Guidance for Preparing and Presenting Your Lightning Talk

What Is a Lightning Talk?

  • A lightning talk is a VERY short presentation (3-5 minutes) aimed at a non-specialist audience. This kind of talk is meant to be exciting and thought-provoking and is designed to quickly introduce people to a topic and make them understand why they should care about it.
  • Typically, a lightning talk features one or two student speakers. Because teams will not be together to record their talk, it may be simplest to select one student speaker to represent your team. However, if your team chooses to utilize a digital presentation tool such as Prezi, you could experiment with more than one student speaker.

How to Submit Your Talk


Planning Your Talk

Define your key message

  • Start by working with your team to brainstorm the most important message you want to convey. This could be the most promising findings from your work so far, or the unique approach you used to tackle a pressing societal challenge.
  • Remember to consider your audience. Bass Connections teams attract interest from a diverse array of Duke students, faculty members, administrators and staff, as well as members of the community and partnering organizations. What do you want this diverse community to know about your research? What do you want them to be able to tell their colleagues, friends and families?

Tell your story

  • Open your talk with a hook to draw in your audience and get them as excited as you are about the topic. This could be a bold statement about your work. This could also be a counterintuitive statement that surprises people and makes them eager to hear more.
  • Frame the problem your team addressed to help your audience understand what’s at stake and why your research is meaningful.
  • Lead your audience through the most exciting elements of your approach.
  • Arc your story toward the solution or any unexpected questions you uncovered.

Leave your (virtual) audience wanting more

  • Conclude by laying out the future of your work. What are the next steps? How will this work continue to have impact?
  • Consider adding a final call to action. What do you want your audience to walk away knowing or doing? How can people learn more about your work?

Helpful dos and don’ts

  • DO make your research personal. Consider including a short anecdote about a pivotal success or challenge to connect with the audience. Consider also including humor and/or drama to tell your story when appropriate. We also invite students to include brief reflections on what they have learned through this experience.
  • DO simplify complex concepts using analogies and metaphors.
  • DO emphasize important points using evidence such as simple, meaningful data points and/or statistics.
  • DON’T use discipline-specific language unless you’ve clearly defined your terms first. (Even then, avoid overuse of jargon, including complex or cumbersome “number jargon” that might be confusing, unrelatable or distracting to a non-specialist audience.)
    • Try rephrasing “number jargon,” or big/complex numbers, using more relatable figures. For example, “47.65 percent of responses” can be rephrased as “about half of responses;” “32 million Americans” becomes “1 in 10 Americans;” “8 centimeters in diameter” might be better understood as “about the size of a baseball.”
  • DON’T talk for more than five minutes. Remember, this is a lightning talk! Please limit your talk to 4 or 5 minutes.

Tips for Preparing Visuals/Slides

  • Consider using slides to provide visual support for your talk.
  • Text and/or bullet points on your slides should be kept to a minimum. When you use text, it should emphasize what you are speaking about, rather than convey your entire message.
  • You can use simple graphics and photos to advance your points. But, remember, you are not presenting data; you are sharing a big idea.
  • Avoid using discipline-specific jargon and “number jargon” that won’t be easily understood by a diverse audience.
  • Consider including slides with photos of your team in action.

Tips for Practicing Your Talk

  • Consider using brief written notes during your talk but avoid reading a script word-for-word. Jot down notes in advance and add details in places where you think you might get stuck.
  • Make sure to talk at a normal speed and use occasional pauses.
  • Practice with a timer! It’s not easy to be brief, so practice with a timer in front of any available “audiences” [digital (e.g., teammates) or in-person (e.g., parents, siblings)]. These people can help you figure out what parts of your talk are the most clear and impactful in your five-minute time limit.
  • Keep the content accessible to all audiences. Convey your big idea and generate excitement about the work you’ve done. Specialists can learn more about your work by checking out your research poster or your team’s other deliverables.

Tips for Recording Your Talk

  • Consider using a digital presentation tool such as Prezi to make your talk visually interesting.
  • Enhance sound quality by using a microphone (if you have access to one) and eliminating ambient noise (as much as you can). If you do not have access to a microphone, plan to speak up and do a few audio tests before your final recording.
  • If you’ll be in front of the camera, consider your light source, background and framing. Try not to position yourself in front of windows or directly under overhead lights; don’t be afraid to show your natural environment behind you (e.g., bookshelves, plants, photos, paintings, etc.) as long as it’s not too busy; position yourself slightly off-center in the camera frame.
  • Don’t be afraid to share low-tech recordings as long as your audience can see and hear you. We know your team is improvising and that you’re all doing your best under the circumstances!
  • Remember to check out these easy-to-follow instructions for filming on your mobile device and filming using Zoom courtesy of Julie Schoonmaker, a video expert with University Communications.