By James Steur, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

MPSA is almost here, and many conference participants are eagerly preparing their slides and presentations for another exciting year in Chicago. If you’re like me, I’m excited to attend MPSA, present my work to a new audience, and get important feedback on my research. Overwhelmingly, the most common type of session format is a paper/panel session, however, many academics learn how to present in this format through trial and error. MPSA provides important instructions on what you should do to prepare for the day of your presentation and general presentations tips. I build upon this set of tips by highlighting a few additional strategies you can consider to maximize audience engagement with your research.[1]

1. Simplicity over Complexity

As an expert on your topic area, you’re probably excited to share your work and could easily spend an hour discussing the ins and outs of your research. However, most presentations at MPSA range from 10–14 minutes, and it isn’t feasible to present your entire paper in this timeframe. It’s best to be concise, specific, and tell a singular story about your paper rather than every detail. By the time you leave the room, you want everybody who saw your presentation to have a “research tagline” they associate you with: “James is the person who said X matters over Y because of this reason.”

One strategy to help develop your research tagline is match the number of minutes you’re presenting with the number of slides you’ll be discussing. For instance, if you have a ten-minute presentation, you probably want a maximum of ten slides. This will help ensure you don’t go over time and keep a clear, concise narrative. You can also spot-check your slides with the following checklist:

  • A clear research question slide;
  • Large and clear titles for visibility purposes;
  • Minimal text for bullet points—usually no more than one line.

Additional resources that touch on simplicity over complexity can be found here and here.

2. Clear, Large Visualizations

You want to assume that somebody will sit in the back during your presentation, and you’ll want to make sure your images and visualizations are as large as possible for accessibility purposes. Generally, you’ll want to only have one visualization per slide—putting more than one visualization can make it hard for audience members to both read and comprehend the point of your figures. One visualization per slide makes it easier for you to explain yourself, and helps your audience not get overwhelmed by your explanations. Importantly, make sure your visualizations consider are also accessible for all audience members by considering factors like font size, color contrasts, and other relevant factors. A few resources on making your presentation accessible across different dimensions can be found here, here, and here.

3. Practice Before You Present

Many individuals will craft slides and review them inside of their head. However, presenting in real time is vastly different than presenting in your head. Your actual presentation has an audience, a discussant, and other presenters in a professional setting. To the best of your ability, you want to simulate what the experience will be like inside of your home or hotel room. Stand up while you present, say out-loud what the point of your presentation is, time yourself, wear formal clothing, and act like it is the final presentation. You’ll be amazed at how much you catch yourself saying “um,” and what changes naturally occur from practicing—ideally with someone watching you.

Ultimately, utilizing these tips in conjunction with the existing ones on the MPSA website will relieve your nerves and lead to a knockout presentation that is fun and enjoyable. You’ll be happy you followed these tips for a fulfilling conference experience.

[1] For a more big-picture perspective on conferences, you can read my previous blog posts about strategies for a successful conference experience and networking.


About the Author

James Steur is a PhD Candidate in political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  His research interests include political psychology, political behavior, and the role of emotions in citizen  decision-making.  He is a first-generation student, passionate coffee drinker, and excited to be blogging (for a fifth time!) at MPSA. You can find James on his website at, X at  @JamesSteur, and BlueSky at