How to Give a Good
Senior Seminar Presentation

1. Pick a good topic
    Choose a topic that is of interest to you and of general interest as well.  Remember that a seminar is really a story, and giving a good seminar is the same thing as telling a good story.  Selecting a topic that will make a good story is a big first step toward making your seminar a good one.
    Your seminar can either be based on a library topic, which should include the information on the history, current status and possible future of research or policy in a particular area or on a particular subject, or on your own research project.  Irrespective of the specific topic, seminars which tell a good story and have a clear take-home message are the memorable ones (memorable for the right reasons).

2. Know your audience
    It is important to understand how much your audience is likely to know in advance about your seminar topic.  This will determine the amount of time you need to spend on the various portions of your talk.
    You need to decide if the tone of your seminar should be serious or informal.  Is a touch of humor acceptable?  How much is too much?  How should you dress?  For most senior seminars at USD, presenters dress well - more on the formal side than the casual side.
    Familiarize yourself in advance with the room where you will give your talk and with any equipment that you plan to use.  Not only should this make you more comfortable, but it may also help you avoid unexpected technological problems.

3. Begin with a title slide and show a brief outline or list of topics to be covered
    Use text slides to designate the beginnings of individual sections of your talk or to introduce a major topic shift.  Usually a prominent title in bold letters is adequate.  Text slides can be important and very helpful to you and your audience.  They demonstrate your organizational skills, help audience members to follow your talk more easily, and let them know where you're headed.  They also help to keep you on track and focused during your talk.

4. Introduce your topic well
    Your introduction will vary in length and detail, depending on the length of your talk, your topic, and the level of sophistication of your audience.  Give the necessary information but be careful not to include large amounts of extraneous material.  Visual aids are particularly important here to grab your audience's attention.  If you have a snappy photo, and interesting thought or catchy phrase, use it here.  The point of the introduction is to catch your audience, let them know what you'll be talking about, get them enthused about the topic, and let them know why your topic is interesting and exciting.

5. Methodology
    If you are talking about your own research, you need to present your experimental design and/or methods.  Try to make this section short, concise, clear and logical.  You can use an outline format or even a flow chart of the experiments and techniques you used.  If you are giving a review talk, then simply summarize briefly the methods used.

6. Data presentation is the heart of a successful talk 

A. Don't overwhelm your audience with information.  Limit the total amount of data you present and limit the amount of information you show on any single slide.  Busy slides and complex graphs are not helpful.  Even your text slides should be brief and to the point.
B. Paraphrase your text slides and read aloud each major point.  The audience will be reading the slides anyway and would otherwise pay no attention to you.  Don't read your slides verbatim and do not leave text slides up while you discuss another, unrelated idea.
C. Clearly label all axes on figures and give each figure a brief, informative title.
D. Define symbols on figures with a figure legend.  All text and symbols on a figure should be large enough to read easily from the back of the room.
E. Explain the information on each slide.  Begin by briefly mentioning the parameters shown on each axis of each graph.  Discuss treatment versus control results as illustrated by the figure.  Remind the audience of the meaning of each symbol on your graphs.  Make sure you tell the audience how your data support or refute your basic hypothesis or idea.
F. Choose your graphs carefully.  They should follow a logical progression, and you should be able to clearly explain each graph.  Make sure each graph illustrates a point, especially when presenting literature information.
G. Cite all sources of information, especially if you did not generate the data yourself.  You can either include a reference to the author and date on the slide or you can tell the audience your source as you present the graph.
H. Use the best graphics available but be careful not to distract your audience by making the artwork more interesting than the information.  You should be especially careful in choosing how to present your data.  Watch your color and pattern combinations.  Don't waste your time trying to make the prettiest or the coolest slides.  Focus on content and clarity.  Some pizzazz is fine, but don't go to extremes.
I. Limit your use of animation.  Too much can be distracting and reduce the impact of your talk.  This is one of the most common problems encountered in senior seminars.
J. Make your presentation visually appealing by using variations in color and texture.  Color can be used to unite items related to a single topic, emphasize points and generally enhance the audience’s ability to understand your subject.

7. Always give a synthesis or conclusion
    Display a brief summary of your conclusions on a slide while you discuss the significance of the material you have presented.  Your conclusions should match your talk objectives and should complete your story.  Remember, this is the end of your story, so make it memorable (again, in a good way).  Even if your talk is based on library research, your conclusions and synthesis must have some original content.  It is not sufficient to simply repeat the conclusions that other people have reached.
    You may want to add a slide after your conclusions with future questions that should be addressed.  This demonstrates some critical thinking on your part and shows that you have a feel for the big picture of which your topic is a part.

8. Answer questions thoroughly and thoughtfully
    Remain relaxed during the question period.  Remember, you're the expert on this subject, and this is your chance to demonstrate (but not show off) your expertise in the topic.  The question period is not designed to allow the audience to harass you.  Your audience is supportive and interested, and they truly want to know more about your topic or they would have gone somewhere else instead.  No one is out to get you!  When answering questions, take your time, compose yourself, make sure you understand the question clearly and think before you answer.  If the question is unclear or doesn't make sense to you, ask politely for clarification.
    Prior to your talk, think carefully about your presentation and you may be able to anticipate major questions.  If you suspect that something in particular will come up, prepare an answer.  If you have additional slides ready to answer that query, put them in your presentation after your final planned slide and use them as appropriate.
    If you don't know the answer to a question, try to say something useful and relevant.  If you really don't know, "I don't know" is perfectly acceptable, but not for every question.


    1. Practice
    2. Look professional
    3. Preview your slides
    4. Clearly state your objectives and goals
    5. Speak clearly and at a good pace.  Rule of thumb: About 1 slide per minute
    6. Always identify your axes, define all technical terms and spend time on your data (graphs, tables)
    7. Quote appropriate references and distinguish your work from literature sources
    8. Make a lot of eye contact with your audience
    9. Conclude your talk with statements that address your objectives and finish your story

    1. Wait until the last minute to prepare
    2. Make slides that are impossible to read or understand, e.g. complicated figures, large tables, Picasso-like graphs.
    3. Read your talk verbatim, either from notes or from your slides!!  Know your material well without reading.
    4. Make distracting gestures when you talk (play with a pointer, rock back and forth, play with your hair, pick your nose, etc.).
    5. Speak too rapidly, too slowly, too quietly or too loudly.  Don't speak in a monotone and try not to mumble.
    6. Talk to one person or the screen.
    7. Panic.  Staying calm and focused is very important, especially if you hate speaking publicly.
    8. Try to be too funny.  Humor has its place in your seminar, but use it judiciously.

This page copyright 2005-2011 by Michel Boudrias, Ron Kaufmann, Sue Lowery and Marie Simovich
All rights reserved
Last modified 25 Jan 2011 by
Ron Kaufmann