Institute for Academic Development
Institute for Academic Development

Presentations and posters

Guidance and tips for effective oral and visual presentations.

Academic presentations

Presenting your work allows you to demonstrate your knowledge and familiarity of your subject. Presentations can vary from being formal, like a mini lecture, to more informal, such as summarising a paper in a tutorial. You may have a specialist audience made up of your peers, lecturers or research practitioners or a wider audience at a conference or event. Sometimes you will be asked questions. Academic presentations are typically oral, such as a talk with slides, or a poster presentation, and they may be assessed. Presentations may be individual or collaborative group work.

The basics

A good presentation will communicate your main points to an audience clearly, concisely and logically. Your audience doesn’t know what it is you are trying to say, so you need to guide them through your argument.

There are a few key points that you should consider with any sort of presenting:

  • What is the format? Is it a poster, a talk with visual material or a video?
  • What is the purpose? (For example: to summarise a debate; report the results of an experiment; present fieldwork; justify your research approach.)
  • Who is your audience?
  • What content needs to be included? Do you need to cover everything, just one topic or a particular aspect? How much detail is expected?
  • How should it be organised? This is often the trickiest part of designing a presentation and can take a few attempts.

Planning a presentation

Different people take different approaches to presentations. Some may start by doing some reading and research, others prefer to draft an outline structure first. 

To make an effective start, check your course materials for the format you need to use (e.g. handbooks and Learn pages for style guidelines). If it is an oral presentation, how long do you have?  If it will be assessed, have a look at the marking criteria so you know how you will be marked. (If you do not use the required formatting, you may be penalised.) Do you need to allow time for questions?

One way to think about the content and draft a rough structure of your presentation is to divide it into a beginning, middle and end.

  • The beginning: How are you going to set the scene for your audience and set out what they can expect to gain from your presentation? This section should highlight the key topic(s) and give any necessary background. How much background depends on your audience, for example your peers might need less of an introduction to a topic than other audiences.
  • The middle: How are you going tell the story of your work? This section should guide your audience through your argument, leading them to your key point(s). Remember to include any necessary evidence in support. You might also want to include or refer to relevant methods and materials.
  • The end: What is your conclusion or summary? This section should briefly recap what has been covered in the presentation and give the audience the final take-home message(s). Think about the one thing you want someone to remember from your talk or poster.

Alternatively, it can be really effective to start at the end and think about the one point you want your audience to take away from your presentation. Then you can work backwards to decide what needs to go in the other sections to build your argument.

Presentation planner worksheet (pdf)

Presentation planner worksheet (Word docx)

Presentation planner (Word rtf)

Using the right language can really help your audience follow your argument and also helps to manage their expectations.

Guiding your audience (pdf) 

Guiding your audience (Word rtf)

Oral presentations – practise, practise, practise!

Giving a talk can be daunting. If you have a spoken presentation to give, with or without slides, make sure you have time to rehearse it several times.

Firstly, this is really good at helping you overcome any nerves as you’ll know exactly what you are going to say. It will build your confidence.

Saying something aloud is a really effective way to check for sense, structure and flow. If it is difficult to say, or doesn’t sound right, then the audience may find it difficult to follow what you are trying to say.

Finally, practising helps you know how long your presentation will take. If your presentation is being assessed, you may be penalised for going over time as that would be unfair to other presenters (it is like going over your word count).  

If you can, find out what resources and equipment you will have when you present. It is usually expected that presenters will wear or use a microphone so that everyone can hear. Also think about how you are going to use your visual material.

IS PowerPoint 2013: Absolute Beginners

IS Creating accessible materials - PowerPoint presentations

IS LinkedIn Learning - online skills development

Making a video

There is no need to use expensive specialist equipment to make a recorded presentation. The Media Hopper Create platform allows film makers to create, store, share and publish their media content easily. You can create presentations using the Desktop Recorder on a PC or Mac.

All University of Edinburgh students are provided with an account on the Media Hopper service allowing you to record and upload media to your personal space and publish to channels. 

You can also use your mobile phone or tablet to make a video presentation. The DIY Film School is an online course covering the basics of shooting video on a mobile device, filming outdoors and indoors and how to get the best audio. Some materials from LinkedIn Learning are relevant to the DIY Film School and include editing advice.

IS Media Hopper Create

IS DIY Film School online course

IS LinkedIn Learning and the DIY Film School

Poster presentations

A poster is a way of visually conveying information about your work. It is meant to be a taster or overview, not an in-depth explanation and discussion. Your poster should communicate your point(s) effectively without you being there to explain it.

The trickiest thing with poster presentations can be the limited space and words you have. You will need to think critically about what it is important to present.

If the poster is assessed, or is for an event such as a conference, there may be a size and format which you need to follow (e.g. A1 portrait or A0 landscape). Your title should be clear.  Aim to make your poster as accessible as possible by considering the type size and font, colours and layout. It is usually good practice to include your name and email address so people know who you are and how to contact you.

Information Services (IS) have a range of resources including help on using software such as PowerPoint to make a poster and guides to printing one.

IS Designing an academic poster

IS uCreate user guides and advice on poster printing

Go further

Standing up and talking can be intimidating; so can being filmed. Anxiety and stress can get in the way of performing effectively. 

The Student Counselling Service offer advice and workshops on a variety of topics. They have produced a helpful e-booklet about stress, why we need it and how to manage our stress levels to strike the right balance. 

Student Counselling service

Self-help online courses and workbooks on anxiety, stress and mental wellbeing

Stress: A short guide for students (pdf booklet)

Information Services (IS) provides access to a range of support and training for software provided by the University. This includes training and advice on LinkedIn Learning.

IS Digital skills and training

IS LinkedIn Learning

IS Microsoft Office 365 suite

Prezi is a popular alternative to PowerPoint but is often inaccessible to disabled people. Therefore it is recommended that Prezi is not used for academic presentations. However, if you have to use Prezi, there are some steps you can take to improve your presentation.

IS PREZI and accessibility issues

If you are presenting at an external event, it may be appropriate to use University branding.

University brand guidelines and logos (Communications and Marketing)