A lightning talk is 3-5 minute presentation akin to an “elevator pitch.” They are highly condensed oral presentations that omit information unnecessary to understanding the main objectives and findings of the research. The specific guidelines for constructing and giving a lightning talk are provided by the conference upon invitation or confirmation of presentation.

The OSU Summer Undergraduate Research Symposium held annually in September offers this presentation format for those interested in spectating or presenting. Overall, keep in mind that lightning talks should be particularly concise in communicating the key points of your project in order to be effective and insightful under the short time constraint.

What makes a good lightning talk?

  • Know your audience: Adjust the presentation to your target audience, this will be different when presenting to professionals in your field compared to those who may be less familiar with the topic.
  • Remember, less is more: Think about the “bigger picture” when constructing the visual component and communicating the research.
  • Focus upon the “what,” “how,” and “why” of your research.
  • Implement a clear and logical delivery of your ideas and results.
  • Make your presentation accessible and concise: Include only one major point per slide.
  • Limit your use of text and utilize simple visuals.
  • Make the text that you do include clear and large enough to be viewed from a distance.
  • Ensure that the theme and color schematic of the visual component should be practical and pleasing to look at.

Note: When constructing your presentation, keep in mind that you may have audience members that are color-blind and cannot distinguish certain color differences, such as red and green. Here are some guidelines to making a color-blind friendly presentation:  

  1. Choose a color-blind friendly color scheme, particularly for graphs. Avoid pale green and pale red mixtures, purple, and pink.
  2. If possible, use a green laser pointer rather than a red laser pointer.
  3. During your presentation, try to not refer to things by color but by their location on the slide and/or shape instead.
  4. When making graphs, avoid differentiating lines by color as matching these colors to the legend can be difficult. Instead, try to use shapes or label the lines. If this is not possible, make the lines a decent thickness.
  5. Beware of high-contrast color schemes. For example, a white background is tiring to the eye and can make it difficult to see colored objects on the slide, especially yellow or green text. Instead, try to use dark-colored fonts on a light-colored background.
  • Include references in the appropriate format on each slide when required or at the end of the presentation in a reference list.
  • Ensure that the length of your presentation falls within the specified time limit.

Prepare in advance then practice, practice, practice!

What Does a Lightning Talk Typically Include?

  1. Title, Authors, and Affiliations (Slide 1)
  2. Background
    • Hook the audience in! Start with something that makes them want to hear more.
    • Set the stage: Identify the issue you are addressing.
    • Should be brief: Refrain from jargon that requires lengthy explanation.
    • Specify the study’s motivations—hypothesis and objective(s).
  3. Methodology
    • Describe how you are approaching the issue through your methodology.
    • Should be brief: Only include that which is necessary to understanding the “what” and “why” of your project.
  4. Major Findings
    • Identify the major trends.
    • Be sure to provide labels or legends with diagrams, graphs, and figures.
  5. Conclusions and Implications
    • Identify the significance of your findings.
    • Describe why this is useful to the community (e.g. applications, future directions).

Helpful Links:

Works Cited

Lortie, CJ (2017) Ten Simple Rules for Short and Swift Presentations. PLoS Comput Biol 13(3): e1005373.

“A Colourblind Guide to Colourful Presentations.” Oxford Protein Informatics Group, 20 Oct. 2013, University of Oxford, Accessed 29 May 2018.