Cristina Nita-Rotaru

Professor of Computer Science
Khoury College of Computer Sciences
Northeastern University

office: ISEC 626 Directions
lab: Network and Distributed Systems Security [nds2]

network security, resilient distributed systems, automated testing and verification; applications: critical infrastructure, connected cars, blockchains
``There is only one success - to be able to spend your life in your own way.'' Christopher Morley

Cristina Nita-Rotaru

How to give presentations

[Why]   [Prepare]   [Deliver]   [Resources]  

This page is intended for undergraduate and graduate students who would like to know more about how to prepare a presentation (with or without slides). For further information, direct your questions to

Why you should learn how to make presentations

Good communication skills are essential in life. A presentation helps you to organize your thoughts and convey them in a clear and engaging manner to an audience. Any presentation has an intention behind it, examples include:
  • Pitch an idea or a project
  • Give updates on an ongoing project
  • Ask for feedback on an ongoing project
  • Report on a completed project
  • Provide advice on a given topic
  • Teach something on a given topic
Clarify the goal of the presentation before starting working on it, either by asking the party that requested the presentation or by deciding for yourself, if the presentation is your initiative. For example, if the goal is to ask for feedback for an ongoing project, you should make sure to lead the presentation towards the aspects you are asking feedback for.

How to prepare a presentation

Story: A presentation is a story with one or a few messages. Be clear about what is the story and what are the messages you want to emphasize.

Audience: The audience is a critical part, so make sure you know what is the audience before you even know what is the story you want to tell. Depending on the audience, the focus of the story, or even the story itself might change. Always keep the audience in mind.

Slides: A presentation might involve props, for example slides. They are not essential to the presentation, but if you use them, their goal is to help the presenter with the delivery of the story. The slides are not the presentation.

Flow: Flow refers to the order in which the slides (and the ideas you convey helped by them) follow each other to create the story you want to tell. Start with draft slides that contain just what the slide will be about, and what will you say, to make sure the flow is right. Later, work on transitioning from one slide (one idea) to the next one. Practice, change, practice again. If you have a problem moving from one slide to the next while delivering the presentation, it is usually a problem with the flow, fix it, then practice again. While there is no perfect flow, here are a few rules to pay attention to:
  • Be aware of the distribution of slides across the different parts of the presentation: introduction, main presentation, results.
  • Pay attention to the order in which ideas, concept are introduced, do not refer to concepts before you introduced them. If you find yourself doing that, maybe you need more background slides at the beginning, or the flow is wrong and you need to change the order.
Slide content: There is a lot of advice online about the appearance of slides. You should care about your slides being, clean, consistent, beautiful, because messiness in the preparation of the slides will impact how the delivery of your presentation will be perceived. Messy slides convey negative messages. Some rules to follow when preparing slides:
  • Make sure you do not have grammar mistakes
  • Check for consistency of capitalization, fonts, positioning of figures, etc
  • Do not have a crowded slide with too much text and small fonts: 3-5 topics and no more than one sub topic.
  • Topics on a slide are not full paragraphs or complete sentences, they are just keywords or key ideas to help with the delivery
  • Be aware of where you place important information, most people parse the first up corner left of the slide.
  • Use images when appropriate: examples, architecture, graphs, etc
  • When you show graphs, make sure you know what is the main goal of the graph
  • A slide is usually about one message, think about it as a paragraph in an essay. Sometime you may need more than 1 slide for that 1 idea, you can use multiple slides or animation.
Practice: Good delivery requires a lot of practice. When practicing, pay attention to what it does not come naturally when you present and adjust the flow or the content of individual slides as needed. Practice by yourself before you practice with a small audience. Practice does not mean to repeat word by word what you plan to say, doing so might results in a mechanic and not very engaging presentation. Practice the flow, the ideas, and especially the main points that you want to deliver and when you want to deliver them during the presentation -- good slides will guide you towards these points and will make sure you will not miss them.

How to deliver a presentation

This is another aspect for which there is plenty of advice online. Here are a few key points:
  • Do not look at the slides, or down, the presentation is for the audience, look at the audience; You can look at the slides if you are pointing to something, but for most of the presentation look at the audience.
  • Be aware of you pace and how your practice time is different from delivery time. Most people tend to speak faster when they deliver the presentation.
  • Know what to skip if time becomes an issue.


Two books I found useful are:
  • Presenting to Win: The Art of Telling Your Story, by Jerry Weissman
  • Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences, by Nancy Duarte

Send your comments and questions to Cristina Nita-Rotaru