Guidelines for Presenters

This page provides useful tips and guidelines to help you write your abstract. Dr. Geoff Hyde (NCBS, Bangalore) has provided the content for this page, with help from Umesh Srinivasan.


[FORMAT: 4 min speed talk + poster presentation]

POSTER SPECIFICATION: 3 ft wide and 4 ft high (Portrait format)

The speed-talk-cum-poster is a recent and popular newcomer to the conference scene, allowing a greater proportion of attendees to personally present their work to a wide audience. At YETI 2012, each speed-talk-cum-poster presenter will be given a maximum of four minutes on stage to describe his/her poster which will be followed by a conventional poster presentation session. There are two ways to approach a speed talk, each equally acceptable at YETI:

(1) Present the bare bones of the study described in the poster, by providing a shortened version of the work with a similar level of detail (and structure) as in the conference abstract. Use the structure suggested for the abstract as a guide to how to structure the speed talk.

(2) Focus on the highlight/s of the study without trying to provide a comprehensive overview. Think of it like a movie preview – just present the most exciting parts! For example, the presenter might spend three of four allotted minutes telling the audience about a novel method used or about an unexpected finding.

Speed talks will be presented in bunches of 15 per hour (each talk is 4 minutes). Each hour-long series will immediately be followed by a two-hour poster session in which all of the 15 presenters will be available next to their posters for discussions with the audience. Please read the guidelines for posters below to help you prepare your poster.

Please bring your presentations on a memory stick so that it can be easily transferred to the conference computers. Formats that can be used are PPT (Microsoft Office) files. However, we advise you to also save your
presentation as a pdf also to avoid problems at the session. Should not prepare more than two slides to ensure best utilisation of 4 minutes. We also suggest participants to avoid animations for the same reason.


[FORMAT: Poster presentation only]

POSTER SPECIFICATION: 3 ft wide and 4 ft high (Portrait format)

At poster sessions, many posters are presented simultaneously, so you need to compete for audience attention. Your poster should therefore be bold, well-designed and attractive, even maybe a bit provocative to catch people’s attention. Remember that some people will read your poster when you are not there in front of it. This means that even without explanation, the poster should make sense. This does not mean however that it should be comprehensive, rather it should present a simple story, just like your conference Abstract. Therefore, limit yourself to the key aspects of your work.

Some of these tips might be helpful:

1. Try to produce your entire poster on a single piece of paper

A lot of design problems arise when a poster is made from a large number of small pieces of paper. The worst case is using a bunch of A4-sized sheets. This will almost inevitably lead to use of fonts that are too small to read. Also, the gaps between the pages create unwanted breaks (both logical and visual) in the flow of your poster. The easiest way to create a single-piece poster is using the custom settings of Powerpoint or some equivalent.

There are pre-created templates for designing posters in MS PowerPoint. Some of these can be found at:

2. Too much text = loss of audience interest = death of poster

What kills most posters is too much text. Avoid full paragraphs. Bullet points are much better than full sentences. See if you can replace text with something more visually appealing, e.g. a map, a flowchart or a self-explanatory picture. As a general rule, the word count should not exceed 600 words. A good way to achieve this is to aim for about 400 words.

A very rough guide:

Introduction: 150

Materials & methods: 150

Results: 150

Discussion/Conclusions: 150

References – only include references vital to your work. These should ideally be in much smaller font size than the body text.

Acknowledgments – keep them brief, and use a smaller font size.

You can see a very nice real-life example of how to shift from a text-heavy style to a pleasant graphical style here:

3. Keep it simple

Ask yourself at every step:

Have I used many words instead of a few?

e.g. ‘it is likely that climate change may affect bird migration’ can be replaced with ‘climate change may affect bird migration’

e.g. ‘invasion by alien species may be aided by the opening of forest gaps’ is an unnecessarily long version of ‘forest gaps may aid alien invasions’

This is especially useful while presenting results.

e.g. ‘Herbivory by butterfly caterpillars was found to be affected by the concentration of secondary compounds in young leaves. An increase in secondary compound concentration led to decreased herbivory.’ This is the same as saying ‘Secondary compounds in young leaves negatively affect caterpillar herbivory.’

