top of page


I've recommended that a scientific presentation should be based on a concise written narrative (1/2 page or so, 1-3 minutes orally) that qualitatively describes the major points to be made in the presentation. I've suggested that scientists try to write out this narrative before making slides.

The problem is that it's not easy to write a narrative and many people don't feel confident about their writing. So if you have trouble creating a narrative, here's a few tips:

1) How many slides do you remember 24 hours after hearing a talk? Not many, if any. So when a member of your audience wakes up the next morning, what major points (2-4) do you hope they remember? Write these out and then try writing a narrative that leads to these insights.

2) Alternatively, if you have an abstract from a journal article, start with that. Try to make it more conversational, as if you were explaining it to talk about it with somebody. Will you be able to cover all the points in contained in the abstract when you present, or should your narrative short circuit a few?

3) Alternatively and less good is to start with specific aims from a proposal. The problem is that specific aims usually look forward and don't always provide the necessary background that lets the audience understand the importance of the aims. Again try to make it more conversational.

4) Try making an outline for your talk. Hopefully the talk can fit into three or four sections. Identify the major points you want to make in each section and then try to string together a written narrative. Or simply write a narrative for each section.

5) Always give an oral version (hopefully 1-3 minutes) of your narrative to colleagues (hopefully a colleague in your subspecialty as well as one who is a bit removed from your area). It is just as important to rehearse this narrative as it is to dry run your slides. Without a coherent narrative, you don't have a presentation, you only have a data dump.

Almost every scientific presentation ends with a picture of the lab members. Some presenters go further and show pictures of other collaborators, donors, etc. Presenters seem to think this indicates a generosity of spirit.

Such slides accomplish little. The pictures are only visible for a short time and the audience is not paying attention. Even if the lab member is in the audience, they remain anonymous. They may get a fleeting moment of pride, but nothing more.

Instead, the speaker should ask the contributing lab members to stand up. This will allow the audience to see who contributed and it may lead to audience members engaging them; a valuable experience for postdocs and graduate students.

And by the way, there is nothing more frustrating than hearing a PI conclude a talk by saying that a certain post-doc did most of the work. WHY THEN ISN'T THAT POSTDOC GIVING THE TALK? The PI's should teach that postdoc to develop and deliver the talk. The PI's role is to train the postdoc; not to hog all the glory while treating trainees like human pipettes!

A typical initial venture capital pitch should be 10 minutes and should not go over. VCs generally have little patience and typically review many pitches.

The following elements should be included in the pitch (this list is adapted from the Southern California Biomedical Council (

1) A opening that describes the problem and the potential solution

2) A description of the technology/product, how it improves the situation, how it is different from other approaches.

3) The business strategy and competitive landscape. How will your product penetrate the market and begin to make money?

4) The team of engineers, scientists, and business people involved

5) What's been accomplished to date

6) The next milestone and the resources needed to get there.

I would also add one slide that shows representative data demonstrating that you have done preliminary engineering or scientific work.

Keep in mind that the purpose of the "pitch" is to get in the front door. You can't "prove" your solution "works" in this pitch. Moreover, the VCs tend to be business people who will bring in consulting scientists and engineers to evaluate your product, should your 10 minute pitch be successful.

I would give the same advice as for a presentation to an academic audience, or in fact for any audience. "Script out" what you want to say prior to making slides and include only slides that tell that story.

bottom of page