National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network

National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network

Serving Nanoscale Science, Engineering & Technology

NNIN REU Presentation Advice from the Deputy Director

A note from Dr. Lynn Rathbun ,  NNIN Deputy Director


Dear NNIN REU Students:

We are only a few weeks away from the convocation. I hope you have had a good experience this summer. It is drawing to a close whether you are ready or not. The NNIN REU team is looking forward to seeing you at Georgia Tech. It is always an intense time, very busy, but is generally considered as one of the highpoints of the summer experience.

Included here is some advice about your presentation that I have developed over the last few years. I am  older than your grandfather, and have written hundreds of presentations and listened to hundreds of REU presentations. Please read and follow these recommendations and you will have a very good presentation.

REU coordinators, please review presentations with the following in mind:

First, RELAX.  You would not tighten up if you were sitting around with a group of friends trying to explain what you did for the summer. That is all we are asking and everyone else is in the same boat as you are. Go with the flow and enjoy your time in the spotlight.

You only have 11 minutes TOTAL. Really only 8-9 minutes to talk. Use it wisely. 8 minutes means you should not have more than about 10 or 12 slides. Having too many slides and rushing through just shows that you don't understand what you did well enough to crystallize it. You should be able to explain what you did in 8 minutes but you have to stick to the general high points. You might think 8 minutes is short but it is plenty if you don’t go into a lot of detail. People who are really interested will listen to a 15 minute talk if it is in their field and they want to know details and critically review, but for an overview, 8 minutes is about all people want to hear about a topic at a general level.

Title Slide.... You should have one, but you don't need to read your title slide and introduce yourself. People can read this and they will also have the list of talks in the convocation agenda. Also,  the session chairperson will introduce you. Just start....."Today, I am going to talk about the interaction of aluminum films with silicon. This is important because..........."

Speaking....Speak to the audience, not the screen. You only need to glance at the screen a few times for each slide to scan the bullet points, and then turn to the audience and TALK NATURALLY.

Outlines.... <begin Lynn’s annual rant>I DON'T WANT TO SEE ANY DARN OUTLINES<end rant>. It’s only an 11 minute talk, not a thesis or a mini-series. There are only so many times I can hear, "This is my outline, first I will have an introduction , and then I will talk about my method and then I will talk about my results, blah blah blah blah blah blah.blah blah...." Just kill it and move on, or I will run screaming from the room as will several other coordinators. And you will save 30 seconds. 65 talks, 90 audience members, 30 seconds each, just think we just saved about 5 hours.

Context and the Problem…You do need a couple of slides to state "the problem" and "the context". What is it that you are trying to learn, and why would anybody care? Briefly state these. Don't start with the discovery of DNA or the invention of the microprocessor! And if you feel an urge to talk about "Moore's Law" , just skip it !!! But if you are studying the interaction of Al and Cu metal films with silicon, for example, state that they are used as metallizations in integrated circuits and that unwanted interactions between films and the silicon can cause failures, and so you are studying the use of TiN films as diffusion barriers between the metallizations and silicon.  There -- in one slide and 50 words, you have defined the problem and set the context. Now move on. In short, WHY are  you doing this.

Jargon and Acronyms…. Don’t fall in love with jargon and acronyms. In fact I challenge you to do an entire talk without acronyms. We know you are proud of everything you learned, but your audience knows about as much about your project as you did 11 weeks ago. Jargon and acronyms just confuse the presentation – you don’t want your audience wondering what PECVD is. If you can't explain it without jargon then you didn't learn very much this summer. And if you use acronyms, you must define and explain them FIRST.

Techniques….. Explain what you measured and how you did this. You probably don't need to explain how a scanning electron microscope (SEM) works or photolithography, but other things that are particular to your project will need an explanation. Don't start talking about DLTS or ESCA or PCR without explaining what you are talking about and what it measures/does. However, explain it simply -- not a whole course. It is not so much how the technique works, but more about what it measures ---- what is the basic physical principle that it works on. Just  skip the details of the procedures and methods.

Audience level…. Knowing your audience is important for all talks. Your audience is your peers, but they are each "experts" in a very narrow area of nanotechnology which is probably different than yours. They know little to nothing about your project. Since some of them are biologists, they will know very little about electrons and transistors. Likewise, the physics majors will know very little about DNA. You have to lead them through what you did and why it is important without losing them in details. Pretend you are trying to explain your project to your high school science teacher, in 8 minutes. In this sense, the talk at the convocation is VERY DIFFERENT than the talk you would give as a final report to your research group!!! Your research group wants DETAILS and could care less about context; The REU students want context and really don't care much about details. Know your audience and speak to them at the appropriate level

Content….. We want to hear what you accomplished, and why it is interesting/important. That is not the same as a chronological, detailed travel log of all the things you tried. Let the audience hear about what worked, not the various side roads you took to get there. Research can be a series of learning steps but we do not need to hear all the ones you took to complete the project.

Graphs….. Good Graphs are very important. A graph that can’t be read by the audience is meaningless and a waste of time. Proper scales and labeling are critical. In general, a graph that is appropriate for publication IS NOT appropriate for a slide. It is a simple matter of trigonometry. Your slide is going to be projected to about a 12 foot diagonal screen, and it has to be read from 75 feet away. That is equivalent to reading your 15" diagonal computer screen when it is 8 feet away. So put your slide on your laptop, sit 8 feet away from it. If you can not read the scales and axes labels, THEN MAKE THEM BIGGER!!  Excel is not a scientific graphing program and the Excel defaults do not make very good scientific graphs for presentation. Do not make the graphs overly complicated and remember to indicate what the graph is about and/or what you want it to show. You want to show trends not details.

