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The Science Professional’s Guide to Public Speaking

The Science Professional’s Guide to Public Speaking

Whether it’s presenting findings to peers or explaining complex terms to laypeople, if you don’t have much experience in the way of public speaking as a science professional, then it can appear somewhat nerve-wracking. And while it’s something you might’ve shied away from in the past as a research scientist, presenting to audiences is all part of the job.

Though it’s something many of us dread, public speaking can help you to get your ideas heard and may even aid in securing funding for future research. As a means of engaging other scientists and reaching the public, science communication is also highly effective too, so as daunting as it may be, it’s well worth working on your public speaking skills.

If you don’t know where to start or you have your first upcoming engagement, then we’ve put together this helpful guide to public speaking and science communication. From body language to delivery, we hope the below provides you with the insight and advice you’ll need to make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible.

The Abstract: Preparation and forward planning

Temper your expectations

If you’re reading this, you probably don’t have a lot of experience when it comes to public speaking. Thus, it’s important to know that whether you’re a bag of nerves or as confident as they come, you should keep your expectations in check.

Man presenting to audience

Things probably won’t be as bad as you think they’ll be; flubs, false starts and corrections are all par for the course when it comes to public speaking, so try not to be too hard on yourself. Plus, with solid preparation, you’ll be able to keep these kinds of things to a minimum.

Know your audience

Those in the audience will play a large role in dictating the tone of your talk. It could be your peers, it could be school children; whoever it is, the content, language and delivery have to be tailored in a way that will appeal to them.  

Lay out your talk visually

If you’re struggling to start, then use some visual thinking to map out your ideas on paper in a more aesthetic manner; it’ll help to organise your thoughts and strengthen the way things are structured. Only you have to see this stage, so there’s no need to be artistic; a mind-map approach can be a good launching pad for ideas. From here, you can then identify the parts of your presentation you want to flesh out and make interesting for the audience.

Shot of businesspeople in the workplace

When it comes to your slides, don’t be afraid to use visual aids to drive home your points and findings either. If you’re using graphs and data, then be sure to label them in the appropriate manner, and make sure you aren’t overstuffing each slide with too many bullet points – your audience won’t know whether to focus on you or what’s written onscreen.

Prepare for questions

You shouldn’t expect to end by asking “any questions?” without having to field at least a couple of inquiries from the audience. If you practice in front of a small audience, make a note of the questions they ask and prepare answers to them. This way, you’ll avoid getting caught out during the actual presentation itself, which will serve to boost your confidence as you prepare to take to the stage.

The Methodology: During the presentation

Structure your talk

In creating and presenting your talk, a solid structure that returns to the central thesis at key points is a great way to draw in your audience. Provide introductory remarks, and then state the central message of what will follow.

After that, list three or four of the major arguments that support your message in the order in which you will present them. From here, introduce each major point by name and overview any sub-points within that section in order – then repeat for each point.

Business People Listening to the Speaker at a Conference

Conclude by reminding the audience of the major points you’ve made, and explicitly state how they support your thesis. There’s a chance that you may lose your train of thought or make a mistake. If this happens, always remember to bring it back to your central message.

Be aware of your body language

With so much to focus on, forgetting about unconscious things like body language can be difficult to keep a handle on. But how you communicate physically plays a large part in how your message is received and interpreted.

Be mindful of the following:

  • Face your audience and stand with your feet hip distance apart
  • Make eye contact but don’t hold it for too long
  • Move around freely; the space on the stage is yours to use. Staying put behind your lectern may disengage your audience
  • Keep your hands free to gesture with
  • Don’t cross your arms or put your hands in your pockets.
Shot of a young businesswoman delivering a presentation at a conference
  • Watch your tone

Much like body language, the tone of your voice has a big impact on the way your talk will be received. The information you’re trying to convey may be dense, but try to avoid falling into monotonous rambling. Use the 5 Ps to improve the delivery of your presentation:

  • Projection – Speak loudly and clearly so those at the back of the room can hear
  • Pace – The right speed is key. Too fast and you’ll be difficult to understand, too slow and you’ll probably lose your audience.
  • Pitch – Vary your pitch, but avoid the dreaded upward inflexion at the end of your sentences.
  • Pronunciation – Enunciate clearly without mumbling. Practice technical terms and jargon beforehand.
  • Pause – Rather than using filler words like “um” and “you know”, the sound of silence allows the audience to absorb the information they’ve heard, and gives you time to collect your thoughts.

The Conclusion: How did it go?

Learn from any mistakes you made

After you’ve finished presenting, reflect on how it went. Think about what worked and what failed. What were the elements that made it go well, or if you felt parts were weak, take a look at where and how it might have gone wrong. Science presentations are all about practice; identifying the errors so you can change your strategy for next time ensures the same thing won’t happen again.

Presenting your findings is as important as the environment you do your research in. InterFocus can help you create a workspace that’s the right fit for you and your team. For more information about our bespoke fitted labs, visit our homepage or call our team on 01223 894 833.

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