Effective Presentations in Science Settings


GSMC 857
(IGPBS module 6)
Fall term, 2012

1 credit hour

Current enrollment in IGPBS curriculum, or consent of the instructor is required.


Seminar meets: Mondays; 11:00 am - 1:00pm in Orr-Major 1015


During our first class session, we will review the use of Powerpoint and we will organize the presentation schedule - so bring your calendars to class!


Please note that we will not meet on September 03 (Labor Day holiday) or October 08 (module exam).


The course timetable summarizes who will be presenting when...



Jeff Radel, Ph.D.
You may contact me at my office in the Robinson building, Rm. 3033, by telephone (913) 588-7195, or by e-mail (the best bet - simply click on my name above).


Course description:

Communication of concepts and ideas is an important element of working in the academic and scientific communities. Acquisition of skills having to do with written communication is stressed in most graduate programs, but the application of these same concepts to verbal communication is often neglected - even though the oral presentation arguably is the most common format for communication in these professional settings. A passive approach to learning how to make a presentation is typical, with an assumption that good presentations either occur naturally or are easy to imitate. The invalidity of these assumptions is illustrated by the rarity of an exceptional presentation!


This seminar is intended to help participants become practiced in developing strategies for formulating and delivering oral presentations. Participants may select any topic for their presentation other than research with which they have been involved in the past or at present (the idea is to develop a new presentation from scratch, rather than polish an existing presentation). Each participant will prepare and present one presentation on that topic, and answer questions from the audience. Plan for NO MORE THAN 10 minutes of speaking plus about 2-3 minutes for questions. Presenters will receive feedback, both from the audience and by watching a video recording of their own presentation, and will prepare a short written critique of their presentation based upon this feedback. Each student then will modify the talk in response to the feedback they receive, and then present the revised version of their talk later in the term. By evaluating presentations made by their peers and by other professionals, members of the audience in turn will become more self-aware and critical of their own presentation methods. Discussions about strategies for different presentation settings and experiences of participants in these settings will provide valuable insights to novice presenters. 


A list of previous presentations made in this seminar is available, in order to illustrate the range of topics which have been explored.


DO NOT plan on giving a presentation you already have prepared, a talk on research you have conducted or are about to conduct, or a travelogue about your home! This exercise partly is intended to help you learn to formulate a presentation on a new scientific topic. You should select a topic that has some sort of scientific merit, or is related to some aspect of scientific endeavor. If in doubt, please contact the instructor to determine if your topic is appropriate.


Course objectives:


Teaching/Learning Experiences:

This series of discussions and exercises will illustrate differences between marginal, adequate, and exceptional presentations. By participating in this seminar, each presenter will be challenged to become critically aware of their own presentation style, and to develop a creative approach to the formulation and execution of their future presentations.


Recommended Readings:

I have prepared a series of on-line computer tutorials that explain the basics of formulating a scientific talk, preparing presentation graphics, and preparing a poster presentation. Although designed for those taking part in the Society for Neuroscience meetings, the essential principles apply in most professional and scientific settings. If you find these tutorials useful, feel free to pass the web address along to others.


There are a growing number of websites providing information and suggestions about how to present material in public. Many of these are designed for the business community, however, and some of these guidelines may not be entirely appropriate for scientific settings.


You may also find these books useful:

  1. Michael J. Platow. (2002) Giving Profession Presentations in the Behavioral Sciences and Related Fields. A practical guide for the novice, the nervous, and the nonchalant. Psychology Press (Taylor & Francis Group): New York. (short and to the point - a good place to start!)
  2. Michael Alley. (2003) The Craft of Scientific Presentations. Critical steps to succeed and critical errors to avoid. Springer-Verlag: New York. (more details, and interesting insights from and about well-know scientists in relation to their presentation skills)
  3. Tufte, Eward R. (1983) The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Cheshire, CT:Graphics Press (ISBN: 9613921). (an exceptional discussion of how to present data in graphic formats - this one is just plain fun to read!)
  4. Kenny, Peter. (1982) A handbook of public speaking for scientists and engineers. Bristol: Adam Hilger, Ltd. (Dykes Library call number = WZ 345 K36h 1982; This book is a bit dates as it predates widespread use of computer technology for presentations, but the basic tenets remain viable).,
  5. Zanna, Mark P. and John M. Darley (Eds) . (1987) The compleat academic: A practical guide for the beginning social scientist. New York: Random House. (This one is especially useful for graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and junior faculty - lots of sage advice on negotiating the whole process of getting and keeping an academic position - although it is now out of print and difficult to find).


Attendance policy:

Students will bear full responsibility for all materials relating to this course, including material presented in discussions, assigned readings, and projects. As audience participation is a critical feature of this seminar, participants are expected to attend every class meeting. An anticipated absence must be discussed with the instructor prior to that class meeting. A cooperative approach to learning is encouraged strongly, and should be considered from the onset of this course.



If you require an accommodation because of a disability in order to complete the course requirements you should contact the instructor and the Equal Opportunity / Disability Specialist (913-588-7813, TDD 913-588-7963) as soon as possible so that appropriate accommodations may be considered.


Performance Expectations & Evaluation Methods:

This seminar is offered on a Pass/Fail basis only. Regular attendance, making at least two presentations on the same topic and evaluating each critically, active participation in the critique of other presentations, and evaluating two poster presentations and three professional oral presentations outside of the seminar will constitute successful completion of this course.


Student Responsibility:

Any student who does not understand and/or accept the contents and terms of this syllabus must notify the instructor in writing within one week after receiving this syllabus. All students are encouraged to read the applicable sections of the KUMC Student handbook, and to strive for academic honesty and ethical behavior. The Understanding Plagiarism tutorial prepared by Prentice Hall Publishing is helpful in clarifying this particular topic.


Academic Supports and Accommodations: Learning assistance, academic performance enhancement, and psychological services at KUMC are free, confidential, and available at Student Counseling & Educational Support Services by calling 913-588-6580 or visiting G116 Student Center.


End of GSMC 857 syllabus

Comments? Send e-mail to the instructor: Jeff Radel