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Poster and oral presentations

Need assistance with poster presentations?

Poster and oral presentations are typically delivered to academic colleagues at conferences or congresses. Here are some best practices and resources to help you develop the content and visuals for a high-impact poster, and plan and practice your memorable oral presentation. 

Utilize the Related Resources on this page to tap into Duke’s hub of templates, guides, and services to support researchers developing their presentations.

Getting started with posters

The Duke Medical Center Library has tips for things to keep in mind before working through the development of your poster presentation, and the Duke University Libraries' Center for Data and Visualization Sciences recorded a talk on preparing effective academic posters.

  • Just like with any other publication, make sure you look at the specifications from the conference – they often have size limits or font requirements you should keep in mind.
  • A good title is critical for posters since you get just a few seconds to attract conference goers who are passing by. Make sure the title briefly, but memorably, messages the most interesting or central finding of your work.
  • Focus your energy on a solid abstract, as the poster is simply a blown-up visualization of that summary.
  • Less is more in poster design. Do not shrink fonts to fit your commentary, shrink your commentary to fit the space while retaining a readable font and plenty of white space.  


Getting started with oral presentations

The Thompson Writing Program has great general guidance on oral presentations, summarized throughout this page. There are several training opportunities, listed in the Related Resources, that can help researchers at all stages hone their presentation skills.

  • Preparing for your oral presentation will take the majority of your time. Understand the guidelines of your talk; think about your audience and your time allotted. Typically, you won’t want to cover more than 3-5 key points in your presentation.
  • Make sure you consider “guideposts” for your audience. Since you will be delivering your presentations orally, they will need help from you to organize information into meaningful blocks. Emphasize the transitions when you speak.
  • Rather than creating a word-for-word speech, create a plan for each section, idea or point. By reading your written points, you can keep your delivery fresh.
  • To engage your audience, consider making your strongest point first, in a memorable way. While background and introduction sections are common in academic presentations, they are often already known to your audience.
Develop, design, and compose your poster presentations

If you are working through your poster presentation, the Duke Medical Center Library has tutorials, best practices for general design, and strategies for a high-impact presentation. Bass Connections also provides guidance on poster design.

Some important things to keep in mind are:

  • Keep it simple and focus on two things: Strong visualizations and small blocks of supporting text. Remember your audience, they will be standing a few feet away. Make sure the content is visible from afar. 
  • Imagery is what can often make your poster stand out from the others. Be sure to:
    • Follow brand guidelines from Duke or Duke School of Medicine. When you are representing your institution at a conference, it is best practice to align your presentation with institutional standards, including appropriate logos and color schemes.
    • Avoid violating copyright protections. Include only images you’ve created yourself, or use stock photography provided by Duke or other vendors.
    • Visualizing your data tells the story. The Center for Data and Visualization Sciences has workshops, consultations and other resources to ensure that your graphical representations of data are effective.
  • Poster presentations can be designed using a variety of software (PowerPoint, Illustrator, Keynote, Inkscape), and templates. When you choose your software or templates, keep in mind that if you are editing with others, everyone should have access and understand how the program works.  
  • Don’t forget your contact information, citations and acknowledgements. On posters, you may be noting key articles or have included images needing references. For oral and poster presentations, you should recognize key contributors. Funding sources should also be mentioned on posters and in oral presentations.
  • Include a link or QR code for supplemental materials, citations, movies, etc.
Printing, practicing, and delivering your presentation
  • Before your print a poster, have someone with fresh eyes review! Reprinting posters is costly and can take time. There are many options for printing, some on paper and some on fabric, with production times varying. The Medical Center Library has some local options to suggest. 
  • Whether you are presenting a poster, giving an oral presentation, or taking part in a virtual event, practice your presentation.
    • Try to practice in a space that is similar to the actual presentation, and within your allotted time. Finish early to allow good Q&A.
    • Ask family, trusted friends, or colleagues to listen and provide feedback.
    • Prepare and practice early and then let it sit. Come back and practice again.
    • If it is an important address, videotape and review your rehearsal to improve your performance.
  • The big day is here! There are many tips on how to deliver your presentation in the Related Resources. In general, be calm, be yourself, repeat key points.
    • If you will be digitizing the presentation, you may need release or permission forms. Duke has resources available via Scholarworks.
    • You’ve completed your poster session or oral presentation – do not forget to add it to your CV or biosketch.