presentations – creating content

The ability to clearly present information is a key requirement of all academic and professional contexts. To plan and create an effective presentation, you should consider how to most effectively:

  1. organize your material
  2. maintain audience interest
  3. create visual aids

1. Organizing the Material

As a genre, presentations tend to follow the advice of the classical orators (public speakers) to “say what you’re going to say, say it, and then say what you’ve said”. This is because of the human tendency, confirmed by research, to best remember only the beginning and end of a speech.

The overall introduction to your presentation is particularly important, as your audience will be wondering about who you are, what the topic will be, what the value of the talk will be for them, and how they will be expected to listen to and interact with you. To help people to remember the details of your research, divide the material in the body into a series of mini-presentations, each with its own introduction, body, and concluding summary.

The following list of “moves” have been identified in research as common ways that academic presenters try to address all these issues in their talks:

INTRODUCTION orientation (who + what)

  • greet listeners
  • introduce self
  • state the topic
  • indicate scope/focus

context (what)

  • explain situational/general context
  • provide any relevant background

rationale (why)

  • note gaps/problems/needs
  • show importance/relevance
  • relate to previous work
  • offer questions/hypotheses
  • outline goal/aim

preview (how)

  • outline the structure
  • state timing
  • introduce any materials/handouts
  • suggest procedures for audience interaction
  • explain any theoretical position/model/framework
  • justify materials/methods/approaches
  • state/display/explain findings/results/critique
  • discuss conclusions/implications/contributions/significance/future issues/concerns
  • verbalize the salient features of any data/graphics/images
  • provide clear section links + periodic opportunities to reflect/review
  • give a concise summary
  • indicate further reading/related resources
  • thank audience/bid farewell
  • invite/ask/answer questions
  • join answers to related questions together
  • (if necessary) offer to discuss any points in detail afterwards
[adapted from Comfort (2006); Chivers & Shoolbred (2007); Williams (2007); Rowley-Jolivet & Carter-Thomas (2005); and Hu & Liu (2018)]

2. Maintaining Audience Interest

It is important to use clear and effective supporting examples to help the audience understand and remember your points (especially if the point is theoretical or abstract). Try to choose examples that you found helpful yourself, moving from familiar to more unfamiliar ones to build on existing knowledge, and mentioning current and topical ones to maintain interest. Remember, though, not to give too many examples, as your point can get lost in the details.

Also, try using at least one of the following strategies to generate interest and engage an audience, especially near the start of your presentation:

  • describing a surprising idea/perspective/fact/statistic
  • conducting an audience survey
  • asking (and answering) rhetorical questions
  • giving historical background
  • sharing an interesting quotation
  • using realia (physical objects)

It is really important not to exceed your time limit, as audiences will quickly lose interest; especially if you are taking away their coffee break! Keep your eye on a timer, and perhaps set an alarm to warn you when you need to start to conclude your talk…

3. Creating Visual Aids

Presentations are often “multi-media”, and audio-visual technology and software like Microsoft Powerpoint or Prezi enable you to take a creative approach to presenting information. Remember that your audience members may have different “learning styles”, i.e., they may receive information best over one particular “channel” (visual, written, spoken), so you may consider including  something for everyone.

When creating visual aids, try to bear the following in mind:

  • keep information on slides minimal – too much can be overwhelming
  • consider using graphs, tables, diagrams, and images for visual interest – “A picture is worth a thousand words”
  • unless you are discussing a quotation, consider following the “rule of fives” (5 lines on a slide, 5 words per line)?
  • make sure any lists use parallel structure (i.e., they all start with the same type of word, e.g., a bare infinitive verb)
  • don’t use small fonts, complex fonts or low-contrast text colours on the slides – they may be hard to read!


Beer, David F, and David A McMurrey. 2016. A Guide to Writing as an Engineer. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Chivers, Barbara., and Michael. Shoolbred. 2007. A Student’s Guide to Presentations: Making Your Presentation Count. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications.

Comfort, Jeremy. 2006. Effective Presentations. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hu, Guangwei, and Yanhua Liu. 2018. “Three Minute Thesis Presentations as an Academic Genre: A Cross-Disciplinary Study of Genre Moves.” Journal of English for Academic Purposes 35 (September): 16–30.

Rowley-Jolivet, Elizabeth, and Shirley Carter-Thomas. 2005. “The Rhetoric of Conference Presentation Introductions: Context, Argument and Interaction.” International Journal of Applied Linguistics 15 (1): 45–70.

Williams, Erica J. 2008. Presentations in English. Oxford: Macmillan.