Oral Presentations

Short oral presentations are the second most common way of communicating research findings and receiving feedback at professional conferences. While your oral presentation should stand alone as a communication tool, it should also function as an interactive visual aid while you speak to your audience. It also serves as a conversation-starter for people interested in your type of work and encourages people to seek you out during informal conference sessions to discuss your work and possible collaborations or connections to related research.  

If this is your first year as a STAR Fellow your research presentation must be a research poster, the most common form of research presentation. A certain number of STAR Alumni will be asked to prepare a short oral presentation instead.


Almost every conference has specific requirements that your presentation must meet in order to be accepted and presented. The STAR conference is no exception. A good presentation will help you expand your professional network and communicate important ideas to your peers, students, and potential employers for years to come. A poor presentation may detract from the perceived value of your research. Good presentation design takes a substantial amount of time. Be certain that your presentation meets the requirements, start creating it early, and allow time for peer review in your workshop and editing. There are several key deadlines you must meet for the Program to run smoothly. The Program deadlines are always available on the Program page. The nine-week program is very busy and goes by incredibly quickly. It is important that you demonstrate your professionalism by keeping track of deadlines and meeting them. If it looks like you might have trouble meeting a deadline, make contact with the others involved before the deadline arrives. The presentation submission deadlines to your site and STAR are 'hard deadlines' and cannot be extended.

Important Note: A few partner lab site REQUIRE that you usetheir oral presentation template. In these cases, the lab site requirements supersede the STAR requirements.

  • Lab Site Security Clearance Submission Deadline - Several sites require security clearance before your research can be presented offsite. You are not permitted to edit the presentation after receiving clearance so be sure to manage your time and submit your presentation to your lab site coordinator by the deadline.
  • Abstract and Title Deadline - You must submit your poster title and abstract text (max. 300 words) to STAR by the posted deadline (see Program page) using the online submission process. There are some helpful ideas about abstracts below. Abstract do not appear on your poster, they will be printed in the Conference Program.
  • Time Limits - Presentations will each be allotted 15 minutes with the intent of having 10-12 minutes of presentation and 3-5 minutes of question and answer time. In consideration of your colleagues, please prepare for these time limits.
  • Content - Your presentation must contain the following subsections regarding your individual research project:
    • Title
    • Authors (your name and names of collaborators with superscripts indicating institutional affiliations). Be certain that all co-authors give you permission to list them and ensure that they have appropriate input and review access to the presentation. All authors should be made aware that this work will be made publicly available at the Cal Poly Digital Commons.  
    • Affiliations (matching author superscripts)
    • Objectives (or Aims, Introduction, Background, etc.)
    • Methods
    • Results (or Findings)
    • Discussion (or Conclusions, Summary, etc.)
    • Bibliography (or Cited References, References, etc.) if you make reference to specific published work elsewhere in your poster. Do not cite general references.
    • Acknowledgments STAR provides text to include in this section acknowledging the funder supporting your work directly, also list any other sources of funding or in-kind support your work received. You must also include the logo of your indicated funder and STAR. You may include other logos as appropriate. STAR and funder logos and text are included on the USB drive provided to each Fellow at the start of the program.
    • Conference Presentation Format - You must come to the Research Conference prepared with your presentation on a USB flash drive which we will collect at check-in. Please have your name on the drive. Windows and Apple OS computers will be available for presentations in Powerpoint 2010 and earlier formats. Please check with the Program Staff in advance if Keynote or online presentation tools (such as Prezi or Awesome) are needed. It is advisable that you also have a copy of your presentation as a single pdf file with all images and fonts embedded within the file in case there are any technical incompatibilities. A laser pointer and slide-advance remote will be provided if you wish to use it.
    • Do not include your poster abstract or a 'mugshot' photo of yourself on your poster - The STAR conference book will have your abstract printed in it to summarise your work, and your poster is essentially an illustrated abstract of your research itself. The book will also have your photo in it so that your peers can find you during the conference to talk about your work.

Guidelines for Overall Design

Your primary goal in creating the poster is to simply and clearly communicate a story which leads the reader through 1) what you intended to do, 2) what you did, 3) what you found out, and 4) what you think about your results. You can assume that your audience are well educated university graduates who are not experts in your research field. Keep it simple. Arrange your sections in a logical progression that you can use to give a 'guided tour' through your project in person.

Here are some other points to consider:

  • Each slide should be meaningful itself and contribute to your overall story. Assume you will spend one minute per slide, but you may wish to break a complex slide into two portions of 30 seconds each. 
  • Use only two or three colors where possible and keep the background simple.
  • Choose fonts and colors to maximize contrast. A light font on a dark background is easier to read than vice versa.
  • Choose fonts and font sizes for the main text areas that are easy to read from far away, typically use text of 24-36 points.
  • Avoid technical jargon where possible. 
  • Avoid sentences that span more than two lines. Organize and reduce text by using subheadings and bullet points. 
  • Have one more or more good editors who are not involved with the work go over your final copy search ing for spelling, labeling, and grammatical errors. Don't let errors distract from your research.

