Style, Tone, and Speech
The Oral Style
Studies have shown that people learn most effectively when they are physically together, listening and interacting with the speaker. Though fellow scientists will probably be familiar with the terms of your subject, you never want to read from a sheet of paper when you are presenting. People will feel more inclined to listen to you if you have your speech or dialogue essentially memorized and are completely comfortable with the material. If you cannot memorize the whole thing, at least be able to summarize the presentation in two or three sentences, and repeat this summary at both the beginning and the end of the talk. While making slide presentations, do not simply read from the slides; you should know the topics well enough to keep the talk within your command.
Spoken Science, not Written Science
Spoken science is conversational in tone. It involves a dialogue between speaker and audience; it leaves room for listeners to respond with questions and challenge the presenter to examine his conclusions or elaborate on the topic. Speak precisely and with conviction about your topic-- try not to generalize. It may help to eliminate peripheral topics altogether, even if it means overlooking some of the more sophisticated knowledge that your findings contain. Keep to your central point. Above all, you must explain and convey your point unambiguously. Basic information is the most easily absorbed type of content, and it will keep the audience from drifting in confusion.
Science is a language, and no one can become fluent in a language by reading a textbook or completing a workbook. Language is learned through spoken, interactive experiences with other people who are also learning. Immersion into the scientific world is the best way to learn science, and this immersion occurs in dialogues between speaker and receiver. Your goal is not to demonstrate to the audience how quickly you can speak, but simply to meet the audience at their level, and explain your findings to them within the context of their knowledge accumulated thus far.
If you tell the audience the hard facts you have discovered through your work, they can respond with open minds.
Spontaneous speech is more interesting than written speech read aloud. However, prompt-cards may help you along with the flow of your ideas and major points. If you must rely on written text, follow these guidelines:
1. Write in large print.
2. Use small chunks of information.
3. Include reminders to pause.
4. If you are using a laser pointer, do not wave it around.
5. Do not simply read from the slide - address the audience.
It is crucial that you maintain eye contact with your audience, especially when emphasizing a major point.
Delivering small chunks of information at a time will help your audience encode the material they need in their visual memory. Too much text will force them to focus on the reading rather than the listening to your presentation. Also, when you try to cram too much information in each slide, you suggest to the audience that you are trying to hide a lack of good organizational and informational content by forcing them to give up reading the slides.
Transparency with the audience will build trust and appeal to your lecture or talk, which in turn will help the audience remain focused, involved, and connected the with subject matter.
You are the most interesting aspect of the presentation. You are the one creating perceptions in the viewer’s mind. The reason why we have conferences and meetings is so that scientists can meet each other.
Some helpful pointers:
1. vary the tone of your voice
2. employ silence to your advantage
3. use rhetorical questions to make your audience think in a different light
4. convey a positive presence by being confident and encouraging others to listen to your talk
Do not be afraid to express your enjoyment and enthusiasm with the audience. Vary the tone of your voice to convey a sense of excitement and passion about the topic. A monotone voice will certainly put the audience to sleep, and it will be difficult to convey any information that can be translated into knowledge. Another tactic is to employ silence to let your most important and critical points sink in a little bit, in topical transitions, or after a rhetorical question. In can be helpful to use humor, but don't go overboard, as it may undermine the seriousness and importance of your talk. Your overall presence in the room will alter the reception of your talk and encourage others to really listen if it is a positive presence you are conveying. Mumbling and stumbling over your words won’t help you build any confidence, nor will it give credit to the structure and function of your talk.
When giving a Power Point presentation, don't dwell on one slide for an excessively long time or rapidly skim through them. Your audience will either get tired and inattentive, or unable to process what you are saying quickly enough. In general, a typical talk will average one minute per slide, but that number could vary, depending on the nature of talk, the speaker’s interaction with the audience, and the audience’s listener energy. Pacing will vary according to the amount of content on the slide and the level of understanding that is developed by the audience as the presentation moves forward. Ideally you want a balance between sufficient, clear content and elegance.
Body Language & Eye Contact
What you do besides speaking will rub off on the people around you and affect their degree of engagement with your speaking. You should make eye contact with a few different people for at least several seconds each to establish credibility. Losing that eye contact will disengage people and cause them to wander away from focusing on your presentation. In order to maintain contact, and give your voice the chance to project, take a small mirror (a side view mirror from a car, for example) and place it on your podium. That way, you won’t have to look back at the projector screen to verify that you are talking about the correct slide. [References] If appropriate, it may be necessary to use body gestures to help emphasize a point. Good posture will make you appear confident and graceful in your speaking.