Have I used any jargon?

Jargon is highly technical language, which, chances are, only your supervisor and (some) lab-mates will understand. So replace, for example, ‘kleptoparasitism’ with ‘stealing’. It is much simpler to understand, has fewer syllables, and you will not have to explain it to each person who starts to read your poster.

4. Use clear headings and sub-headings

These will help people navigate through your poster even if you are not there to explain it to them. Usually poster headings follow roughly the format of a paper but do not include abstract:

Title – should be large, catchy, and a maximum of two lines in length


Study area (if important) – a map here is better than text

Materials and methods – this is one of the most boring parts of a study, and a graphic or flowcharts helps a great deal in keeping the audience interested.

Results – again, neat, well-labeled graphs with self-explanatory legends are much more preferable to text. A good thing to remember when making graphs is that the graph should be a stand-alone explanation without having to refer to any other text.

Conclusions – ideally bulleted, discussing the results and highlighting their relevance

5. Use consistent formatting

A very useful way of formatting your poster to improve readability and comprehension is to make your poster ‘modular’. In other words, having separate boxes for Introduction, Methods etc., with enough separation between the boxes. This allows the audience to skip parts like the methods and go straight to the discussion or conclusion sections.

A poster should have a lot of empty space (about 35%). This does not mean that:

a. you leave 35% blank and cram the remainder with text

b. you should add text to the empty spaces once you finish the poster!

Avoid using more than:

2 font types

2 font colours

3 font sizes

Too many format changes make the audience focus on the formatting rather than on the content.


Font types: there are two types of fonts: serif fonts like Times New Roman and sans serif fonts (which don’t have the small things sticking out at the angles of the letters) like Arial. Serif fonts are easier to read in books and papers. Sans serif fonts are easier to read on screen or on posters. That’s why most people prefer using sans serif fonts in posters and PowerPoint presentations.


Font sizes:

A rough guide to font sizes:

Title: 150 pt

Section headings: 36 pt

Body text: 26 pt


Text justification:

Text is easier to read when left justified rather than when justified to the left and the right.


6. Use colour wisely


Posters are basically a visual medium of presenting data, and colour can help draw people to your poster and help you to present your message. However, if used unwisely, colours can make your poster less attractive and more confusing. Colours should be well co-coordinated and their use consistent throughout. For example, be consistent in the colours (and font type/size) used for subheadings. It is better to err on the side of too little colour than too much! The poster shown on the site below shows a judicious use of colour:

Thanks to:

Jason Tylianakis, University of Canterbury, New Zealand


Oral presentations

[FORMAT: 12 min talk + 3 min question-answer session]

Unlike the flexible Speed Talk format, in an oral presentation the audience expects you to cover all aspects of your study.

First: Please look through the sample talk: Questions & Answers. It will provide very useful insights into the text description below.

Your talk should emphasise the questions you ask (in bold) and the answers you can provide (bold, underlined).

  1. What scientific question (aim) does your talk address?
  2. What objectives did you pursue to address the question, and what methods were used for those objectives ?
  3. What were the data/results that were provided by addressing your objectives?
  4. What is the relevance of the results to your aim, and what is their relevance to broader issues?

Each section is covered in detail below.

1. What scientific question (aim) does your talk address?

In this section you are expected:

  1. to start by providing the general context for your study
  2. to end by indicating a significant ecology-related question addressed by your project.

The significant question mentioned above will be the highpoint of the talk’s Introduction and is basically your project’s aim. It should not be confused with your objectives (which you should not mention in this part). Aim-level questions generally address real issues (e.g. What is the abundance of chevrotain in Bandipur National Park? Is harvesting of forest products in the Great Himalayan National Park increasing or decreasing? How many ground-dwelling skink species live in the forests of Mouling National Park?).

