University of Wisconsin
School of Medicine and Public Health

Public Speaking Guidelines

Pedagogy: Enhance Learning

  • Start with learning objectives. Specific, behavioral objectives help you, the presenter, identify the key points of your session, plan what is feasible to present, and guide what to cut. Objectives help the learner know what they will gain and to remember your key points.
  • Limit content to only THE MOST important. When it comes to learning, less is more. Plan to focus on 3-5 key points that closely correlate with your objectives.
  • Orient your audience. Use your key points to create the main message of your presentation and fill in important information on the scaffold of these key points.
    • Cue your key points. Effective methods include changing voice quality/speed or posture; using visual cues (e.g., arrows or circles in PowerPoint); using verbal cues (e.g., “This is a crucial point…”.)
    • Reflect on progress. After a key point is made, show how it fits into the overall presentation.
    • You cannot overuse repetition of your key points. Revisit often and summarize at the end.
  • Engage your audience and their prior knowledge.
    • Use examples, analogies, or cases whenever possible to help explain new concepts. This contextualizes content and enhances both attention and retention.
    • Our minds wander: Refresh attention by breaking up your session every 15-20 minutes. Insert a new instructional method, video, question, tasteful humor, or active learning.
      • For in-person presentations:
        • Answer yes/no or multiple-choice questions with hand raising (or number of fingers) or audience response system (like
        • Think-Pair-Share (with audience member nearby, share a question or answer). A low-risk way to engage everyone and break up the session.
      • For virtual presentations:
        • Use polling within the presentation platform
        • Use chat function
        • Ask participants to reflect and write

KEY: Focus on less, repeat key points and engage audience.

Dynamic Delivery: Competing With iPhones

  • First impressions matter. Open with a “POW statement” (e.g., a story, a question, a case, or an unusual statistic) to capture the attention of the audience immediately.
  • Practice. Practice more than you think you need to.
    • Use a friend or colleague to practice eye contact, to avoid reading from slides, and for frank feedback. It will help to improve your presentation and confidence, identify extraneous material, hone wording, and to get your timing down.
    • Videorecording yourself also works well (and isn’t as painful as it sounds).
    • Pauses/Non-Words: Use pauses to increase emphasis of key points. Avoid filler words like “um." Practice helps.
    • Use Vocal Variety: changes in volume or pace can be used to increase emotion or attention.
  • Who Cares? Show why this is important to the audience: Aim to attach relevance of your material early on, to motivate audience to pay attention, and to show them this topic/issue is relevant to them. Cultivate emotions. Tell a story or a case that speaks to them as a provider, as a person, as a member of society.
  • Energy!!! The more energy you can present while speaking, the better everything else is. Use vocal variety and non-verbal communication (facial expressions, movement, eye contact): this translates into people being more engaged.
    • For in-person presentations:
      • Use movement, including away from the podium to be more connected to your audience. Purposeful steps or gestures at transitions or key points will increase engagement.
      • Look at audience members as much as possible. Look at colleagues you know well to help with nerves.
    • For virtual presentations, use even more vocal inflection and facial expression than you would in person.
  • Enhance your virtual presence
    • Lighting: Facing natural light is best and the next best is a ring light. Light behind you is the worst.
    • Background: This should not be distracting; have very little behind you.
    • Audio: A boom microphone is best, but earbuds or AirPods are almost as good; a laptop mic can be unexpectedly low quality. Acoustics in certain rooms can be surprisingly poor, so test first with a colleague.
    • Cameral placement: Look at the camera if possible; have the height of the camera at eye-level with the use of a laptop stand if needed.
    • Fidgeting: While you want to have more verbal and facial energy on a virtual presentation, MINIMIZE other body movements (e.g., don’t use a chair that rotates or rocks).

KEY: Practice, open with a POW, and increase the energy!

Tame PowerPoint

  • Less is more. ONE message per slide—make it clear. Avoid complex graphics or tables: put the gist clearly and crop out any unnecessary info from the graphic. Minimize distractions from key point (extraneous text, animations, etc).
    • Primary function of slides is to augment YOUR presentation, not restate what you are saying. Slides are NOT meant to be handouts.
    • 7x7 rule (7 bullets per slide, 7 words per bullet)—don’t put everything on slides, or the audience has to choose between reading your slides or listening to you. Use short phrases.
  • Make it readable. Heading fonts should be 36-44 points, and text fonts 24-32 points. Select easy-to-read fonts. Crop and enlarge key elements of complex tables/charts. High contrast is easier to read (black and white). Explain the X/Y axes on your figures.
  • Images are better than words. The more you can replace text with images, the more engaged your audience will be.
  • Build sequencing. Introduce bullets and images ONLY when you are ready to talk about them, which will focus your audience’s attention only on what you are currently talking about, and it also simplifies busy slides for them.

KEY: More white space, replace words with images, make it easy to interpret.