12 Quick Tips for Research Presentations

1. Don’t use bullet points – animate your statements

It is best to reduce the text on your slides to as little as possible. But sometimes you have to list essential information. Rather than simply putting up a wall of text immediately – animate your (abbreviated) statements to pop up point by point as you talk about them. Otherwise people will simply read the wall and ignore you. And as reading can be difficult with distraction, they won’t absorb what they read.

2. When arranging your slide – remember your audience

I can’t count the number of presentations I have attended where audience heads have blocked slide content. Depending on the room you are presenting in, it is likely that the bottom quarter of your slides will be obscured. Thus, do not place critical images or information here. Similarly, ensure that your text is legible from a distance. This is also dependent on what room you are presenting in. For instance, a lab journal club presentation in a small room can utilize smaller text than a ballroom presentation for 1,000+ attendees. And lastly, keep in mind that not only your slide title text needs to be legible, but also the numbers and title axes on your graphs, the scale bars on your immunos, and your figure citations.

3. Pay attention to your fonts and symbols

While we’re talking about type, use the same font at the same size for similar types of text boxes. For example, have one size for a title, another size for text boxes, but keep the font the same. If you need to specialize, there’s always bold and italics, but use them sparingly. In Microsoft Powerpoint, symbols can be found under the “Insert” tab.

4. Don’t use gradients, and pre-screen your colors

Use subdued colors that do not clash – yellow and dark blue is a well known color disaster, but also purple and orange, red and green, etc. Also, colors often display differently on a projected screen than on your monitor. Always find a projector and check your colors to make sure everything is distinct and legible a day or so before your presentation. If you want to use a dark background be sure that you can read the type easily. And don’t flip back and forth between dark and light backgrounds – this can stimulate eye fatigue in an audience.

5. Be careful with those immunos

When you show a single immunostain separated into several images with a different channel in each image, be sure to leave a gap between them so you can distinguish between them and easily compare them. If you place them directly next to one another it is difficult to tell where one image ends and the next begins and comparison becomes impossible. Also, be sure to label your channels. I need to be able to find out what green is from the slide in case I miss you saying it.

6. Don’t stretch your images or your type

I repeat, don’t stretch your images or your type! Always proportionally increase or decrease size (hold shift down as you re-size). It is obvious when items are stretched and it comes off as sketchy resulting in doubt of your work.

7. If you don’t talk about it, don’t show it

Don’t distract from your point by including additional information on a slide that you don’t discuss. You are the guide to understanding your research, you want the attention on you.

8. If you show math/equations, it has to be worth the loss of attention.

Highly dependent on your area of study and audience, you may or may not want to discuss math/equations. Of course if it is critical to your work, show it, but be sure to break it down.

9. Each slide should summarize a single significant point of information

This is easy to test in formulating your slide title. If you’ve got an “and” in there, rethink if you could break the slide into two.

10. Watch your margins

Don’t let important information get cut off. Sometimes projectors are not perfectly centered. Leave a margin of at least half an inch on all sides of your presentation slides.

11. Use animations sparingly

Animations attract attention, but only when used sparingly. Overuse can cause fatigue.

12. Don’t use animated slide transitions

They might have been fun in middle school, but in a scientific presentation they just add time and can trip you up as you’re speaking.

Let’s add to the list! What other helpful tips have you come across?


Reducing Your PDF Size

To submit your paper to a journal you will likely need to drastically reduce the size of your manuscript pdf – especially for the initial submission – but how do you do this without hurting the quality of your images?

A Quick Fix

For an initial submission, let’s try the easiest way first.


Open the file you wish to reduce in Adobe Acrobat Pro (this will not work with Adobe Reader).  Under File -> Save as Other -> Reduced Size PDF. Choose Retain Existing and pick a new file name. The new file will be the smallest Acrobat can shrink it without visually altering your digital image quality, however the file is possibly no longer at print resolution and you should always screen the file to make sure no odd image alterations took place.

Did that not reduce it enough? Or do you need it at print resolution for the final submission? Read on, traveler.

More Control with Adobe Acrobat

There are two ways to have more control over your pdf size. One is found in Adobe Acrobat and one in Adobe Illustrator. Let’s look at Adobe Acrobat first.

Under File -> Save as Other -> Optimized PDF.

This opens up the PDF Optimizer window.


Let’s click the “Audit Space Usage” button in the top right. This shows you where the majority of your file size is coming from. Predictably it will be from your images.

Under the Image Settings you see a lot of options for how to alter your Color, Grayscale, and Monochrome Images. The safest type of downsampling is called “bicubic downsampling” and it is probably preselected for you.

For print resolution, you want to not downsample below 300 ppi for any of these options. And you want to retain your existing compression. Note that publications will generally tell you the dpi/ppi they require. In some cases they will ask for the monochrome images not to be reduced below 1200. Look at the author guidelines of the journal you are submitting to in order to be sure of their requirements.

For getting that file size down to manageable levels, let’s choose 150 ppi and retain existing compression. This should reduce the file size, but you shouldn’t really notice a difference in image quality.

For getting that file size down as low as possible, let’s choose 72 ppi and retain existing compression. This many begin to erode your image quality depending on your images. Check through and see if it degrades the images too much for your liking.

For more tips on these other windows you can find more info here.

More Control with Adobe Illustrator

Go to File -> Save as -> PDF

Here you’ll first see a screen like so:


To reduce the size, select the checkbox above for “Optimize for Fast Web View” and uncheck the other boxes.

Next click the “Compression” tab on the left hand side of the window and these options will appear:


You’ll note these options are very similar to those for Optimizing your PDF in Acrobat. The same rules apply.

For print resolution on that final manuscript submission, you want to not downsample below 300 ppi for any of these options. Be sure to check the journal you are submitting to as they may stipulate these settings. In particular, they might request your monochrome bitmap images not dip below 1200 dpi/ppi.

For getting that file size down to manageable levels for the initial submission, let’s choose 150 ppi. This should reduce the file size, but you shouldn’t really notice a difference in image quality.

Still not small enough? For getting that file size down as low as possible, let’s choose 72 ppi. This many begin to erode your image quality depending on your images. Check through and see if it degrades the images too much for your liking.

Always choose Bicubic downsampling and ZIP compression.

Hopefully this helps! Let me know if you have specific concerns in the comments.