How to prepare a medical slide presentation

I am not an expert on presentation skills. I don’t think many medical people are. Medical people often aren’t practiced at slide presentations. It’s not something we do every week, but we do have to do it every few months. Most of us never get to be highly skilled or highly practiced, and we rarely repeat a presentation. Furthermore, criticism is often directed at the facts we present, rather than the method of presentation.

I attended and presented at our hospital research awards last night. I saw 13 great presentations on the varied projects undertaken here over the last 12 months. Here is my collation of what those presentations taught me.

Presentation Skills

  1. Assume your audience is not interested or doesn’t care about your topic

    This is harsh, but realistic. You need to tailor your presentation for someone who is falling asleep and is not interested. So it has to be simple, visually accessible and clearly explained. Clarity will not frustrate those who are interested. But it is folly to make your presentation too complicated for those who don’t care.

  3. Address your audience
  4. People will pay more attention to relevance. So if you are addressing a group of surgeons, explain how your project is clinically applicable. If you are addressing basic scientists, tie your topic back to mainstream growth factors, or pathological practices that they might work with.

  5. Look to the audience, not at the screen
  6. It is very tempting to read off your slides, but it is awful to watch. Read from your notes, or the computer screen if you can get it facing the right way.

  7. Less explanation is more
  8. Excessive explanation can get boring, and make it seem more complicated. Inadequate explanation can be cleared up in question time.

  9. Answer the question
  10. If a question is unexpected, your answer is probably going to be rubbish and hard to understand. The first thing out of your mouth should be the answer - “yes”, “no”, “we don’t know” or “That is a limitation of the study.” Then the botched explanation you go into will make more sense.

  11. If you need thinking time, tell the questioner they asked a good question
  12. If you do this for every question, you look like an idiot, but it can be effective once or twice.


  1. If you use a Mac, make sure your theme uses Windows safe fonts
  2. Three out of fourteen presentations were prepared on a Mac, and they all had their fonts converted to Courier. Luckily, we noticed with enough time to fix it. (I was one of these).

  3. Don’t use a standard, recognizable powerpoint theme
  4. We all use Powerpoint. We all know all the themes. It looks cheap and tacky. Avoid.

  5. Simple themes are best.
  6. A plain white background is classic. A plain black background looks great in a dark room, and adds emphasis to your data, as it appears with no border.

Diagrams and Images

  1. Avoid complicated diagrams

    No one is going to work hard to understand what the diagram means. They don’t care that much. Simplify as much as possible

  2. Think about adding more images
  3. Any slide with only writing can be difficult to focus on. Given that, why not give them a picture to look at? Either use a picture from your project (a photo of equipment, or a photo of a histology slide or gross specimen) or find a relevant image on a free stock photo site. Don’t use clip art.

  4. Reproduce complicated images from journals or online to describe pathways or associations
  5. If you can get a digital copy of the image, it will look better than what you create yourself

  6. Use flow charts or concept maps where possible
  7. Complicated concepts are difficult to understand, even if written in point form. A flow chart or concept map helps the audience to understand complex relationships or processes.

  8. Don’t reproduce tables from external sources
  9. They are unreadable when projected as the font loses clarity. Rewrite the table instead.

  10. Use captions and annotations on images
  11. Captions prevent you from manually orientating the audience to the image. Write a caption next to anything you are likely to point at with the laser pointer.

  12. Use full size images for impact
  13. One of the presenters used full size images of immunology stains to point out detail. It was very effective as there was no clutter, only the image.

Using graphs and charts

  1. All graphs should look the same
  2. Although you may use scatter plots, histograms or box plots for different reasons, try to minimize the different types of graphs. And ensure they are all the same colour and layout. Headings and legends should be consistently labelled.

  3. Use the minimum amount of “ink” in charts
  4. Anything unnecessary to the message should be removed.

  5. Avoid 3d and shading effects on graphs
  6. They can be bad maths, and see point 2.

  7. All graphs should have error bars and comparisons should have significance values
  8. Each experimental group should have a consistent colour or format in all graphs
  9. This is one of the few ways colour can be used to enhance the clarity of line graphs or histograms. For example, your normals should always be pink, your shams green, treatment 1 orange etc, regardless of which two you are comparing. This means people only have to read the legend once, and makes charts more visually accessible.


  1. If presenting research or a journal club article, your last slide should be “Implications of this data”
  2. If it is not your last slide, it will be your first question. (This was one of my mistakes too).

  3. Don’t write full sentences on slides.
  4. The role of slides is to keep your audience focussed on what you are saying. They should be readable in one glance.

  5. Avoid words of more than one syllable wherever possible
  6. See above. All the words you would use in a scientific article can not be read in a glance, so are of no use to your audience. You may say them, but avoid writing them

  7. Keep data on each slide to a minimum
  8. If a slide has three graphs, then it is usually better to use three slides to display them, and spend the same total time on each.

  9. Avoid lengthy explanations of background and basic theory
  10. Too much time on background means less time for results and discussion. (Yes, I did this one too). The audience needs to understand your study, not design it.

  11. Don’t include anything that you are uncomfortable with on a slide
  12. When you get nervous, the first thing you will do is apologize for it.

  13. Your conclusion slide must be able to be read from the back of the room
  14. This may be the only slide your audience reads. If they haven’t been paying attention, they will use it to ask questions. No full sentences. Lists and point form works well. Consider a table if the results can be displayed in groups.

More information

Presentation skills is a big thing in business. People present every day, and become very skilled at it. So there is lots of information out there for us part-timers who wish to improve our performance.

10 tips for More effective Powerpoint Presenations

Slide:ology blog

Essential Presentation Skills

Yale’s Advice on Medical Presentation

Do you have any clunkers you have recently learnt? Share your presentation advice or links in the comments.


Related posts:

  1. Science Slides 2008: Presentation images and templates for the biosciences Science Slides 2008 is a set of biomedical slide templates...
  2. 11 ways to Evernote your medical research Evernote is a respository for notes, PDFs, images and even...
  3. Weekly medical productivity Shout outs! I have been reading some interesting stuff over the last...
  4. Leap: the nirvana of digital filing Since I last wrote about digital filing, I have found...
  5. Medical software I couldn’t do without After a discussion on the Twitter, I got thinking about...

Did you enjoy this post? Why not leave a comment below and continue the conversation, or subscribe to my feed and get articles like this delivered automatically to your feed reader.


No comments yet.

Leave a comment