Hints for Your Oral Presentations

Oral presentations are an important means of communicating scientific information. Oral presentations are often used to present experimental findings at colleges and universities (where they are also known as "seminars"), and at scientific meetings. Therefore, it is important that you gain experience with this presentation format as well.

Everyone realizes it can be uncomfortable to speak in front of a group, and it is especially hard the first time. You'll make some mistakes--that's part of the learning process. Please realize that any questions that you are asked by your classmates or instructor are not meant to be taken personally. So, don't be afraid of questions -- they are intended to further our understanding of your scientific investigation. The best preparation for presentations is to understand what you did, especially why you set the experiment up the way you did in order to answer a specific scientific question.

Each group will give an oral presentation about their experiment. The presentation should be organized in a manner similar to your scientific reports, with general categories such as: Introduction, Material and Methods, Results, and Discussion/Conclusion. For groups of 4, each person should present one of the following sections.

1) The Introduction can include things such as background information, the reasons for doing the experiment, and your hypothesis.

2) The Materials and Methods should include your experimental design, where you describe the samples you're testing and the controls you've incorporated into the experiment. In addition, you can do a very brief overview of the major procedures you performed. Be sure and consider your audience: all the groups did a basic enzyme laboratory, so there is no need to repeat "standard" protocols. Include procedures that are different from the standard protocol, and be sure to present enough of your protocol so that everyone is clear as to exactly what you did.

3) The Results should be a clear and concise display and explanation of your data. Your data should be distilled down to the important facts, and not necessarily every piece of data you collected. However, don't make the mistake of showing a figure and saying, "This is what we got." and then sitting saying nothing else. Walk us through the figure.

4) Finally, the Discussion will be your interpretation of your results, such things as if the data support your hypotheses. Do you have reason to believe your data were inaccurate or perhaps your assumptions about how the data "should" look? What would you do next time to investigate the problem further?

Your group's presentation should last no more than 15 minutes, since there must be time for questions and discussion with the rest of the class afterward. Each person in your group must speak during the presentation. The use of visual aids is very important; we suggest you print very small figures and then use the digital projection system for the class to see.


In preparing your presentation, you may find it helpful to keep the following questions in mind:

1. Do you clearly state the question you are trying to answer?

2. Is it clear what you did to try and answer your question?

3. Do you explain your results, especially inconsistent or unexpected results?

4. Do you convey why you did the different conditions in your experiment?

5. Did you explain what your data mean? Can you answer the question from number 1 above?

Your group will be critiqued in two ways. First, your classmates will review your presentation. You will not be graded by your classmates - these comments are to help you. Each person will review every group by responding to the following two questions:

1) What were the strengths of this group?

2) What improvements could be made by this group?

When making comments about the presentation of others, keep in mind the four questions listed above, as well as other things such as whether the group was organized, if everyone participated, if their conclusions were valid, etc. This is meant to be a helpful suggestion and not a slap in the face.

I will be interested in similar categories, especially how clearly you present your material, whether you display understanding of what you did and why you did it, and if the data support your conclusions. You will receive a group grade on a scale from 1-10 points, but the important thing is to become comfortable talking in front of a group and to have fun with your presentation.

© Copyright 2000 Department of Biology, Davidson College, Davidson, NC 28036
Send comments, questions, and suggestions to: macampbell@davidson.edu