Ideas for high impact presentations


How to engage conference audiences with a memorable presentation

'A presentation is a sequence of concrete examples and stories that snap together to form a compelling argument.'

Chip and Dan Heath, Making presentations that stick – free online resource

There are many simple presentation techniques to help you engage your audience. Here we provide an overview of the key principles to follow, some of the newer technologies you can use, and how to create a high impact poster.

Tried and tested principles for a strong presentation

Be clear about the overarching argument you are making

Structure your presentation around your core argument, using stories and examples to ground the ideas. This makes it more likely that your presentation will be remembered. Make sure your content reflects the theme and broader aims of the event.

Your presentation should provide only a snapshot of your research

If you try and do justice to your many years of study in a short time slot, you are more likely to overwhelm than enlighten. Focus on up to three major points that you want to communicate, and devote at least half of your presentation to these points. This means stripping out almost all unnecessary details that don’t support your headline messages.

Take time to think through the relevance of your research to the audience

Tailor your presentation to reflect their knowledge, interests and concerns. A presentation to a lay audience would be framed very differently to what you might present to academic colleagues. It sounds obvious, but it is surprising how often this is overlooked. When presenting to an academic audience, don’t dwell so long on your methodology that you run out of time to engage them in the findings.

Bring some of your own personality to the presentation

If you show people why this research question matters to you, you may also tap into their interests and motivations. Smile at your audience and make eye contact with them.

Don’t overlook the powerful roles that humour, curiosity and surprise play in injecting and sustaining interest

Humour can be difficult to pitch, especially for an international audience, but if you think you can strike the right note it’s a very effective way of bringing your audience onside. You can also inspire curiosity among your audience by posing questions and revealing the answers. This works particularly well in cases where your research findings may be unexpected or counterintuitive.

If you need to plan for a conference presentation, you might find this checklist helpful.

Newer technology and approaches

Developments in technology have greatly enhanced researchers’ abilities to produce presentations with high visual impact, to use multimedia and to interact with their audience. Here we provide a brief overview of some of the latest trends.

Aiming for greater visual impact

There are lots of ways to make academic presentations more visually engaging.

Professor Ronald Berk has analysed the research findings on the effectiveness of PowerPoint presentations. He emphasises the role that good imagery plays in transferring knowledge. He encourages academics to use ‘bold, colourful, 2D (not 3D), high impact, high quality, strong, dynamic (animated) graphics (photos, charts, graphs, tables, diagrams) that make a specific point with no detail’.

A Prezi presentation can have great visual impact. The tool is generally more useful than PowerPoint for non-linear presentations as it enables the user to zoom in and out, and to skip forwards and backwards.

The presentation style, PechaKucha, which originated in Japan in 2003, is a fast-paced, image-rich presentation in which 20 slides are presented, each lasting 20 seconds. This approach is suitable for events where audiences are expected to listen to a number of presentations in a short space of time.

Making effective use of multimedia and music

Another growing trend is for researchers to include film, audio, animations and even a soundtrack in their presentations. In his paper (mentioned above), Professor Berk points to research that shows how music can help to sustain attention and make a presentation more memorable.

Embedding rich media in your presentation is easier to achieve than ever, and there is no shortage of online guides to help you do this.

Involving your audience

Event technologies now provide more opportunities for researchers to interact with their audience in real time, either in person or online. The more you can actively involve your audience in a presentation, the more impact you are likely to have. Check in advance with the event organiser about the facilities they have to enable live voting or to crowdsource questions from the audience – for example, through the use of

There are also simpler ways to engage your audience. These include posing questions for them to consider as you present, asking for a show of hands on a given question, or involving them in a short exercise.

When Professor Veronica Hope-Hailey, Dean of the School of Management at the University of Bath, opens a presentation about her work studying behaviour change in the workplace, she sometimes asks her audience to pick up their pen in their opposite hand and write. She then asks them how this made them feel. This simple, practical exercise encourages her audience to identify with the more abstract insights from the research she presents.

Creating a high-impact conference poster

Few people producing conference posters pay enough attention to the importance of visual impact. This means that by following a few simple tips, you can easily make your poster stand out.

  • Pay as much attention to the design and visual approach as you pay to the text.
  • Choose a theme that is going to be of most relevance to your audience, providing only a snapshot of the study in relation to this theme.
  • Hone down the supporting information to reinforce only two to three key messages about the research.
  • Make sure there is lots of white space on the poster, complemented by concise copy and striking images, diagrams and/or photographs.
  • If your aim is to network, make sure you are near the poster during breaks so that you can engage interested parties in a conversation about the work.


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