Presentation Software

There are many different ways to create presentations, and the process and software you use is up to you. Your Research Mentor and Workshop Leader may prefer one method over another. You may wish to follow their preference so that they can help you most effectively, but you may choose how to create your presentation as long as you meet the requirements above, including making a pdf so your presentation can be included on the Cal Poly Digital Commons site. Some software packages and guides are listed below, but STAR does not imply endorsement of any particular package.

Microsoft PowerPoint - (Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS) Defacto standard commercial presentation software available for purchase or monthly use. Provides basic text and graphic placement tools which can be used for onscreen presentation and also be saved as pdf files. Migrating from one OS to another can still cause text or graphic changes when using the-built-in graphical tools. You can use this freeware to test your presentation in Microsoft Powerpoint Viewer.

Keynote - (MacOS, iOS) Commercial presentation software available on many Apple platforms. Provides basic text and graphic placement tools which can be used for onscreen presentation and also be saved as pdf files. 

Prezi - (Online) Free for public presentations and specifically supports educators and educational settings, this presentation software requires reliable internet access during the presentation, but correspondingly does a better job of integrating hyperlinks and net-based multimedia better than some other packages. Updating and modifying Prezi presentations from year to year or audience to audience is relatively easily done.

Open Office Impress - (Windows, MacOS, Linux) Presentation software built on the PowerPoint model by the open-source community with a fully functional free download. Also able to import and output other formats including PowerPoint presentations. You can use this freeware to test your presentation in Microsoft Powerpoint Viewer.


The Presentation Creation Process

Ideally you would write your presentation abstract AFTER you create your poster. However, conference and printing deadlines usually dictate that you submit your abstract in advance. The STAR conference is no exception. When you write an abstract before you have finished your presentation be sure that you fairly represent your work, but do not trap yourself by stating conclusions before all analyses are complete.

Reflect upon each step of your work. What background information is absolutely necessary to appreciate the work? What was your objective or hypothesis? What experimental and analytical methods did you use? What were your central results? What context do readers need to appreciate your results? How do all of these items flow into a logical narrative? Sometimes the logical way to present your work is not the same as the chronological order in which you did them. It is sometimes helpful to imagine yourself giving a one or two sentence answer to a friend or family member who is not a researcher for each of these questions and making that into an outline or directly into a slide. Then eliminate as many words on each slide as possible by using clearly-labeled, but uncluttered pictures, graphs, and diagrams you can use to illustrate your point while you speak. It is typical to assume that each slide you show will take about one minute to discuss. It is especially easy to spend too much time on your methods, so consider making that a single, brief slide or part of your introduction and spending proportionally more time on your results and conclusions.

Some people find it helpful to script exactly what they'll say for each slide in advance and read that on the screen or on index cards. You are welcome to do this, but it can also be distracting. Whether or not you are an expert in your research field you ARE an expert on your project, so creating slides which tell a simple, clear story of your work using only those concepts, words, and diagrams which you are very comfortable with may help you present more easily. It is a good idea to practice your presentation a few times before the conference to adjust your pace. When speaking in front of peers, most people tend to speed up, so focus on taking it slow and easy.


Writing a good abstract

Your abstract is typically the only thing published directly from a conference. You will submit your research presentation title and abstract before your actual presentation. In professional societies, editors usually review only the abstract when deciding who may or may not be given time/space to present their work. Having a good abstract is important and should be the last thing you do after putting your presentation together (whenever time permits). If done before the presentation, which often happens, it becomes the outline upon which your presentation must be created and remain faithful. For the majority of your audience, your work does not exist beyond its abstract. It is not an attempt to attract people to your presentation for the important bits, but should summarize your work effectively.

Abstracts formats vary from discipline to discipline, but are usually 200-500 words in maximum length and comprised of very brief sentences forming a clear progression:

  1. Background - Present what is known and not known about the subject relevant to your paper. Don't cite other works unless your work is based on it.
  2. Methods - Very broadly, state how you approached your question (survey, field work, prototype, etc.).
  3. Results - Describe the core data produced by your methods and analysis.
  4. Conclusions - Boldly and unambiguously state the 'take-home message' of your work.

Your abstract should be concise, self-contained, accurate, non-evaluative (don't present personal opinions about your work), and readable. Avoid jargon whenever possible. Use the language appropriate for your audience, but don't spend time defining terms or concepts specialists understand and which will be covered in your presentation. We have taken two example abstracts from university student projects in biology and engineering similar to many STAR projects, and  modified them as examples for you to review.

Short Oral Presentation Submission Process

STAR Fellows giving short oral presentations will bring their presentation to the Closing Conference on a USB Drive labeled with your name as described above and must prepare their presentation as a single pdf file with all images and fonts embedded within the file. Presentations submitted to lab site security clearances are NOT forwarded to us by the lab. There are several steps involved:

  • Obtain approval for public release from your Research Mentor and co-authors.
  • Obtain approval for public release from your lab site security (if required, check with your Lab Site Coordinator).
  • Submit your research title and abstract to STAR online by the deadline.
  • Bring your presentation in an appropriate format on a labeled USB drive to the Closing Conference.
  • Finally, you must upload your presentation as a pdf to the Cal Poly Digital commons. You will receive (if you wish) monthly reports on how many people download your research.