Text Slides…. Slides have to be readable. Bullet items should be nouns, adjectives, or short phrases and NOT COMPLETE SENTENCES. You should not read your slides. People can read for themselves. Bullet points are talking points or memory joggers. They tell you what to talk about. You turn a set of bullet points into sentences by filling in the details. Slides should have no more than 6 or 7 major and sub bullet points. And no more than about 30-40 words on a slide. (If PowerPoint auto-shrinks the text to fit more on the page -- you know you have too much.) Only level 1 and level 2 bullets should be used. Do the same 8 foot away trick as you did for graphs. Never use ALL CAPS.  If you want to emphasize a particular bullet ---  use bold.

Fonts.… Slides must be readable by the audience. Keep to a standard,e.g.  Helvetica or Arial . Minimum font size should definitely be no smaller than 20 point and preferably no smaller than 24 point. Stick to basic sizes and a limited number of colors. Gaudy is not professional and also causes the audience to look at the colors and not the data. Complex patterned backgrounds for the slides should be avoided because they just make it hard to read the materials on the slide.

Micrographs…. ALL MICROGRAPHS MUST HAVE A LEGIBLE SCALE BAR! Typically, the scale bar put on by the SEM is not adequate as it is unreadable from 75 feet away. Use Photoshop to put on a big bold scale marker. Saying it is 1000x is also meaningless, since, when it is projected, it is certainly more than 1000x. That is what scale bars are for. Also, tell what kind of a picture it is -- optical micrograph, SEM, AFM, STM, TEM (all of which you will spell out). Provide some type of reference -- is it top view? Side view? etc. If there is a certain feature that you want to show,  put a big circle around it and point an arrow on it.

Brightness and Contrast…. Micrographs need proper brightness and contrast. On a grey-scale image, there should be areas on each picture that are basically black, and basically white, and areas all shades in between. If your picture varies only from sweat pant grey to battleship grey, then you have not taken a very good picture. Photoshop can help but not cure a bad picture. Similar issues occur for brightness. Have your PI or mentor look at your micrographs and see if they are publication worthy.

Line Art and Illustrations... If you want a good presentation, spend some time with an illustration program (Adobe Illustrator, Canvas, etc) to make good line art. PowerPoint is not an illustration program, and it is very limited. Pixel- based programs, such as Photoshop, are not the right tool for this job either. Use the right tool for the job. If you are showing a diagram of your “thing”, tell the audience how they are looking at it. Is it top view? Side view? etc. You can show multiple views or even  3D. Just make sure the drawing is clearly labeled and easy to read. If you loose the audience at the diagram of your “thing” with them stuck trying to fiqure out if it is top, side, bottom, whatever, they will be lost for the whole presentation.

Animations.... Use animations sparingly. Animations of figures sometimes are useful, but it really gets boring if you see 75 process flows animated with little flying red and blue rectangles, showing resist going on, being developed, etched, etc. Animations of text is useful for complex arguments but you probably will need to do this for your talk. Please no fancy flying text and or transitions -- just move to the next slide.

Pictures…. PowerPoint does a fairly good job with pictures. However keep these points in mind:

    1) Please don't stick a  bunch of 3 megapixel pictures into PowerPoint as you will end up with a 30 megabyte file.  PowerPoint is only going to show about 300 pixels by 300 pixels, so use Photoshop to resized the image first. Resizing in PowerPoint does not actually change the image size.

    2) Be very careful if you build it on a MAC. Don't insert tiff pictures on a MAC as it will use Quicktime compression  and Windows PowerPoint does not support Quicktime decompression, even if you have Quicktime installed. You  will end up with a blank box where your valuable picture is supposed to be. IF YOU BUILD IT ON A MAC, YOU MUST TEST IT ON A WINDOWS PC BEFORE YOU GET HERE !!!

Movies….. Embedding movies into PowerPoint is a fool’s errand. It may work, it is supposed to work, but past experiences indicate that it actually only works about 1/5 of the time. Don’t do it unless it is very important. If it is important, be prepared to stay late on Sunday night to try to get it working before presentations begin on  Monday morning. Just because it works on one PC does not mean it will work on the presentation PC. It is very important to have a back up plan. Exit PowerPoint and show it in MediaPlayer from the desktop instead. But in that case be sure to include your external file and make sure it gets transfered..

Summary.... A concise and fact-filled summary is important. The summary does not need to be long but should include the important finds from your project.

Acknowledgements.... Keep them simple. This is not a place for humor. And please don't read them, just ask for questions. The audience can read who you have thanked.  Please remember to thank your PI and mentor at the minimum.

Questions.....PLEASE, when asked a question, RESTATE THE QUESTION SO ALL CAN HEAR!!

Below are some links to presentations about presentations, from a website at Cornell, video as well as PDF files of slides. They have some good information, most of which does not contradict what has been discussed above. Just remember, different talks for different audiences.  You can also look at previous REU presentations on the NNIN website



PUBIC SPEAKING FOR SCIENTISTS  (Not currently available) (Not currently available)
    Well, I disagree about No Title Slide, but the rest is good.

Have fun.
Looking forward to seeing you all!


Dr. Lynn Rathbun
NNIN Deputy Director
(607) 254-4872