Alright, let's clarify. In our 29 years in teaching presentation skills, we've encountered many scientists and engineers that are also gifted presenters. Good science and good presenting aren't mutually exclusive. We have, however, noticed some common self-imposed barriers amongst technical presenters that hurt their presentation effectiveness. Some of the very practices that make for good science—a rigorous, sequential process for investigation and a dispassionate objectivity—make for poor presenting.
The Scientist’s Presentation
A scientist or engineer will often present an oral version of a research paper:
While some technical audiences prefer this approach, others can find it boring.
He or she may also tend to present data-based findings rather than opinion-based interpretations or meanings of those findings, in order to demonstrate restraint and detachment. Anything too direct or forceful can feel like "selling," which they fear could damage their credibility. But this approach can obscure the key takeaway for the audience and make the presentation less memorable. This is especially true for nontechnical and management audiences.
The PowerSpeaking, Inc. Method
What's the solution? Here are our five recommendations:
Front and Rear Load Your Presentation: Construct a presentation that maps to the audience's listening pattern. As a rule, audiences are most attentive and retain the most information from the opening of a presentation, followed by a large dive in the middle, and a return to moderate attention at the close. Therefore, the main take away messages should be strategically front-loaded and rear-loaded.
Core Message Creates Retention: Craft and deliver a pointed, positional, provocative statement that takes a stand on the meaning of the data. We call it a "core message." Take the title of this piece, for example. It's not called "Our research shows that as a population, scientists have an inclination toward detail oriented presentations with a confidence coefficient of 0.9.
- Rule of Thirds: Most likely you have a mixed audience. Provide the overview/big picture first for content and understandability and then increasingly go into more technical depth.
- Get Rid of the Data Dump: The point of a scientific talk is to communicate the results and meaning of the research—not to squander the time providing exquisitely detailed data. Provide a logical story to the research.
Rehearse: There is no good excuse for the lack of preparation. Go through the content. Rehearse using your slides. Analyze questions that are likely to come up—and practice those, too. Rehearsal will give you a sense of calm so you are flexible when you present. You know what's coming next.
Additional Information: Our HighTechSpeaking workshop provides more in-depth strategies and opportunitites to practice how to make effective technical presentations. More information? Call us at 800.828.1909.
And, by the way, the title of this eTip might remind you of "Don't Be Such a Scientist," a book by Randy Olson. It's an interesting read that we recommend.
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