The ability to design and deliver an effective presentation is an important skill for all learners to develop. The Undergraduate Medical Education Section of the Group on Educational Affairs developed this toolkit as a resource for medical students and health professions trainees as you learn to create and give effective presentations in the classroom, in the clinical setting, and at academic meetings and conferences. In this toolkit, you’ll find helpful resources on developing and delivering formal lectures and presentations, poster and oral abstract presentations, patient presentations, and leading small group sessions.
Please note: Availability of resources may change over time. To suggest edits or updates, email email@example.com.
Traditional academic presentations in medicine and the biomedical sciences are necessarily dense with complex content. Thus, slides tend to be wordy, and presenters may use their slides as cue cards for themselves rather than as tools to facilitate learning for their audience. With the necessary resources, medical students (and presenters at all levels) can better identify appropriate learning objectives and develop presentations that help learners meet those objectives. Organization of content, clarity of slide design, and professional delivery are all essential components to designing and giving effective formal presentations.
Achieving all of these elements can make creating and delivering a formal presentation challenging. The strategies and resources below can help you develop a successful formal presentation.
Strategies for success
- Define the objectives of the presentation. Always define learning objectives for each of your lectures to make it clear what knowledge or skills the audience should acquire from your presentation. The best learning objectives define specific, measurable, or observable knowledge or skill gains. Furthermore, consider how to communicate the importance of the topic to your audience and how information should be arranged to best communicate your key points.
- Design an effective slide set. You should begin creating your slides only after defining your objectives and key points. The slides should support your talk but not be your talk. Keep slides simple. The audience should be able to review a slide and grasp key points quickly. Avoid lengthy text and distracting decorative fonts, clip art, graphs, and pictures. If additional wording or images are necessary, consider handouts or alternative methods of sharing this information. Lastly, design your slide deck to emphasize the key points, revisiting your outline as necessary, and summarize concepts at regular intervals throughout your presentation to strengthen knowledge gains.
- Practice your performance. Effective public speaking starts with preparation and practice. Ensure there is enough time to create your lecture and a supporting slide deck. Know your lecture material and slides without prompts! Understand the audience and learning climate (the size and knowledge level of your audience) and be prepared for the venue (virtual, in-person, or both, lecture hall or classroom). Think about what effective audience engagement may look like and how to incorporate audience response systems, polling, etc., into the lecture.
- Create a positive learning environment. Anticipate questions and allocate sufficient time to answer them. Always repeat the questions being asked for the audience’s benefit and to ensure your understanding. Some questions may be challenging, so be prepared and answer honestly. It is acceptable not to know an answer.
- Demonstrate professionalism in presenting. Exhibit professionalism by being punctual and having appropriate time management. Remember that mistakes happen; be kind to yourself and remain calm and collected. Be enthusiastic: If you can enjoy the experience, so will your audience. Finally, be open to feedback following your presentation.
Below is a collection of resources that further address the elements of creating and delivering a formal presentation. Each resource addresses a specific presentation skill or set of skills listed above and can be used to develop your understanding further.
