Guide to Making Accessible and Engaging Conference Presentations

Assembled by the Human Diversity Committee of the ASM

The American Society of Mammalogists is committed to making our meetings as accessible as possible, and part of that accessibility comes from how each of us creates and delivers our presentations. We highlight some steps that each of us can take to produce a more accessible presentation, whether it is an oral presentation or a poster presentation. Please note that this list is not exhaustive; however, it is a good place to start.

You’ll likely observe that most of the guidelines that make a presentation more accessible simply make your presentation more engaging to all. This falls in line with the principles of Universal Design: presentations, products, and services should be designed so that as many users as possible can engage with it. In other words, everyone will benefit from presentations that consider the suggestions towards improving accessibility below. 

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Prepare your presentation so that viewers can engage with your presentation in a variety of ways.

  1. Although we should always aim for reducing text on slides, short and informative headlines for each slide can help anchor viewers to the relevant information on that slide. For example, instead of a slide that says only, “Results” at the top of the slide, the text at the top of the slide could say, “Mule deer that move more during the winter are more likely to survive,” along with the accompanying figure.
  2. Generally aim to reduce clutter on your slides: make the text concise, and only include images that are contributing to the main point. 
  3. When showing an image, provide a short verbal description of that image and what the audience member should take away from it. For showing figures, explain the axes and the general pattern in the data. 
  4. If you are showing a video or audio recording, make sure there are captions. 
  5. During the Q&A section, repeat the question through the microphone so everyone can hear what was asked. If you take a poll of the room where members of the audience raise their hands, verbally describe what you noticed: “About half of the room raised their hands.”

Make design and delivery choices with accessibility in mind. 

  1. Use high contrast between the background and the text or images. When presenting data, make sure that the information can be communicated in ways that do not rely solely on color. This helps people who have color blindness to understand what is being communicated, and it also helps to make sure your message can still be conveyed when you are inevitably in a room with a weak projector that does not show colors the way you intended.
    • When making figures, use color blind friendly palettes. A simple internet search for color blind friendly palettes will help you identify the one that works best for your situation. 
    • After you make any figures, whether for a presentation or manuscript, you should view that figure in accessibility simulators. Just because a palette is considered color-blind friendly does not mean that it is! A quick internet search for accessibility simulators will return many options, but the Coblis color blindness simulator is a good place to start. If you have access to a printer, you can also print your slides or figures in grayscale, or preview them in grayscale, to ensure that the meaning can be conveyed without needing to view colors.
  2. Make sure that the font is at least size 24 point; any text should be legible by people at the back of the room. 
  3. When choosing a font, select a style that is simple to read. Sans serif fonts, such as Arial and Calibri, are often easier to read on large screens than serif fonts, such as Times New Roman. Avoid decorative fonts. 
  4. Use language that is appropriate for your audience members. Carefully consider who you expect to be in the room, and define any terms, acronyms, etc., that you expect your audience will be unfamiliar with. This will allow people who are outside of your specific subdiscipline to understand the importance of your work, and it will help people with cognitive disabilities or who speak English as a second language to understand your work as well. 
  5. Speak clearly and at a moderate pace. Avoid idioms that may not be shared across cultures. 

Test your presentation using accessibility checkers. 

  1. As we mentioned above, a quick internet search will return numerous possibilities for accessibility checkers, which are applications that help you assess the accessibility of your document and identify areas that need adjusting. Microsoft Powerpoint has an Accessibility Checker, with more information on how to use it here.  

Follow the above recommendations, with slight modifications, to make posters more accessible. 

  1. Make sure that you have clear organization so that the viewer can easily orient throughout your poster. 
  2. Colors should be high contrast, and color should not be the only way that meaning is conveyed. 
  3. Make your font size sufficiently large. For the title, the minimum size is 72 point. For section titles, font size should be at least 56 point. Paragraph text and figure captions should be at least 30 point. A good rule of thumb is that the text should be read from 6 feet away. 
  4. Keep text to a minimum, and carefully consider the language you are using and whether it will be accessible to people who are engaging with your poster. 
  5. Make sure that your text is not bunched together by adjusting the space between lines. Use “white space” to your advantage, and do not aim to fill every piece of your poster with text or images. 
  6. Add captions to each image or figure that clearly communicates what the viewer should take from the image. 
  7. Consider having a version that is able to be read by people using screen readers. 

Adhere to the conference’s efforts to improve accessibility. 

  1. Use the microphones that are provided at the conference venue, even if you have a loud voice or even if it is a small room. People who have difficulties hearing may not feel comfortable asking for you to use the microphone. If you need a cordless microphone, reach out to the conference organizers. 
  2. If requested by the conference organizers, make your slides and other materials available for low-vision participants, and make sure that information is accessible to screen readers. This means using preset functions to identify headings and paragraph text, and avoiding manually adjusting formatting using tabs, spaces, etc.

Reflect on what you can do, or have done, to make your conference presentation more accessible. 

No presentation, document, or effort will be perfectly accessible for every single person. Knowing that should not lead us to do a half-hearted job of making our presentations accessible. Instead, we should strive to improve each time we give a presentation, aiming to make our communications a bit more accessible each time. Reflect on the progress you made during this presentation, as well as the progress you hope to make in your next presentation.