So you’ve picked your audience and venue. Now you need to craft your message.
Things to remember
- This is not a conference talk/audience. Your group is interested in hearing about your work but not in the same way as your peers. Make your work accessible.
- Know your format. Is this group looking for a lecturer or someone to moderate a discussion, be part of a panel, or answer their questions?
- Avoid jargon, define acronyms. Science and scientists are often viewed as inaccessible. Kick this perception by avoiding language and terms that are specific to your field. Check out this activity as an exaggerated example of a way to simplify your message.
- Speaking is different than writing. Regardless of audience, talking about your work is very different than writing about it. Try to think of how your audience will perceive your talk.
- Don’t read from your slides. Notes can be helpful so be sure to use a large font that you can read easily. If not using notes, aim for cues. Write down various reminders, notes, and numbers to guide you through your talk or provide just enough content on your slides to guide you through.
- Avoid slides with excessive text. Excessive text will distract both you and your audience from you talk. However, interesting photos and clear diagrams that explain processes (e.g. the carbon cycle) can be helpful.
- Find a venue. If your audience doesn’t have one, choose a spot that’s convenient and appealing to your intended audience: Will it attract them? Is it kid friendly? Does it have the right AV equipment? Will it hold enough people?
- Indoors/outdoors? While most venues will be indoors, you may have the opportunity to showcase your field site. Be safe and mindful of outdoor conditions.
- Spread the word. Flyers, postings in local papers, and press releases can all serve to inform people in advance.
- Prepare your materials. You may want to provide fact sheets, brochures, or other handouts or information on how audience members can learn or do more.
- Plan your agenda. Are you just giving a talk with Q&A to follow? Do you have props/exhibits? Is the event more discussion based?
- Be ready for follow-up. Be ready to establish plans for building upon this discussion.
- Tailor your design. To your audience and your venue. Using PowerPoint? Make sure the location supports AV equipment.
- Test EVERYTHING. Don’t just practice your speech at home – make sure you have enough time to test out all AV equipment before your talk.
- Mac person? If taking your own computer, be sure to have all the necessary adapters and equipment for the venue. If switching to a PC, but sure that all documents/media are compatible.
- Keep slides brief. Use one image, idea, or (clear) figure, to illustrate – rather than reiterate – your speech.
- Practice your talk. Out loud and ideally to a non-science audience like family or friends. If an audience is unavailable, video yourself (your phone has a camera!).
- How do you sound? We’re not talking about the sound of your voice. Rather, practice your enunciation, voice projection, breathing, and pace. You want to sound natural and comfortable.
- How do you look? We’re not talking about your phenotype, but rather how do you present yourself? Are you confident? Not too stiff or too slouchy?
- Be deliberate in your actions. Regardless of whether you are animated or more reserved in your actions when communicating, be sure that gestures are deliberate rather than coming across as fidgety and uncertain.
- Taking too long? Now’s the time to cut things out.
- Should you brace yourself? If your topic is controversial, plan in advance for how you can calmly deal with hostile questions or comments.
Day of the event
- Be approachable. Establish an atmosphere of mutual respect with your audience. This isn’t a class or a conference – your audience is there because they’re excited and want to learn something new.
- Encourage audience participation. Ask your audience about their own concerns, experiences, and interests on topics related to your science.
- Emphasize relevance. Explain the importance of your topic in relation to local interests, health, or investments.
- Avoid digressions and distractions. While a non-science group may ask questions beyond the scope of your talk (it’s not every day that they get to talk to a scientist!), maintain the focus and ask questions that will redirect the conversation to your topic.
- Encourage dissemination. Encourage participants to share what they’ve learned with others. You’re reaching out so that they can spread the word.
- Make it a dialogue. Leave room for questions, and have some questions ready that you can put to your audience about their experiences and concerns.
- Follow up. Make sure your audience and/or community partners know that you’re available as a resource for future talks and conversations.
- Breathe deeply. This will remind you to pause (and may be relaxing).
- Greet the audience. You can also introduce yourself – but only if someone hasn’t done so already.
- Be upbeat. Even if you’re anxious and nervous, try to appear comfortable and confident.
- Make (general) eye contact. Let your gaze move – slowly – and look at members of the audience, not just one individual. Again, don’t stare at your slides.
- Don’t apologize. Unless you’ve set something on fire, apologizing will only draw the audience’s attention to slight errors (nervousness, misspeaks) that likely only you have noticed.
- Check your time. Make sure you have a way to casually check a clock, watch, or timer.
- Check your pace. If you’re running overtime, don’t speed up; think about what you can cut out or where would be a good point to end early.
- Silence is a good thing. Give yourself pauses. Your speech should be measured, with natural pauses; don’t make the audience race to catch up. If you need a moment to collect your thoughts, a pause is a much better option than filler words such as “um” or “like”.
- With a bang, not a whimper. End on a strong note, with a compelling story, idea, or statement, and don’t let your voice fade away.
- Pause. Give yourself a second to consider your response and make sure you’re really answering the question.
- Repeat questions. If other audience members couldn’t hear what was asked – or if you want to make sure you’ve understood – repeat the question before answering.
- Don’t be baited. If you have a heckler or hostile questioner, remember that you won’t impress your audience if you respond to them in kind.
- The finish line. When you’re done, try not to look too relieved.