Formats for Conference Presentations

Formats for Conference Presentations

The different types of presentation formats available at academic conferences are discussed in the module, in addition to a discussion of how to select the format appropriate for presenting your research.

Learning Objectives

  • List the types of conference presentation formats that could potentially be available for presenting your research findings
  • Compare and contrast the types of presentation formats
  • Explain factors that should be considered when choosing a conference presentation format


When preparing to share your research findings at a conference, there are several types of formats you may want to consider.  The type of format may depend on whether or not you submitted a proposal that was accepted by the conference (termed a contributed presentation) or you were invited to participate in some specific presentation by conference or symposium organizers. Following is a breakdown of the different types of conference presentations and a description of each.

Oral Presentations

Oral presentations are short talks that may be given individually or as part of a panel or group discussion.  Researchers often prefer oral presentations over poster sessions and other formats because many view them to the prestigious option.  There are several types of oral presentations:

  • Individual Presentations- These may be contributed or invited talks that are often 15-30 minutes in length and leave just a short time, if any, for questions from the audience.  The presenter will prepare a conference paper that will be presented and is typically a more focused, narrower version of their overall project. Paper presentations are assigned to the appropriate session and the most common formats include:    
    • Themed Session- These sessions at conference primarily include completed research or scholarly work.  The presentations will be grouped by topic or theme into sessions that include several related presentations.  This facilitates audience attendance and organizes topics at the conference.
    •  Roundtable Session- Roundtable sessions allow the presenter the opportunity to interact and converse more with the audience.  Presenters are assigned to a table in a conference room for the duration of the session and interested attendees may join them at their table. These sessions are typically best for position papers, policy analyses, and other types of topics that benefit from extended discussion time.
  • Panel Discussions - In panel discussions, two or more speakers will present different aspects, perspectives or thoughts on a particular topic, research problem, or question.  Each speaker will have an opportunity to present their information and when all the speakers are finished, there is typically time for discussion.


Poster Presentations

Poster presentations are opportunities for a larger number of researchers to present their research in the form a visual poster presentation. The posters are large (often 3' x 4') and provide the researcher with enough space to fully summarize their research in an attractive and professional way.  The presenter typically prepares a short oral summary that can be given to those who are interested.  Attendees are free to move about the room and examine posters and talk individually to the presenters.  This format does allow the opportunity for a research target those that are genuinely interested and engage them in discussion that often allows for more detail.  Another advantage of this type of format is that researcher can receive valuable feedback from the attendees.  For more information about poster presentations and how to prepare for one, see the Poster Presentations module in Research Ready: Presentations.


This type of conference session is longer (often 90 minutes) and entails 5 or more presenters who are proposing papers on the same topic or theme.  All presenters will speak individually (15 minutes approximately) and there will be additional time for discussion and questions.  These sessions have a more narrow focus and therefore attract attendees with a genuine interest in the topic. However, while the audience is well-educated, they are usually not specialists or experts on the topic. 


A symposium is a type of conference or session that focuses on one particular topic.  It is often a collection of papers from a number of contributors.  Each contributor will have an opportunity to present and a time for discussion.  This type of session is valuable when multiple perspectives on a particular subject may be of interest to the audience and can be put together in one session.  A symposium is also a time for networking and collaboration with peers and colleagues since these sessions are often comprised of experts in the field who have come together to share ideas.

Workshop/Interactive Presentation

Workshops are interactive sessions that can vary in length from approximately an hour to a full day.  These sessions usually begin with explanatory or introductory information and then move on to involve the audience in some type of interactive, participatory activity.  Workshops and interactive presentations are particularly well suited for demonstrations, learning new skills or procedures, debates, exhibitions and so forth.


Suggested Readings

Day, R. A. (1998). How to write and publish scientific papers.
Devlin A. (2006)  Research Methods.  Thompson Wadsworth.
Miracle, V. A., & King, K. C. (1994). Presenting research: Effective paper presentations and impressive poster presentations. Applied Nursing Research, 7(3), 147-151.
Singleton Jr, R. A., Straits, B. C., & Straits, M. M. (1993). Approaches to social research . Oxford University Press

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