what makes for a good academic presentation?

The art of presentation seems underappreciated in academia.  While we spend quite a bit of time presenting our research to various audiences — in fact, presentations often are the venue for us to get feedback — nonetheless, it’s striking how little generalizable advice one can find on how to present one’s ideas.   What, then, makes for a strong academic presentation?   I suppose we presume that if the research question and paper are good, then so is the presentation — perhaps that’s a start.  But, I don’t know whether directly copying a paper’s set-up and intuition is the right thing either; somehow I doubt it.  (Though, I have seen folks essentially read their papers, or directly post paragraphs from their paper onto powerpoint slides.  That’s one approach.)  

So, the question is, are there some general tips for what makes a good academic presentation?  Have you seen knock-out presentations in academia, what made them good?  At this stage, all I know is what doesn’t make for a good presentation:  

  • Literature review.
  • Endless citations.
  • Too many slides.
  • Slides with paragraphs of 12 pt font.
  • Dad’s tie powerpoint background.

Hmm, that sounds like many of my presentations, and about 90+% of academic presentations I’ve seen.  I don’t know what the solutions are, let me know if you know of resources online (or elsewhere).  Meanwhile, presentation zen seems to have loads of advice on presenting in general (with links to well-executed presentations), though, somehow I don’t think the Steve Jobs-approach idolized over there would fly in an academic setting.  Edward Tufte also has some advice. 


Written by teppo

March 27, 2008 at 6:58 pm

16 Responses

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  1. Tufte has an almost cultish following, but with good reason. As a lapsed or wannabe academic (depending on one’s temporal perspective), I gaze in wonder at the corporate environment in which I work. A recent 90-minute presentation from IBM included 168 PowerPoint slides. Meanwhile, a friend who has recently published a book on Chinese nuclear policy defended his dissertation on the topic with a four-page, 11×17 brochure a la Tufte. The friend’s dissertation committee were impressed, while the IBM audience were nonplussed. The salient point here though is that it isn’t the content but rather the quality and crispness of thought, something that appears to be correlated with how much stuff you have to put out there to make your point.



    March 27, 2008 at 7:06 pm

  2. Eszter’s post at Lifehacker has some great advice.



    March 27, 2008 at 7:29 pm

  3. It’s funny that this is the one thing that grad school doesn’t spend a lot of time preparing students for, yet it’s one of the most important things a successful job market candidate needs to know how to do.

    Some of the best presentations I’ve seen at the annual meetings only have 2 or 3 slides. What seems to count more than showing a lot of information is being able to succinctly communicate one or two main ideas.



    March 27, 2008 at 7:31 pm

  4. I’ve seen variants of the Lessig method been used at conferences rather successfully. I also used to use it to teach 11-19 year olds about IT.


    Naadir Jeewa

    March 27, 2008 at 7:47 pm

  5. These are not exactly about the normative rules what a good presentation should be (actually in the german book by Schnettler/Knoblauch there is a chapter about the normative expectations by A. König), but there is some research on the topic of PowerPoint presentation as a communicative Genre/Form (some in German); recent articles and books:

    Yiannis Gabriel, “Against the Tyranny of PowerPoint: Technology-in-Use and Technology Abuse,” Organization Studies 29, no. 2 (Februar 1, 2008): 255-276.

    Hubert Knoblauch, “The Performance of Knowledge: Pointing and Knowledge in Powerpoint Presentations,” Cultural Sociology 2, no. 1 (März 1, 2008): 75-97.

    Bernt Schnettler u. Hubert Knoblauch (Hrsg.), Präsentationen. Formen der visuellen Kommunikation von Wissen, Konstanz: UVK 2007

    Schnettler, Bernt (2006), Orchestrating Bullet Lists and Commentaries. A Video Performance Analysis of Computer Supported Presentations in: H. Knoblauch, B. Schnettler, J. Raab & H.-G. Soeffner (Eds.), Video-Analysis. Methodology and Methods of Qualitative Audiovisual Data Analysis in Sociology, Frankfurt am Main: Lang, S. 155-169

    Bernt Schnettler & Rene Tuma (in preparation), Presentation, Failure, and Risk – A Video – Analysis of PowerPoint Usage

    David Stark & Verena Paravel, “PowerPoint in Public: Digital Technologies and the New Morphology of Demonstration.” forthcoming 2008 in Theory, Culture & Society.

    Rendle-Short, J., 2006. The Academic Presentation: Situated Talk in Action, Ashgate.



    March 27, 2008 at 8:29 pm

  6. […] make good acadmic presentations Teppo at Orgtheory tackles the question: not much in the post itself except for a few tips of how not to; but there are some pointers […]


  7. (1) Read a text from the beginning to the end and never look at your audience.
    (2) Time management: Skip steps 3 through 7 and go right the conclusion.
    (3) A powerpoint presentation is particularly impressive if the text is 12 pt Times New Roman on white background with the sun is shining onto the wall where a presentation is presented.



    March 27, 2008 at 9:50 pm

  8. Thanks for the feedback! (I’ll post later about other helpful resources I’ve found.)



    March 27, 2008 at 10:57 pm

  9. Kieran’s recent Harvard-MIT Org Soc Colloquium was a visually stunning presentation. Perhaps he can be convinced to post some of his slides as exemplars?
    [the one that used Frank Dobbin’s book as the starting point for network generation was especially gorgeous and effective]



    March 28, 2008 at 3:03 am

  10. Thanks for this post. I have been wondering the same thing. I’ve been trying to mimic the Lessig method in my teaching this semester. After an initial uproar over the fact that they were going to have to write their own notes, my students settled down and seem to be more engage in the lecture-discussions. I know I have more fun making the presentations this way. What interested me about their reaction was that they expected the “Death by Powerpoint” method, and I had to explain why this wasn’t in their best interest as learners… Is changing up the style something academic presentations can take for granted? For example, I’m imagining leaving out a lit review in a job talk…how do you think that would that go over? Hmmm…I don’t think it would go over. There are certain targets that they expect one to hit, right? or is a job talk a different category of presenting than a typical academic presentation?



    March 28, 2008 at 5:09 pm

  11. That should have read “inversely correlated”.

    Muleer, there seem to be implicit checklists for a lot of this stuff. There is a particular conference at which I have presented a few times, and the pressure to use PowerPoint is extraordinary. The underlying motive seems to be repurposing of summarized content, but it translates as medium being preferred to message.



    March 28, 2008 at 9:22 pm

  12. Still working on this — a few helpful comments here.



    April 11, 2008 at 6:23 am

  13. […] teppo by Teppo on May 13th, 2008 So, I don’t know that I have any answers about what makes for a good (academic) presentation (though, note that the comments to that post have links to some fantastic advice). For now […]


  14. Read every page and watch every clip on Garr Reynolds’ Presentation Zen ( Buy the book if necessary.



    May 13, 2008 at 8:23 pm

  15. […] ol’ keynote, google and/or ppt – until further notice. . I’m still wondering – what makes for a good academic presentation?  For now, it seems that the research question, idea itself and you have to shine.  If the […]


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