Use common sense. If you are going to be presenting to a group of doctors or lawyers, formal will probably be the way to go. It’s ok to be casual if that’s the norm, but usually it is safe to dress up more than you think you need to. Your "team" mentality and willingness to conform will be well received.
In general, you want to dress as if you have taken the opportunity seriously and it displays that you appreciate having the time to communicate your ideas and educate the audience about an important and relevant topic. If you are taken seriously, chances are your words will be too.
Coping with Nervousness
Excellent speakers accept nervousness as a natural and useful response to stress. This means that you care about doing a good job. Expect nervousness and plan to manage the symptoms that accompany it. The tension you experience can be used to energize your talk if you allow it to do so. Taking deep breaths and thinking positively will help calm you and take your “conversation” one step at a time.
Seemingly little things such as how you move your body and remain composed at the podium or front of the room have a larger impact than you think. Don’t cling to furniture, clasp your hands in front or behind you, cross your arms, put your hands in your pockets, or sway back and forth. [References]
Relax and Enjoy
Relaxation is a key aspect of preparing for your talk in those last few minutes before you begin in your talk. A wise idea is to jot down a few introductory ideas that will expose the central idea of your topic, and read them slowly, with clarity and conviction to start off the talk. The first couple minutes are indispensable for grabbing your audience’s attention and keeping them interested and engaged for the rest of the talk. You do not want to lead them into confusion as to what the main idea, or question is behind all of your ideas as they encounter each new piece of evidence and detail about your work.
The night before your presentation, take some time to do something you enjoy, preferably unrelated to science or research.
Consider the question and answer session the most important part of your presentation. It is an opportunity to converse directly with members of the audience and allow them to learn what they could not before.
You Q&A should incorporate three major elements:
1. Introduction - Welcome the questions
2. Questions from the floor
3. Closing statements - Summarize your points
To start the Q&A, invite the audience to interact with you. Asking, "What questions do you have for me?" or "Any questions?" should suffice. If no one responds, fire off your own question for the audience to think about.
Responding to Questions
First, repeat or restate the question; ensure that you have understood it correctly and that everyone in the audience could hear. Then, answer the question directly and simply. If you are not sure of the answer, be honest and candid. Feel free to say something to the effect of, "Data not available yet," or "I'll find out and get back to you later."
How do I Respond to Direct Contradictions of my Points?
1. Answer anyway. Consider your peer's standpoint; perhaps you did not explain your meaning clearly enough the first time. It might take some time for everyone to absorb the material completely.
2. Try using a visual summary of your main points, or look at the point with a different perspective. It might help to use supporting data or someone else's findings to make your point more clear.
3. If someone asks a question that you think you have already covered in enough detail, respond honestly. Tell them, "I believe we've already covered that." Your time is limited as presenter and the last thing you want to do is go overtime.
4. If you find someone to be particular digressive, politely stop him and ask him to skip to their question. If he does not have one, remind him that he can deliberate with you after the meeting.
How do I Respond to Completely Irrelevant Questions?
Respond, "It is not really part of my presentation, but it sounds like an interesting subject."
What If My Knowledge on the Presentation Subject is Limited?
You may not be the expert or the most qualified person to speak on your subject. Occasionally, you will find yourself speaking on behalf of the primary author, so you may not know all the details and the ins and outs of the experimental process. In order to avoid potentially embarrassing yourself in front of your audience and upsetting some prospective employers or collaborators in your field, warn them preemptively if you are not the author or you are substituting for the intended speaker. It is better to set the audience’s level of expectation before proceeding with your talk. By no means do you want to minimize the impact of your work and lessen the laborious efforts of the principal investigator or doctor. [References]
What If I Run Out of Time?
In the even that you run out of time, graciously close with a summary of your most important points and let the audience know how to contact you about the talk. Try to make yourself available to talk immediately after the presentation even if you have to move to another room.
The best way to prepare for audience questions is to expect the unexpected. Remember to maintain control, for each time you open up the floor to audience participation, you risk things getting out of hand. Keep things positive and upbeat so that you do not diminish the presentation itself in any way.
Giving a last minute talk without warning can be very nerve-wracking. You should keep in mind that when you do this, you are almost always expected to speak extemporaneously on the topic. A good way to prepare for this situation is to keep a few photocopies of your key findings close by so that you always have some visuals to present. Without visuals, that audience might have difficulty following what you are saying without already knowing what you plan to say.