The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing

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Teaching Tips 

Strategies for Making Oral Presentations About Clinical Issues: Part II. At Professional Conferences

Janet M. Brown, PhD, RN; Nola A. Schmidt, PhD, RN, CNE


This column offers strategies for making oral presentations at professional conferences. Part I, which appeared last month, offered strategies that clinicians can use to make effective oral presentations at work.


This column offers strategies for making oral presentations at professional conferences. Part I, which appeared last month, offered strategies that clinicians can use to make effective oral presentations at work.

The authors disclose that they have no significant financial interests in any product or class of products discussed directly or indirectly in this activity, including research support.

Every patient encounter is an opportunity to discover new knowledge. However, nurses are reluctant to disseminate their practice expertise. The purpose of this column is to describe strategies for making oral presentations at professional meetings.

Presentations are a mainstay of professional conferences and are typically formal. Because conference presentations are usually competitive, it is an honor to be selected. If you are a first-time presenter, submitting an abstract to a familiar conference is a good choice, as you should be accustomed to the format used for presentations.

The typical process for selecting individuals to speak at conferences involves submitting, often electronically, an abstract that is peer reviewed. Attention to presentation guidelines increases the likelihood of being selected. The topic should be appropriate for the conference theme and audience. A call for abstracts is a notice that publicizes requests for paper presentations and includes information about the conference and a deadline for abstract submission. Calls can help you decide if the topic is a good fit with the conference. For example, if smoking cessation among patients with heart disease is the focus of a conference, it is unlikely that a presentation about smoking cessation among pregnant women would be selected. Assuring that the title, which should not exceed 10 words (Berg, 2005), contains key words is recommended.

Several professional obligations come with the acceptance of an abstract. Presenters must indicate if they accept the invitation. Regrets should be given immediately. Conference attendees become disgruntled if presenters are absent, so it is important to honor a commitment. If an absence is unavoidable, it is acceptable to have a colleague present. Registration and fees, which may be reduced for presenters, are required. Presenters may be expected to submit PowerPoint slides or handouts prior to the conference and late fees may be assessed if deadlines are missed. Conference planners may request objectives for presentations.

Preparing Oral Presentations

Careful preparation and attention to detail result in successful oral presentations. Novice presenters should rely on typed scripts to avoid ad-libbing. Without experience, ad-libbing frequently causes speakers to lose focus and exceed time limits. Presenters should be so familiar with the script that it sounds as if they are talking and not reading. One double-spaced, typed page with 1-inch margins using an average-sized font typically equals about 2 minutes of speaking time. Having one slide for every 30 to 60 seconds is recommended. To gauge the actual length of the presentation, rehearsing aloud while using the visual aids is advised. People usually speak faster when presenting than when rehearsing. Maintaining an appropriate speaking pace can be facilitated by inserting visual cues into the script, such as “slow down” or “breathe.” Scripts are easier to read when the font is enlarged. Time should be allotted for a couple of questions at the end of the presentation.

Several strategies can be useful when beginning to prepare a paper. Writing 15 to 30 minutes every day is suggested (Gray, 2005). Content should not be altered from what was submitted in the abstract. Using active voice, the tone of the paper should be appropriate for the audience. Jargon should be avoided, especially when speaking to an interdisciplinary audience, and presenters are expected to use proper grammar.

An appropriate place to begin when preparing a paper for presentation is by writing objectives—statements that provide the basis for selecting content and measuring learner outcomes. Using objectives to develop an outline keeps presentation content organized. The first draft should contain initial thoughts. Because getting started on the first draft is sometimes difficult, you can begin writing whichever section is easiest. In subsequent drafts, the focus should be on organizing the flow of the presentation and removing redundancy. Although preparing a reference list is not typically necessary, having citations available if there are questions is helpful. Presenters can incorporate various approaches to capture the interest of the audience, such as beginning with a cartoon, joke, or story. Quotations can be effective, but should not be overused. The majority of the content presented should be focused on the new knowledge that is being shared.

