Help! I Wrote a Paper, and Now I Have to Present It!

by Janelle Davis


There are two main types of presentations that students will give in their academic careers, and the difference between them is huge. One is the class presentation, which may involve showcasing knowledge or facilitating learning for classmates. The other happens outside of class, at research symposia, academic conferences, and paper competitions. While there are slightly different expectations for each of these, some common threads unite them and this post offers strategies that can be helpful in all three out-of-class presentation types.

The defining feature of these particular presentations, in addition to happening outside of the classroom, is that they are an opportunity to showcase original work and as such are held to specific academic expectations and standards. Unlike speeches in which you are showing a grasp of a particular piece of knowledge or theory, or in which you persuade an audience to a specific belief or position, these presentations present a claim or a question and the process used to reach that claim or answer that question. This focus on the process over a fact or an opinion means that academic presentations, most especially research presentations, are structured differently from other kinds of speeches.

In a research presentation, the focus is on the research – in this case, that means the results and the method used to reach them. Although a research paper might spend several pages establishing a foundation through background information or a literature review, a presentation will spend the least amount of time on building background and context. Usually, this section is abbreviated down to a brief description of the issue under investigation (whether that’s graduation rates among non-traditional students, the connections between different pieces of literature, or the reaction of a bacterium type to certain conditions), a brief explanation of the importance or relevance of this project, and an identification of the gap in research that this project fills. The bulk of any research presentation is spent on findings, results, or conclusions, and on the methods used to produce them.

Having a clear structure is essential for organizing your presentation so that the audience can follow along without getting lost, but it’s also extremely useful for time management. Most research papers will be too long to read in their entirety, so you will have to make decisions about what is and isn’t important for the speech – that can be difficult if you don’t know what matters for research presentations. The example outlines provided below can help you make those decisions by providing a sense of how much space you should give to each piece of your research; for presentations using visual aids like PowerPoint or Prezi, this can also help you decide how many slides each section needs.

For instance, in a ten-minute presentation, the division of time might look like this:

  • 1 minute – Introduction of self and project, roadmap of presentation, central thesis or hypothesis
  • 2 minutes – Background, context, and significance
  • 3 minutes – Methods or theories used and why
  • 3 minutes – Results, findings, or conclusions
  • 1 minute – Conclusion that restates claim or hypothesis, reiterates method used, and acknowledges gaps in the findings, areas for future research, or remaining questions

Many research presentations are fifteen minutes, so the time distribution might look a little different, something more like this:

  • 1 minute – Introduction of self and project, roadmap of presentation, central thesis or hypothesis
  • 3 minutes – Background, context, and significance of the project – what gap in knowledge is it filling?
  • 3 minutes – Methods or theories used and why, including their limitations
  • 4 minutes – Results, findings, or conclusions that result from the application of the methods or theories
  • 3 minutes – Place the results or findings within the field of work this project contributes to – what does your work do for (psychology, anthropology, molecular biology, etc.), and what can it not do?
  • 1 minute – Conclusion that restates claim or hypothesis, reiterates method used, and acknowledges gaps in the findings, areas for future research, or remaining questions

This structure should look familiar – it’s not too dissimilar from traditional research writing, with an introduction, a literature review, a method or theory section, an analysis section, and a conclusion. What’s important here is the distribution, or how much time each piece receives. A longer literature review might be important for a report, but all an audience needs is a basic sense of why this project was worth doing.

These times are also flexible – perhaps you are presenting to an audience who is already familiar with your methodology and so you don’t have to spend much time on that part, but your findings might have been very surprising, so you expand on the section what your results mean for your field of study.  In any case, these basic outlines can help you make the transition from written to spoken research.

Don’t forget to verbally cite your sources, and remember to check out our other blog entries on public speaking under the “Presentations” category for more useful tips!

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