The Science Professional’s Guide to Public SpeakingRyan White
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
- The Methodology: During the presentation
- The Conclusion: How did it go?
The Abstract: Preparation
and forward planning
Temper your expectations
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
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
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.
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.
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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
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