How to do a presentation

Academically, Iclimbing_through_the_yellow_band_mt-_everest_-may_2007_a was raised in Mathematics, where a lecture is in fact a development of ideas on the black- or whiteboard. In the Mathematics research community things then went downhill with presentations in LaTeX trying to imitate Powerpoints horrible themes.

In Medicine, the situation has been disastrous even before Powerpoint – medical talks have always been boring with lots of facts and no investment into the choreography of the talk itself. Prezi took this even further, emphasizing the structure of the content rather than the talk.

For me it was the fascination with SMACC talks such as Vic Brazil’s famous Timing, Tribes and STEMIs and of course Cliff Reid’s impressive resuscitation talks, that led me first to the theory (Presentation zen, Nancy Duarte and the like) and then the practice (TED talks) of modern presentation creation.

This blog entry serves to collect the most helpful references for creating presentations. It also captures the basic steps I recommend for giving a small 20 min talk on a current topic in our departments’ continued education rounds.

5 steps for creating presentations

While three seems to play an important role in structuring you talk, I prefer rules of 5 for mnemonics, so here are my presentation creation 5.

  1. What
  2. So what?
  3. How
  4. Practice
  5. Present


Choose a topic that interests you and your audience, priority on the latter. Don’t let the topic be dictated. Read up and become an expert. Helpful is Scott Weingarts tip to create a folder with a ppt-template, a note-file (eg mindmap), lots of subfolders (images, articles, videos, recordings) way ahead of the talk to let your subconscious work on the talk all those weeks, collecting articles, noting ideas.

So what?

Why should this topic be interesting for your audience? How do you want to change them? Write an elevator pitch for that.


Choose one of three formats to structure your talk:

  •  Problem/solution: most frequent in medicine
  •  Narrative: most effective – use drama theory, suspense curves and the like
  •  Chronologic: most diffficult – take the audience through a historic tour

Now write the basic steps for Intro, Story, Closing on yellow postits and thus create the structure as a modifiable lattice.


I recommend 5 rehearsals for simple and 6 rehearsals for important talks

  1. Ad hoc: starting from your postits, talk the talk standing in front of an empty chair, then note necessary changes to your structure, write down good formulations as segues in differently coloured postits, fill in the missing data, examples etc.
  2. W/o slides: run through the talk again immediately and note at which point you need visual aids, the flipchart, videos etc to improve the talk. Use differently coloured postits as placeholders. Use the following weeks’ break to search for this stuff and take your time, letting it stew.
  3. To a person: give the talk with slides to a good friend or colleague, gathering as much feedback as you can – this is the first time you give the talk to an audience; make sure you achieve what you planned for, change the talk radically otherwise and start with 2 again. Work through each formulation, each slide. It helps to record the talk on video.
  4. Preparation: give the talk again in private at least a week ahead of the date. You might record this (audio only) Then give your subconscious time to improve the talk even further.
  5. Rehearsal: This is the final rehearsal 1-2 days before your talk. If you give the talk to a big audience, you should repeat this as a dress rehearsal to a small group, such as your peers, gathering feedback.


Annouce and advocate your talk. Go to the venue and check everything out, if possible, 1 day before the talk. Get a clicker (not a pointer). Get to the talk on time. Be well-dressed and smart. Have someone announce your talk to make sure everyone is quiet. Stand before the audience and talk to them, not to the slides, looking them into the eyes, reacting. After the talk, get feedback and improve your talk.

5 steps for creating slides

  1. Not a teleprompter
  2. Not a handout
  3. Don’t distract
  4. Good design
  5. Good images

Not a teleprompter

Using your practice runs, you don’t need the slides as notes. Whenever the information on the slide is just for you to remember what to say, move it to the notes. Only citations may be read verbatim to the audience (it is always so cool, if you can cite by heart facing the audience).

Not a handout

If you feel the audience needs information to take home, prepare a handout. Your slides are not your handout. Every word on the slide needs to be checked whether it is inspirational or handout material. Long lists are handout material.

Don’t distract

Remove everything, every word, every object, every colour, every footer, every logo, everything that doesn’t serve your story. No template. Black background. No animations. No transitions.

Each slide should contain one thing, either a supporting image (fotos for emotions, graphs for illustration) or a slogan, maybe both.

If you absolutely need lists, keep them short, so that the eye can grasp the whole list in one glance (max. 5-6 entries)

Good design

Use all the theory of design (golden cut, font design, clear lines, few words) to improve your slides. Use a professional, if possible. Make it simple. Look at Apple’s advertisements and presentations to get the idea.

If you feel you have to excuse a busy slide, throw it out, redesign it. Most complex slides are better developed on the whiteboard.

Good images

Images are used to create emotions. Use good real fotos in high resolution, not artificial cartoons. You judt have to evoke the feeling. Make sure you have the right to use the images.


Obviously, I did not develop these concepts on my own. Here is an annotated list of useful links and references.