- Healthy Presentations: How to Craft Exceptional Lectures in Medicine, the Health Professions, and the Biomedical Sciences (requires purchase, book). This illustrated book is a practical guide for improving scientific presentations. It includes specific, practical guidance on crafting a talk, tips on incorporating interactive elements to facilitate active learning, and before-and-after examples of improved slide design. (Skills addressed: 1-3)
- American College of Physicians: Giving the Podium Presentation (freely available, website). This guide includes recommendations related to presentation delivery, including tips on what to wear, how to prepare, answering questions, and anticipating the unexpected. (Skills addressed: 3-5)
- The 4 Ps of Giving a Good Presentation (freely available, PDF). This simple guide on public speaking from the University of Hull covers such topics as positive thinking, preparing, practice, and performing. (Skills addressed: 3-5)
- Zoom Guides (freely available, website). This website from the University of California, San Francisco is one of many great resources created by universities for presenting on a virtual platform, specifically Zoom. (Skills addressed: 3-5)
- Writing Learning Objectives (freely available, PDF). This excellent resource from the AAMC defines Bloom’s Taxonomy and provides verbiage for creating learning objectives. (Skill addressed: 1)
- Adult learning theories: Implications for learning and teaching in medical education: AMEE Guide No. 83 (freely available, article). This AMEE Guide explains and explores the more commonly used adult learning theories and how they can be used to enhance learning. It presents a model that combines many of the theories into a flow diagram that can be followed by those planning a presentation. (Skill addressed: 1)
- Assertion-Evidence Approach (freely available, website). This approach to slide design incorporates clear messaging and the strategic combination of text and images. (Skill addressed: 2)
- Multimedia Learning (requires purchase, book). This book outlines the learning theories that should guide all good slide design. It is an accessible resource that will help presenters of all levels create slide decks that best facilitate learning. (Skill addressed: 2)
- Collaborative Learning and Integrated Mentoring in the Biosciences (CLIMB) (freely available, website). This website from Northwestern University shares slide design tips for scientific presentations. Specific tips include simplifying messages and annotating images and tables to facilitate learning. (Skill addressed: 2)
- Clear and to the Point (freely available, online book). This book describes 8 psychological principles for constructing compelling PowerPoint presentations. (Skill addressed: 2)
- Websites (freely available) that provide publicly available and royalty-free images for use in presentations (Skill addressed: 2) include:
Presenting the results of the research projects, innovations, and other work you have invested in at regional and national meetings is a tremendous opportunity to advance heath care, gain exposure to thought leaders in your field, and put your evidence-based medicine and communication skills into practice in a different arena. Effective scientific presentations at meetings also provide a chance for you to interact with an engaged audience, receive valuable feedback, be exposed to others’ projects, and expand your professional network. Preparation and practice are integral to getting the most out of these experiences.
The strategies and resources below will help you successfully present both posters and abstracts at scientific meetings.
Strategies for success
- Identify a poster’s/abstract’s purpose and key points. Determine the purpose of sharing your work (feedback vs. sharing a new methodology vs. disseminating a novel finding) and tailor the information in your poster or abstract to meet that objective. Identify one to three key points. Keep in mind the knowledge and expertise of the intended audience; the amount of detail that you need to provide at a general vs. specialized meeting may vary.
- Design an effective poster. Design your poster to follow a logical flow and keep it uncluttered. The methods and data should support your conclusions without extraneous information; every chart or image should serve a purpose. Explicitly outline the key takeaways at the beginning or end.
- Present in a conversational, informal style. Imagine you are explaining your project to a colleague. The purpose of your work and key points should guide your presentation, and your explanation of the methods and data should link to your conclusions. Be prepared to discuss the limitations of your project, outline directions for future research, and receive feedback from your audience. Treat feedback as an opportunity to improve your project prior to producing a manuscript.
These resources support the development of the skills mentioned above, guiding you through the steps of developing a poster that frames your research in a clear and concise manner. The videos provide examples that can serve as models of effective poster and abstract presentations.
- How to design an outstanding poster (freely available, article). This article outlines key items for laying out an effective poster, structuring it with the audience in mind, practicing your presentation, and maximizing your work’s impact at meetings. (Skills addressed: 1-3)
- Giving an Effective Poster Presentation (freely available, video). This video shows medical students in action presenting their work and shares strategies for presenting your poster in a conversational style, preparing for questions, and engaging viewers. (Skills addressed: 2,3)
- Better Scientific Poster (freely available, toolkit). This toolkit includes strategies and templates for creating an effective and visually interesting scientific poster. Virtual and social media templates are also available. (Skill addressed: 2)
As with all presentations, it can be very helpful to practice with colleagues and/or mentors before the meeting. This will allow you to get feedback on your project, style, and poster design prior to sharing it with others outside of your institution. It can also help you prepare for the questions you may get from the audience.