Objective-level questions are much more specific and they are focussed on obtaining the data that can provide insights into the aim-level question (e.g. What is the photo capture–recapture density estimate of chevrotain in Bandipur NP? What do villagers living on the edge of GHNP say about the intensity of their forest-harveting harvesting practises in 2010 compared to 2000? Which ground-dwelling skink species are captured in pit-fall traps set up in the three altitudinal zones of Mouling National Park?)

Being able to appreciate the difference between your aim- and objective-level questions is important because:

  1. your audience will probably be more interested in the aim-level question, and so you know what to emphasise.
  2. in the rest of your talk, the answers to the two different types of questions will be given in different sections.

2. What objectives did you pursue to address the question, and what methods were used for those objectives ?

Having told the audience what your aim is, now tell them your objectives. You may need to justify why you chose your particular approaches, out of all the possible ways in which you could have acquired data relevant to your aim.

Next, give a description of how, when and where you acquired the data. While doing this, look for opportunities to keep the objectives fresh in your audience’s mind, by linking the methodology back to the objectives. For example,

“Using quadrats and pit-fall traps, we surveyed the number of skink species in the three altitudinal ranges of the park (low: 750m-1550m; mid:1500m-2250; high: 2250m-3000m), over a two-month period (June-July) at the peak of the rainy season.”

Remember that if the audience loses the thread of your story, they cannot flip back and forth within the talk – as when reading. Think of each objective as a thread whose existence must be continually re-inforced in your audience’s minds.

If there is anything unexpected about how you processed the data (e.g. using some new model for occupancy), mention that as well. Otherwise, avoid any lengthy discussion of familiar statistical approaches.

3. What were the data/results that were provided by addressing your objectives?

The results provide the answers to the objective-level questions only – do not stray into discussing the aim-level question. Since objectives typically generate data, the core of the Results section will be graphs, tables etc. Organise your talk so that each figure is large and remains up on the screen for a considerable time. You want to give your audience time to absorb the information – they may well pick up some pattern you have missed. Two ways to help maximise exposure are:

  1. Verbally explain the axes on a graph, or the columns/rows in a table
  2. Talk about the figure yourself, rather than relying on people reading lots of text on the same slide – and by minimising text, the figure can be larger.

4. What is the relevance of the results to your aim, and what is their relevance to broader issues?

The discussion component must firstly, and compulsorily, tell the audience how the results help answer the aim-level question. In most cases you will basically explain what your somewhat artificial sampling procedures tell us about something in the real world.

Start by reminding the audience of the aim – they may well have forgotten by now. Then tell the audience what the suggest individually or collectively. Do not take it for granted that the audience will automatically make the same conclusions as you (especially if a conclusion is unexpected). You may have to argue a case for the applicability of your approaches, or the reliability of your data. If there is a significant limitation to your study, better to mention it yourself now than to have it pointed out in Question Time.

After having discussed the connection between the results and yor aim, you can then (optionally) consider the wider implications of your proposed answers, or suggestions for further work. Such suggestions will almost necessarily be more speculative in nature, and thus should not be a major focus in terms of the time you devote to them. But they can be interesting and do help to round off the talk and to make the mood more social, thus creating a bridge into Question Time.

Memorise or Improvise?

The two most difficult parts of the talk are the start and the finish. The start is difficult because:

  1. You may be nervous, not having got into the swing of the talk yet.
  2. You need to narrow down quickly from the very general to the very particular. It is easy to over-discuss general issues. Remember that in a talk, general issues are just a means to an end: helping the audience to understand what you actually did and its significance. You can often deal with the background to your talk with several crisp, well-worded sentences.

The ending is difficult because:

  1. You may be tired.
  2. People expect a strong ending.

For these reasons it is wise, for both the first and last few sentences:

  1. To devote a lot of preparation time (and practice) to them
  2. To memorize them

For the remainder of the talk, memorization is not generally a good idea. If you try to memorize you will use unnaturally formal language. It is better to devote time to making sure the structure is simple and sound. This will not only mean that the talk will be easy for your audience to follow, but, for you, it will be easy to remember its basic flow.

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