively end the narrative –use a few slides to close the larger story arc, and don’t leave the audience hanging
  9. Use the final slide to contact information and links to resources – mention your social media accounts, email and website, and even include a link to the slide deck
  10. Use timed practice – the optimal extent of description per slide can only be discovered through timed practice

These rules ensure that the audience gets what they need and nothing more,” says Lortie.

Lortie developed his 10 presentation rules through repeated practice and failure and then more practice. Much of his inspiration came from observing students present their work and by their successes in taking risks in short talks and trying out fun and engaging personal ideas about their research. Lortie captured his students’ discoveries on what worked and didn’t work, and he summarized it in a publication so that professional scientists could potentially benefit too.

To read the full description of the rules, see the open access publication in PLOS Computational Biology.