Patient presentation skills are valuable for medical students in the classroom and in the care of patients during clinical rotations. Patient presentations are an integral part of medical training because they combine communication skills with knowledge of disease manifestations and therapeutic strategies in a clinical scenario. They are used during active learning in both the preclinical and clinical phases of education and as students advance in training and interact with diverse patients.
Below are strategies for delivering effective patient presentations.
Strategies for success
- Structure the presentation appropriately. The structure of your narrative is important; a concise, logical presentation of the relevant information will create the most impact. In the clinical setting, preferences for presentation length and style can vary between specialties and attendings, so understanding expectations is vital.
- Synthesize information from the patient encounter. Synthesis of information is integral for effective and accurate delivery that highlights relevant points. Being able to select pertinent information and present it in an efficient manner takes organization and practice, but it is a skill that can be learned.
- Deliver an accurate, engaging, and fluent oral presentation. In delivering a patient presentation, time is of the essence. The overall format for the presentation is like a written note but usually more concise. Succinctly convey the most essential patient information in a way that tells the patient’s story. Engage your listeners by delivering your presentation in an organized, clear, and professional manner with good eye contact. Presentations will go more smoothly with careful crafting and practice.
- Adjust presentations to meet team, patient, and setting needs. Adaptability is often required in the clinical setting depending on attending preferences, patient needs, and location, making it imperative that you are mindful of your audience.
The resources below provide samples of different types of patient presentations and practical guides for structuring and delivering them. They include tips and tricks for framing a case discussion to deliver a compelling story. Resources that help with adjusting patient presentations based on the setting, such as bedside and outpatient presentations, are also included.
- A Guide to Case Presentations (freely available, document). This practical guide from the Ohio State University discusses basic principles of presentations, differences between written and oral communication of patient information, organization, and common pitfalls to avoid. (Skills addressed: 1-3)
- Verbal Case Presentations: A Practical Guide for Medical Students (freely available, PDFs). This resource from the Augusta University/University of Georgia Medical Partnership provides a practical guide to crafting effective case presentations with an explanation of the goals of each section and additional tips for framing the oral discussion. It also provides a full sample initial history and physical examination presentation. (Skills addressed: 1-4)
- Patient Presentations in Emergency Medicine (freely available, video). This training video for medical students from the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine demonstrates how to tell a compelling story when presenting a patient’s case. The brief video offers handy dos and don'ts that will help medical students understand how best to communicate in the emergency department efficiently and effectively. These skills can also be applied to patient presentations in other specialties. (Skills addressed: 1-4)
Additional information and support on effectively constructing and delivering a case presentation can be found through various affinity support and mentorship groups, such as the Student National Medical Association (SNMA), Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA), and Building the Next Generation of Academic Physicians (BNGAP).
For physicians, working within and leading small groups is an everyday practice. Undergraduate medical education often includes small group communication as well, in the form of problem-based learning groups, journal clubs, and study groups. Having the skills to form, maintain, and help small groups thrive is an important tool for medical students.
Below are strategies to provide effective small group leadership.
Strategies for success
- Outline goals/outcomes. Delineating the goals of a meeting ensures that everyone understands the outcome of the gathering and can help keep conversations on track. Listing goals in the agenda will help all participants understand what is to be accomplished.
- Establish ground rules. Establishing explicit procedural and behavioral expectations serves to solidify the framework in which the conversation will take place. These include items such as attendance and how people are recognized as well as the way group members should treat each other.
- Create an inclusive environment. In addition to setting expectations, group leaders can take steps to help all participants feel that their perspectives are valuable. Setting up the room so that everyone sits around a table can facilitate conversations. Having individuals introduce themselves can let the group understand everyone’s background and expertise. In addition, running discussions in a “round-robin style” (when possible) may help every person have an opportunity to express themselves.
