Argonne National Laboratory

Planning Your Oral/Poster Presentation
“Vague forms of speech have so long passed for mysteries of science; the hard words mistaken for deep learning, that it will not be easy to persuade either those who speak or those who hear them, that they are but a hindrance to true knowledge.” —John Locke

STEM experts routinely present posters and deliver oral presentations at various points throughout their career. Presentations give researchers a chance to share their work with different groups of people, which increases the visibility of their work and can inspire collaboration and constructive feedback.

One advantage presentations have over written communication is that they allow communication to happen as a direct two-way exchange. During a presentation, the audience is right there in front of you. You can ask audience members questions, visually gauge their level of understanding and interest, and get feedback from them. But with these benefits come a new set of challenges, the foremost being time constraints. As a speaker, you are limited by the time allotted for your presentation and by the the limited attention span of your audience. And just as you can see your audience, your audience now can see you. This means that you, the speaker, must pay special attention to the additional visual information that audiences now have access to, such as your appearance, tone of voice, and visual aids like PowerPoint slides.


Presentations, like reports, require careful planning and attention to detail. Brainstorming, the spontaneous process of generating ideas, is often the first step in planning a presentation. After brainstorming ideas, and writing them down, you should review these ideas and filter out those that are most important. Ideas are relevant if they (1) explain the purpose of you presentation, (2) make sense to your audience, and (3) explain or support your goals. 


After brainstorming and identifying ideas that are most relevant to your presentation goals, these ideas must then be organized in a logical pattern. We do this by creating an outline. The main purpose of an outline is to organize your ideas within a structure that gives your audience easy access to them. 

As with a science report, a presentation outline can take on various formats, including a traditional bulleted outline, a diagram, a storyboard, or even a grid of sticky notes that you can rearrange. Regardless of how you choose to craft your outline, in the end all outlines should include the key takeaway messages and evidence to support them, all organized within a logical structure. You should also make note of the tables and/or figures you would want to include in your presentation, as well as any external references.

You can adapt parts of your science report or project report to suit your presentation outline, however the presentation outline should NOT mirror your report or report outline. Due to time constraints, presenters must be more selective in their presentations than in their reports when deciding which details to include.

Review Your Ideas

During or following your brainstorming session, review the ideas you have come up with and select those that best (1) explain the purpose of your presentation, (2) are pertient to your audience, and (3) define or support your goals.


Your purpose

The reason for the presentation. Are you trying to summarize, analyze, evaluate, argue or persuade, etc.? Use this information to define the layout of your poster or slide presentation.


Your audience

Consider what your audience would find most interesting about your research project, what they already know about your topic and what they may not know. This information will tell you where to start your presentation and what attention-grabbing opening statement to use on your audience (also see Engaging your Audience).


Your goals

Decide on your message(s). What are the 2–3 main points you want your audience to remember? Focus your presentation around these takeaways.