LSEUPR Academic Conference Presentation Guide
You have just received an email notifying you that your abstract/paper has been accepted to be presented at a conference. For passionate researchers this is a big moment and a fantastic achievement – one which you should celebrate! Now the work starts to craft your presentation. This guide will layout all the basic requirements of a good oral academic presentation and some key tips that you should bear in mind.
The goal of your presentation should be to advertise your research (and yourself!) by highlighting your originality, your process, and the ideas that you want people to leave with.
Firstly, how do you structure an academic presentation?
We lay out below the key sections that your presentation should include and the suggested timings for a 15-minute presentation. You can use similar ratios for longer or shorter presentations.
Introduction (1 minute)
Your introduction should summarise your whole presentation into one slide and cover 3 different things.
- Why your research question is important.
- What the gap in the literature is.
- What your key finding is.
The point of the introduction is to tell the audience what you are going to tell them. This is an academic presentation, not a drama! There are no room for surprises and the audience should know what you are going to say so that they can follow your work clearly. It might seem like a short amount of time to cover so much but you should be extremely brief and just give the main headlines.
Literature Review (2 minutes)
The literature review section in your presentation should be used to highlight the originality of your paper. By outlining what the current literature says about the topic, you can tell your audience where the gap is. Then you should introduce your research question (RQ) in the context of the current literature. This is called situating your RQ in the literature. Explicitly tell the audience “Here is what the current literature says about decentralisation, they do not discuss this aspect of decentralisation, that is why my research question [insert RQ] addresses this gap”.
Methodology (3 minutes)
The methodology is your chance to explain how you go about answering your RQ. You should spend more time on this compared to your previous sections.
The format of this section is heavily dependent on what your methodology is. For political/philosophical theory papers, you probably want to use this section to explain your theoretical framework. If you are conducting a survey then you want to discuss how you carried out the survey, who you surveyed, how you analysed the results etc. If your paper uses a more quantitative technique, then you should talk about the data, what methods you used to analyse the data, and why they were appropriate.
Importantly, you need to be very specific and clear about the method you used and why this was the correct methodology.
Results (3 minutes)
The results section is one of the most important and it is exactly what is says on the tin. During this section you should go through the main results that you found using your methodology.
It is important to structure this section in a logical way that follows a natural flow. For example, going back to our decentralisation example, you may initially show a broad effect of decentralisation on economic growth in a country. After this you may want to decompose this effect and look at what aspects of decentralisation are affecting different components of economic growth. The idea of the presentation is to tell a story and the results section should be done in a similar fashion.
Discussion (4 minutes)
After you have outlined your results, you will need to go into the discussion of those results. It is important that in your results section you are not providing too much discussion or explanation of the results because this should be reserved for the discussion section.
The discussion section, exactly like the part in your paper, is your chance to add to the literature and showcase your key findings by explaining what your results mean and why they are so significant. There may be many different explanations and significant points you want to highlight but you only have a limited time so you should focus on only the most important ones.
Limitations (1 minute)
All research has its own set of limitations, no matter how much time or skill is put into it. You should always be upfront about what those limitations are and be humble in your conclusions. Spend a small amount of time very briefly going over a few different limitations of your study. This may be something related to the data, bias in the survey, or that your theoretical framework may not be valid in all cases. Whatever your limitation is, make sure to highlight it.
Conclusion (1 minute)
Now you can conclude your presentation with a very brief overview of what you have said. A quick reminder about what the gap in the literature was, what you found, and what the main take away(s) is(are). The conclusion is your chance to hammer home your headline point that you want the audience members to think about after they leave.
The timings above are not rigid and you can adjust them accordingly to your liking. However, remember that you should devote a considerable amount of your time to the results and discussion. Papers which are more interested in trying out new methodologies or have methodologies as a key focus of their paper, should spend more time explaining it.
It is often hard to get timings right in a time limited presentation. You are condensing months (or even years!) of research and thousands of words into a short 15-minute presentation. This is not easy to do. It is useful to start this process by thinking about what the most important parts of your research/paper are and then slowly reduce this until you fit inside the time constraint. Doing this before you start making your slides will help considerably when cutting down. Remember: you will not cover everything from your paper but you will have a chance to mention extra things in the Q&A.
You can improve your timings by practising your presentation. A useful tool is ‘Rehearse Timings’ in the Slide Show menu of PowerPoint which times the length of your presentation. If you are not comfortable presenting to yourself, you can ask staff at your university or family/friends to listen to you. Doing this will give you a good idea of where you need to cut down and which sections need working on. Practice!
Understanding your audience
It is very important when presenting that you know who you are presenting to. Not everyone in the audience will have the same level of expertise as you so it is important to tailor your presentation to them. It is not useful to use lots of complex terms without explaining them – especially at an undergraduate conference where people have not yet specialised.
You should not ‘dumb anything down’, you just need to explain things differently. When complex terms need to be used, explain it with understandable language.
Remember that the audience want to hear you speak, not read your paper off the PowerPoint. Try not to clutter your slides with paragraphs of text. Use images, visuals etc, to aid what you are saying, not replace what you are saying. Choose large fonts and use clear slide titles. You do not need to name each section ‘introduction, methodology…’, get creative whilst sticking to the structure laid out above. For example, instead of saying ‘methodology’, why not say ‘a quantitative approach to decentralisation’. Make sure you are keeping to a consistent template/format to not confuse or distract the audience.
Finally, for both quantitative and qualitative research, you should make sure you are presenting results/data in an appropriate way. Instead of tables, try using charts. If you are discussing a theoretical framework, use visual graphics to make a complex idea easier to follow. If you have a regression table, consider using coefficient plots to present your results. These are just some examples. There are plenty of ways to present qualitative and quantitative research and you can look around for inspiration.
The aim of your presentation should be to broaden awareness of yourself and your research. Remember, your content should be concise, memorable, and digestible but keep an open mind to questions. You can spark curiosity whilst also taking on constructive feedback that will aid your future academic progress. You might not have an answer to everything and it is perfectly okay to say you missed something or to acknowledge a helpful question that you will then incorporate into your research. This is not a place to be grilled on your research, but a place to learn how to improve it.
Dr Sarah Knowles Presentation Advice on LSE Blogs: How to Win at Academic Presentations (we highly recommend this one!)