- Keep discussions constructive, positive, and on task. As meetings evolve, it can be easy for conversations to drift. Reminding the group of goals and frequently summarizing the discussion in the context of the planned outcomes can help redirect meetings when needed.
- Manage virtual meetings. Online meetings present their own challenges. Adequate preparation is key, particularly working through technological considerations in advance. Explicitly discussing goals and ground rules is even more important in the virtual environment. Group leaders should be more patient with members’ response times and be especially diligent that all participants have an opportunity to be heard.
The resources listed below outline additional helpful points, expanding on the skills described above and providing additional perspectives on managing small group meetings of different types.
- Communication in the Real World: Small Group Communication (freely available, online module). This chapter includes an overview of managing small groups, including understanding the types and characteristics, group development, and interpersonal dynamics. (Skills addressed: 3,4)
- Conversational Leadership (freely available, online book chapter). This short online resource provides guidance for determining group size and seating to best facilitate participation by all group members. (Skill addressed: 4)
- Tips on Facilitating Effective Group Discussion (freely available, PDF). This resource from Brown University provides tips for effective group facilitation, creating an environment conducive for discussions, keeping conversations positive, and managing common problems. Also included is a valuable list of references for further exploration. (Skills addressed: 1-4)
- Facilitating Effective Discussions: Self-Checklist (freely available, online checklist). This checklist from Brown University provides an easy-to-use, practical framework for preparing for, performing, and reflecting on small group facilitation. (Skills addressed: 1-4)
- Sample Guidelines for Classroom Discussion Agreements (freely available, PDF). These guidelines from Brown University give useful tips for managing classroom discussions, including when disagreements occur among group participants. (Skill addressed: 2)
- Fostering and assessing equitable classroom participation (freely available, online article). This online resource from Brown University includes methods to maximize group members’ participation in discussions and to communicate expectations. Also included is a valuable list of references for further exploration. (Skill addressed: 3)
- Facilitating small group learning in the health professions (freely available, online article). The aim of this paper published in BMC Medical Education is to provide students involved in peer/near peer teaching with an overview of practical approaches and tips to improve learner engagement when facilitating small groups. It includes a discussion of the roles of facilitators, strategies for fostering interactions among the group, and methods for resolving common problems. (Skills addressed: 1-4)
- Facilitating a Virtual Meeting (freely available, PDF). This infographic from the University of Nebraska Medical Center includes key points to consider when facilitating an online meeting, including technical considerations, preparation, and follow-up. (Skill addressed: 5)
- Most universities have a communication department with faculty who specialize in small group communication. You may also find that these individuals are a valuable resource.
This toolkit was created by a working group of the Undergraduate Medical Education (UME) Section of the Group on Educational Affairs (GEA).
Working Group Members
- Geoffrey Talmon, MD, University of Nebraska Medical Center
- Jason Kemnitz, EdD, University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine
- Lisa Coplit, MD, Frank H. Netter School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University
- Rikki Ovitsh, MD, SUNY Downstate College of Medicine
- Susan Nofziger, MD, Northeast Ohio Medical University
- Amy Moore, MEd, Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine
- Melissa Cellini, MD, New York Medical College
- Richard Haspel, MD, Harvard Medical School
- Christine Phillips, MD, Boston University School of Medicine
- Arvind Suresh, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth
- Emily Green, PhD, MA, Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University
- Holly Meyer, PhD, MS, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences
- Karina Clemmons, EdD, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
- Shane Puckett, EdD, University of South Florida
- Angela Hairrell, PhD, Burnett School of Medicine at Texas Christian University
- Arkene Levy Johnston, PhD, Kiran C. Patel College of Allopathic Medicine
- Sarah Collins, PhD, UT Southwestern Medical Center
- Patrick Fadden, MD, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine
- Lia Bruner, MD, Augusta University - University of Georgia Medical Partnership
- Jasna Vuk, MD, PhD, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
- Pearl Sutter, University of Connecticut School of Medicine
- Kelly Park, Baylor University Medical Center