Text that reads well when written may be unacceptable at the next reading. Putting aside a paper and rereading it several days later is advisable. It can be especially helpful to have both experts and non-experts critique the paper (Gray, 2005).

When presenting, PowerPoint software can be used to create slide shows. Attention to both content and appearance is necessary. Creating slides requires more skill and effort than is usually anticipated and although it is time consuming, most nurses find the process rewarding. If attention is placed only on the appearance of slides and not on the content, dissemination of information is diminished. It is helpful to ask, “What will augment what is being said?” Content should be straightforward. Complete sentences are not needed. Using bullets to create an outline is an effective way to present content and avoid redundancy. Avoiding jargon, abbreviations, and symbols is advisable.

The first slide of every presentation includes the title, the authors, and their affiliations. It is customary to include a logo of the affiliation. A slide acknowledging organizations that provided funding for the project is typically included, and it is also acceptable to acknowledge individuals who provided assistance with the project.

To create scholarly and professional slides for presentations, attention should be paid to the layout, font, color, and graphics. Presenters should include white space and avoid cluttering layouts with an abundance of clip art, as this will distract from the information being presented. Because it is important to select fonts that make the content easy to read across a room, a font size of no smaller than 24 points is recommended. Fonts should be limited to one or two different styles. A Roman-style font with a serif type is recommended because it makes it easier to differentiate similar-looking letters. It is recommended that each line have no more than 30 characters and each slide have no more than 6 lines of text. Punctuation and capitalization should be consistent. Capital letters are usually used for titles and headings.

Although selecting colors for slides is fun, choices should enhance the presentation by adding visual appeal. Dark-colored fonts on lighter backgrounds are the easiest to read. Bright colors attract, while complementary colors provide the greatest contrast. Presenters should keep in mind that some individuals are color blind. For example, using blue and green together should be limited (Ellerbee, 2006). Sometimes, presenters select colors because they represent a particular topic. A presentation on preventing heart disease may include red as an accent color. Graphics, such as bar or pie charts, can communicate a plethora of information in a limited space. Finishing slides in ample time to allow feedback from colleagues is wise. As a final step, presenters should refer to the paper and critically appraise the slides to ensure that they are congruent with the text.

Delivering the Presentation

Nurses have a responsibility to fulfill the obligations of being a presenter. Presenters should adhere to designated times for uploading and reviewing slides. Presenters make two common mistakes. First, they read directly from slides, causing the audience to become disengaged from the presentation. Using bullets and phrases to summarize main points on slides minimizes this mistake. Visual aids should be used to complement the speech. Second, they disregard time constraints. Presenters should respect time limitations and not continue speaking once room moderators have indicated that time has expired. They should arrive early to confirm their presence with room moderators and test audiovisual aids. Presenters should remain at the conclusion of paper sessions to interact with attendees.


Nurses have a responsibility to participate in the process of dissemination. The power of sharing knowledge learned through practice should not be underestimated. Nursing will be enriched when more individuals in clinical practice disseminate their practice expertise.

Janet M. Brown, PhD, RN
Nola A. Schmidt, PhD, RN, CNE
Valparaiso University
Valparaiso, Indiana


  • Berg, J. A. (2005). Creating a professional poster presentation: Focus on nurse practitioners. Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, 17, 245–248. doi:10.1111/j.1745-7599.2005.0041.x [CrossRef]
  • Ellerbee, S. M. (2006). Posters with an artistic flair. Nurse Educator, 31(4), 166–169. doi:10.1097/00006223-200607000-00010 [CrossRef]
  • Gray, T. (2005). Publish & flourish: Become a prolific scholar. Las Cruces, NM: New Mexico State University.

The authors disclose that they have no significant financial interests in any product or class of products discussed directly or indirectly in this activity, including research support.


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